TV Guide: August 4, 1961
Vol. 10. No. 31
Out of this world of Hollywood and show business, 161 miles southeast of Los Angeles by a tricky sequence of five highways, a man
named Charles T. Aldrich has lived for five years on an establishment he calls "Tub Canyon Farm." A hundred and fifty acres of
uncompromising desert on the eastern slope of the Pignon Mountains, Tub Canyon Farm hasn't produced anything in years but the
flowers around the house, an L-shaped swimming pool and an unexcelled view of California's beautiful Borrego Valley, 650 feet below,
plus a country rod or two of willow-like tamarisk trees growing downslope between boulders.
Yet Aldrich wouldn't farm anywehere else if he could get the fertilizer cut-rate from Billie Sol Estes. His only crop is privacy, and in five
years he has never had a failure.
These days, however, Screen Gems, CBS and farmer's luck are sowing him one. It was not in the Almenac that a 55-year-old TV actor
named Joe Kearns would die in his sleep last Feb. 17, leaving six episodes of the Dennis The Menace series unfilmed. Since Charlie
Aldrich is far more widely known as a veddy funny stuffed-shirt type of comedian called Gale Gordon, available to one and allfor the
prce of a $2.10 phone call, producer Winston O'Keefe imported him last spring for six shows on an emergency basis. Gordon was signed
to replace Kearns, playing the brother of Mr. Wilson, Dennis's highly buggable next-door neighbor. (Mr. Wilson was "away on business."
At Screen Gems thrombosis is not for the kiddies in prime Sunday time.) And next season Gordon will be menaced by Dennis on a
This arrangement seems to have worked out to the satisfaction of all concerned with the possible exception of the Borrego Springs
(pop. 400) Chamber of Commerce. One of the valley's chief landholders and staunchest boosters (Richard Boone owns 160 acres there
but doesn't live on them). Gordon has been president of the chamber of commerce for two years, and will miss the meetings (every
other Thursday) while Dennis The Menace is in production.
Hy Averback, the producer, calls Gordon "a combination of Laurence Olivier and Charlie Chase." It is perhaps the best description of
the new Mr. Wilson to date.
Gordon may have the soul of a poet, but he has made a career of playing one big Achilles heel. A robust 56, he is one of the handful of
old-timers whose mere appearance suggests the essential peril of slapstick. On Gordon the natty moustache is a little too nattyand at
5-feet-10 1/2 and 170 pounds there is a shade too much pomposity in that portly frame.
"In character," says actor-director Bob Sweeny, who co-starred with Gordon in The Brothers, "Gale Gordon does somethng nobody
else can do. He just stands there, not saying or doing anything, and all of a sudden he's the balloon that makes you want to reach for
With the voice, however, the fun really begins. It has been generally overlooked that Gordon is one of the few TV personalities worth
listening to, not for what he says but how he says it, as one might listen to music.
One of nature's noble instruments
(One cynic at CBS maintains: "Without that voice, Gale would be playing bartenders in Westerns.") His rich voice is one of nature's
noble instruments, and Gordon is as skilled at subduing its complexities as Bernstein's bassoon player at his bassoon. John Barrymore
once praised Gordon's diction as perfect, in spite of what he was ennunciating at the time -- the role of Mayor La Trivia on "Fibber
McGee and Molly" on the radio.
As it emerges from the lops of John Wilson on Dennis the Menace, it is the voice of the president of a small-town chamber of
commerce. It is a quarter-tone too self conciously melifluous, as the moustache is one hair too natty on each side. At the roll of the
first R, even with the picture tuned out, the ear detects the first delightful sizzle of the familiar fathead who does not know he is
already in the fire.
In the classic two-reeler situation, of which audiences never seem to tire, Gordon is always the last to know. At this point, dignity,
mustache and enunciation all explode at once. "The fun," Sweeney believes, "is seeing this marvelous balloon settle down to your own
Gordon's analysis of his success as the last of the slow-burn artists is, curiously enough, even more detatched. "The secret of losing
your temper with Jay North or anybody else," he maintains, "is not to do it too violently or quickly. You simply go off in the audience's
fingers, like a cheap firecracker, while there is still some doubt whether the fuse is lit."
This stock characterization of Gordon's did not just happen. It evolved. As a comedian the master of Tub Canyon Farm is only 22
years old, or 12 years older than Jay North. He was born on a 1940 "Fibber McGee and Molly" broadcast for which the late Jim Jordan
(Fibber) had grave doubts about hiring him at all. Jordan had stayed home Sunday evenings to hear Gordon play Henry VIII and other
nobles on "English Coronets," a popular Los Angeles radio series on the 1930s, and he was afraid he was too Shakespearian. "He won't
wait for the laughs," said Jim, an optimist. But he hired Gordon anyway.
Clown obscures actor
Writer Don Quinn created Mayor La Trivia after Gordon waited for -- and got -- laughs in a one-shot role as Otis Cadwallader, Molly's
stuffy ex-boy friend. Quinn now says, "Gale Gordon and Jack Benny share the greatest sense of timing in show business. It takes real
courage just to pause the way Gale does."
Gordon bemoans the fact that the clowin in him has obscured the actor. "I want to play a Western heavy on TV so bad I can taste it,"
he said one day recently, gazing over a gin and tonic into the 25 square miles of the colorful valley below his home. "I've even gone to
plead with producers. They have all assured me my mere presence in a drama would get the sponsor laughed off the air."
Yet he recalled that his career began on the New York stage as actor Richard Bennett's dresser and pupil. Gordon was 17 when
Bennett finally put him on the stage for the first time, in a 1923 play called "The Dancers." He played a five-minute scene as an English
gentleman changing his name to Gale Gordon for the occasion. The name, chosen by his mother, an English actress called Jewel St.
Ledger, was selected because, numerologically, it adds up to eight, the money sign in numerology.
(Now a retired Hollywood actress in her 70's, Gale's mother [she had changed her name to Gloria Gordon] used to play Mrs. O'Reilly,
the landlady on TV's My Friend Irma. Judy Wormser, Gale's younger sister, the mother of four children, is the wife of a Santa Fe, NM
novelist [Richard Wormser])
Sonorous voice due to surgery
Richard Bennett gave Gordon a break partly because he knew his father, Charles T. Aldrich of Cleveland, Ohio, famous in England and
America around World War One as a vaudeville quick-change artist (Aldrich died six years ago, on his farm in New Jersey, at the age of
86.) The superb diction (even at 17) that attracted Bennett, however, was the result of a childhood physical defect. Schooled and
reared partly in England and partly in America, depending on where his parents were working, Gordon was born with a cleft palate,
discovered by his mother when he reached the age of 15 months.
Part of the sonority that has been rippling across the land in one medium or another since 1923 is due to the persistance of one of
London's Hartley Street throat surgeons. He performed two painful operations on 18-month-old Charlie.
Gordon has been a fixture on the Hollywood Landscape since 1929 (although he has put 73,000 miles on a station wagon in three
years to stay fixed, commuting from Borrego Springs for movie and TV roles.).
Gordon went West to join his mother, who had settled in Los Angeles in the middle 1920's (she and Aldrich were divorced in 1919),
easily landed the role of Judas in a local production of "The Pilgrimage Play" (for which his understudy was John Carradine) and toured
the Coast with a stock company in which the ingenue was Eve Arden, who later starred as Our Miss Brooks. Since 1937, Gordon has
been married to Virginia Curley, an actress he met during a radio broadcast in New York City.
Wife Drives 60 miles to shop
For the tonic in the gin and tonic beside the swimming pool after 4 o'clock, when the summer temperature falls to 102 and 103 and it
is safe to leave the air-conditioned house, Virginia cheerfully drives 60 miles a week round-trip on shopping visits to Julian, Cal.; and
neither she nor Gordon complains that their only TV station, KIVA in Yuma, Ariz., brings them some network programs three weeks
late. Dennis the Menace will be Gordon's first series since The Brothers, but neither of the Gordons expects any permanent change in
their way of life.
They'll be living at a Hollywood hotel while Dennis is in production. This domicile, however, is strictly temporary. Tub Canyon Farm is