During a previous life, when I was in the advertising and PR business, I had the opportunity to direct many commercials. This gave me the privilege of working with some fine talent. One of the best was a voice actor named Brad Crandall.
Brad moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was apprenticing at an ad agency, after wheedling out of his contract with NBC in New York. Brad had been a host on NBC's hugely successful Monitor that aired for 40 continuous hours every weekend. It was the forerunner of talk radio that dominates AM programming these days. It took me several years to sift through the various excuses that Brad gave for walking away from his lucrative contract. The truth is, I don't think that he felt that he deserved the success.
Brad had been born into poverty. His father was a railroad conductor and the family lived in poverty near the tracks that stretched across Kansas. He outgrew their resources and quit school to join the Marines just as World War II was ending. Stationed in China, he was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio network and became an on air news reader. While there, Brad studied the voice of William Conrad who was then appearing as Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio production of Gunsmoke. Brad practiced emulating Conrad's magnificent baritone until it became his own voice.
Upon completion of his tour of duty, Brad became a gypsy radio host. He hopped from one station to another across the country, pausing only to enlist for a brief tour of duty in the Army and serving in Korea. When the war there ended, Brad landed in a station in Montreal, Canada. He told me that he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and milk that he kept on the window ledge outside the radio station's studio. I never did find out where he slept. He worked there until producers at NBC heard him and invited him to New York.
The poor boy from Kansas now found himself hobnobbing with famous personalities in the New York theater district. Their favorite eatery was Sardi's (I'm guessing that his caricature still hangs there among those of still famous personalities). He spoke of the antics of his Monitor co-hosts, Art Buchwald, Henry Morgan, Skitch Henderson, and others. One of my favorite tales is when the staff at Sardi's took revenge on one of their company. The man would always jokingly order a peanut butter sandwich in a voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, and then quietly place his “real” order with the waiter after the “gang” had their laugh. One day, the waiter took off with the order before he could change it. Soon, an entourage emerged from the kitchen: two busboys pushing a cart with a huge carved-ice bear cradling fresh berries in its cupped paws; two others pushed another cart bearing a heated chafing dish; and a third contained a silver tray covered by a large silver dome. Four chefs followed the procession.
Upon arrival at their table, one chef created preserves from the berries. Another took roasted peanuts from the heated chaffing dish and hand ground them using a mortar and pestle. The third sliced the bread. And, the fourth assembled his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The waiter happily presented him with his very sizable bill.
I know that Brad enjoyed his riches – to a point. Unfortunately, he never reconciled himself to such success without laboring for it. Much like Clark Gable, whose father never approved of “play-acting” as respectable work, Brad looked for other ways to make his life seem purposeful. Thus, I believe I became one of his many “projects.”
He salvaged me from a disastrous marriage and sheltered me while I recovered. He then went so far as to arrange a meeting with the woman who became my wife (now married almost 36 years). Unfortunately, once I began achieving my own success, he went in search of other projects and we lost track of each other.
Several years after his death, I heard that Howard Stern had honored Brad. Howard was asked who had influenced him as a role model in broadcasting and he mentioned Brad.
Over the years that we were active friends, I employed Brad for many of my projects. “One-Take” Brad we called him. I only ever heard him flub a line once in many hours in the recording studio. I wish I could say the same.
I suppose that I wouldn't be as critical had I not worked with a great talent like Brad. I needed nineteen takes to get an acceptable recording of myself reading a passage from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain. Even then, I cringe when I listen to it. I'm no Brad Crandall.
Still, I feel that I have a better chance of connecting to my readers if I present myself, warts and all, reading my own work. Click here to hear me.