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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Detailing the First Husband of "Candy Matson"
The Detective and the Baritone (Part I:)
by Kathy Hammel © 2014
(From Radio Recall, August, 2014)
Natalie Park Masters was the voice of Candy Matson, and her second husband, Monty Masters, wrote and directed that NBC series in San Francisco. While OTR fans know a lot about this famous couple, it may be time to shine the light on Natalie's first husband, Paul Melvin Vickland. Though named Paul Melvin, he preferred to go by P. Melvin Vickland and was familiarly known as "Mel".
Born in 1913, Melvin was a tall (5' 11") good-looking young man with brown hair and blue eyes. Like Natalie and Monty, he also worked in radio. Mel was first heard on radio in the early 1930s as a member of a college quartet that performed on air on WCCO, in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Singing came naturally to Mel. He came from a musical family who'd emigrated from Sweden to the USA in the early 1900s. By day the family ran a successful grocery and meat market in which Mel worked after school; but on off hours, the family were part of the church band. Mel's inherited musical talent and love of singing, along with his rich baritone, won Mel the lead in the University of Minnesota's production of The Student Prince.
Mel may have picked up the acting bug from those college appearances; by 1935 he'd transferred to the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he was a member of their debate team. He also won a few talent contests with his singing. Shortly after college, he moved from Stockton to San Francisco where he started his radio career as a baritone with KFRC.
He had a voice that Billy Wilder once praised, by saying of Mel, "I wish I had his voice - and my money!" Mel, called the man of the golden voice, did not confine himself to singing. By February 1936 Mel was using his golden baritone at KFRC as a junior announcer.
The very next month (March 1936) Mel left KFRC and joined the announcing staff at NBC, San Francisco. An interesting note is that the now well-known Ralph Edwards succeeded Mel in the junior announcer spot that Mel had left at KFRC. Mel and Ralph were of an age and were good friends; later, they would work together on several projects.
As an announcer, Mel did well and his career in radio was off to a fast and promising start. By October of 1936 he'd been promoted to a senior announcer spot. In 1936 Natalie's star was also on the rise. She was not only appearing in the NBC, San Francisco serial Hawthorne House, but was also voicing other roles from time to time. She even enjoyed regular mentions in the trades. It's probable that Mel and Natalie met when he transferred to NBC.
The couple were dating as early as May 1938, which we know from a news clipping of the Berkeley Daily Gazette of May 2, 1938. It reported that the couple were injured in their car near Salinas by a drunk driver who struck their vehicle. Vickland had only bruises and a cut knee, but Natalie was taken to the hospital with back injuries.
A little over 3 years after Mel's move to NBC, a tiny blurb appeared in the 1 February 1940 Broadcasting magazine announcing that actress Natalie Park, who worked "…at NBC, San Francisco, recently eloped to Reno Nev., with Melvin Vickland, announcer, formerly with KPO-KGO, San Francisco and more recently with Midwestern stations." According to records stored in the Washoe County Clerk's office, Natalie and Mel were married in Reno, with family as witnesses, on 3 January 1940.
The 1940 U.S. Census, conducted later that year, finds the newlyweds living on Hillegass Street in Berkeley, California, and though, curiously, the Census lists Melvin as a salesman of retail foods, we know he was active in radio at this time.
It may have boded ill for the marriage that Natalie was given top billing in their published marriage announcement. In fact, the marriage lasted only a short time; by 1941 the couple no longer lived together. An Oakland city directory for that year shows Mel living with relatives at a location different from his and Natalie's home address as noted on the 1940 U.S. Census.
Court documents confirm that Natalie filed for divorce on August 23, 1941 on the grounds of "extreme cruelty". Melvin was ordered to pay $15 per week in alimony during the separation and Natalie's legal fees. Mel countered, asking that he not be responsible for her attorney fees or support, but he lost. However, in the January 15th Interlocutory Judgment, Natalie waived any further alimony, suit money, or attorney's fees. Natalie was granted the divorce on January 18, 1943. The attorneys took care of that final hearing. Neither Natalie nor Mel appeared. In fact, by 1942, Mel had already relocated to New York.
All the supporting records in the divorce, except the filings and the final decree, were destroyed years ago by San Francisco's records management, so we may never know what the nature of the claimed "extreme cruelty" was. Valerie, one of Mel's daughters, by his second wife, is mystified as to that claim; she knew her father to be a kind and encouraging man. She said, like anyone, he could become frustrated or angry and a bit critical at times, but not unreasonably so.
Whatever the problems Natalie and Mel may have experienced as a married couple, we know the divorce was certainly not the end of the story for Natalie Park, nor did Mel Vickland disappear from the entertainment scene. Both Mel and Natalie went on to do a lot more in radio, and eventually television as well.
In the next issue, we'll learn more about the rise and unfortunate fall of the golden voiced Mel and his court battle with Ralph Edwards.
NOTE: The author wishes to thank Jack French and Irene Heinstein for research assistance and suggestions during the preparation of this article.