This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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BOBBY BENSON HAD EIGHT VOICES
by Jack French
(From Radio Recall, June 2007)
Even big fans of "The Cowboy Kid" are probably unaware that eight different kids played him on the air. I'd like to set out the data we know about these "Bobby Benson's" and see if it will encourage researchers to help us track down the missing three. In setting forth this info, I've credited some of the OTR researchers who have already helped me regarding some of these radio performers.
#1) Richard Wanamaker. When the series debuted on WGR, the CBS affiliate in Buffalo, NY in November 1932 under the title "H-Bar-O Rangers." a 11 year old boy, who had been active in local radio, got the lead. He was on all 78 episodes, airing 3 times weekly until March 1933. Wanamaker continued his radio and stage work through college, getting a drama degree from Ithica College. Unable to find work as an actor, he went into retail business in the Buffalo area. At the age of 41, he died in 1961 of complications from abdominal surgery. (Thanks to Jerry Collins of Lancaster, NY)
|#2) Billy Halop. In fall of 1933, CBS moved the production to New York City where radio actor Billy Halop was cast as "Bobby," and his sister, Florence, got the role of "Polly." He was the lead in over 600 shows, usually 5 times a week, until he got a role in the Broadway show "Dead End" and he left the radio cast to join stage rehearsals in fall of 1935. After about a year on Broadway, many of the cast were brought to Hollywood to film the "Dead End" movie. Halop made a lot of B movies, usually with the same gang of tough kids. When he died in November 1976 at the age of 56, he was living in relative obscurity.
Illustration by Bobb Lynes
#3) Unknown Los Angeles actor. The popularity of the series on CBS necessitated a second production on the West Coast. CBS, in connection with the Don Lee Network, set up production in Los Angeles, where their cast used the same scripts that were being aired in NYC. It is not known how long this arrangement continued, but it was at least through the 1933-34 season. (Thanks to Jim Jones of Utah)
#4) Unknown NYC actor. Although Billy Halop left the radio series for Broadway, the radio show continued on CBS in New York until December 1936. So someone else was playing "Bobby Benson" for the last 15 months it was on CBS. Like the LA actor who had the role, his identity is still unknown.
NOTE: Of the more than 700 CBS episodes aired, no audio copies have ever been found, although two scripts are available.
#5) Ivan Cury. In June 1949 the series was resurrected on Mutual under the title of "Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders." Cury, who was born in June 1937, had plenty of radio experience when he won the lead. He played the role on both radio and a local TV show until his parents objected to all the unpaid personal appearance tours. He left the series, probably about the summer of 1951, and found better paying jobs, including the son on "Portia Faces Life." He stayed in the broadcast business in his adult life, doing TV production in LA and teaching communications in college. Ivan has attended both FOTR convention and the SPERDVAC one.
#6) Bobby McKnight. To take the load off Ivan on the personal appearances as "Bobby", Mutual found a young boy singer, Bobby McKnight. His most extensive appearance tour was 14 countries in Europe in the spring of 1951. When Ivan left the series, McKnight took over at the mike also. However within a few months, his voice started to lower into maturity, so a replacement was quickly found. Since McKnight was about the same age as Ivan, one can assume he's still alive and well. If so, no one has located him yet, and I've spent years trying. (Thanks to Ivan Cury of Los Angeles)
#7) Clive Rice. A native of Surrey, England, Rice was born in January 1941. Under his professional name of "Clyde Campbell" he took over the role of The Cowboy Kid from McKnight, probably in the fall of 1951 and held the role until the radio version went off the air in June 1955. He was also on a local TV version. After HS, he had a long Navy career and is now retired in Roanoke, VA. He's attended OTR conventions in Newark and Cincinnati.
#8) Rosemary Rice. (No, that's not a misprint.) The older sister of Clive Rice (no relation to OTR star Rosemary Rice) she occasionally came with him from Stamford, CT to do his show in Manhattan. On one occasion, Clive developed a severe nose bleed minutes before the show was to go out live. She grabbed his script, joined the surprised cast
at the mike, and delivered his lines until he got over the nosebleed. It was the only known time a girl played "Bobby Benson." (Thanks to Clive Rice)
About the author: Jack French is editor of Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club, and a frequent contributor.