An Actor's Odyssey:
Orson Welles to Lucky the Leprechaun
by Arthur Anderson
Bear Manor Media, 228 pages
Reviewed by Edgar Farr Russell, III © 2010
(From Radio Recall, August 2010)
“A MAGICALLY DELICIOUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ACTOR”
Many persons dream of being an actor. Only a fortunate few can make a living at acting. One such individual, Golden Age of Radio legend Arthur Anderson, has been doing so for more than 72 years! His new autobiography An Actor's Odyssey: Orson Welles to Lucky the Leprechaun describes the singular journey of a young boy who fell in love with the theater and was, in turn, embraced by it. This led him to be part of several beloved Golden Age radio series; to be a pioneer in television (George S. Kauffman’s The Still Alarm, NBC 1937), and to be a cast member of one of the greatest Broadway triumphs of the Twentieth Century-- Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre production of "Julius Caesar"!
After a brief author's Preface and an appreciative forward by actress and comedienne Anne Meara; Anderson begins to weave a beautifully crafted memoir which helps us to understand why someone would want to become an actor. His theatrical abilities were noticed early; in particular by David Belasco Howard who cast him in the leading role of "Peter Absolute". This fifteen-minute daytime radio serial concerned a boy who was part of an acting troupe performing along the Erie Canal in the early 1800s. It was here that Anderson first met a youthful Orson Welles who was cast as a "Dickensian"-style English actor.
Impressed with Anderson's work, Howard brought him to the attention of Nila Mack, the writer/director of "Let's Pretend"-- the CBS radio program for children. He appeared on that show for 18 years (with time out for military service during World War II). Anderson wrote an engaging history of that show entitled Let's Pretend and the Golden Age of Radio (Available from Bear Manor Media).
Coincidentally, in 1937, it was also Howard who suggested the 13-year old Anderson to his former cast mate Orson Welles to play the part of Brutus' servant Lucius in the first Mercury production "Julius Caesar". This led to further roles in the next Mercury Broadway success "The Shoemaker's Holiday" and The Mercury Theatre on the Air (including the starring role of Jim Hawkins in "Treasure Island" and "A Christmas Carol" with Lionel Barrymore).
David Howard's helpfulness is typical of Anderson's good fortune. In a show business world that is often seen as heartless and cutthroat, Anderson's professional career is full of camaraderie and friendships that endure. While Orson Welles is often described as insensitive and tyrannical towards his fellow actors, Anderson has nothing but kind words about how he was treated by Welles during their Mercury Theatre days together. Anderson also touchingly describes his reunion with Welles many years afterward in the Peter Brook production of "King Lear" presented on the distinguished television program Omnibus.
Along with his many theater appearances, Anderson was doubly fortunate to have originated two iconic television commercial characters. For 29 years he voiced “Lucky the Leprechaun” for General Mills' Lucky Charms cereal. And for seven years he appeared as Mr. Arthur Kuppenheimer "the head" of Kuppenheimer's Men's Clothes.
In addition to his professional success, for the last 46 years Anderson has been blessed with a devoted wife, the former Alice Middleton-- a successful network television production assistant and casting director. No one, however, has a life without challenge. Anderson speaks frankly and movingly about their daughter Amy-- a special needs child with autism who has been the loving focus of their lives.
If there is any fault to the book it is that Anderson, at times, is too modest. For example, since 1980 he has been one of the mainstays of the annual Friends of Old Time Radio Convention as an actor and director of both re-creations and newly written productions. I would have enjoyed having him discuss the hard work necessary to make these much-appreciated shows happen.
Anderson also doesn't touch on his connection with the recent movie based on the novel Me and Orson Welles; a highly fictionalized account of his appearance in "Julius Caesar". I would have welcomed his insight into that film.
All through the book Anderson makes each period of his life come alive and brings an insider's appreciation of the talented individuals with whom he has been associated including: Joseph Cotton, Helen Hayes, Jackie Gleason, Barbara Eden, Vincent Price, and directors such as George S. Kauffman, George Abbot, and Woody Allen.
The 228-page book features an index and is well illustrated with photos of Anderson with family, friends, and professional colleagues. "An Actor's Odyssey: From Orson Welles to Lucky the Leprechaun" by Arthur Anderson costs $19.95 and is available from the publisher Bear Manor Media (www.BearManorMedia.com) or P.O. Box 71426 Albany, Georgia 31708. It is also available from www.amazon.com.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Edgar Farr Russell, III is a writer, director, and actor whose work has appeared on National Public Radio and the stage. He is currently President of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club.