Lurene Tuttle (August 29, 1907, Pleasant Lake, Indiana - May 28, 1986, Encino, California) was an American character actress, who made transitions from vaudeville to radio, to films and television. Her most enduring impact was as one of network radio's most versatile actresses. Often appearing in 15 shows a week, comedies, dramas, thrillers, soap operas, and crime dramas, and back she became known as the First Lady of Radio.
She became interested in acting after her family moved to Southern California, appearing in Pasadena Playhouse productions before joining the vaudeville troupe, Murphy's Comedians. By the Great Depression, Tuttle had put her remarkable vocal versatility to work in radio, and within a decade she became one of the most in-demand actresses in the medium.
On radio's The Adventures of Sam Spade she played just about every female role, as well as Spade's man-hungry secretary Effie Perrine. She appeared in such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a role that testified to her vocal versatility: she played Harriet Nelson's on-air mother at a time when she played, concurrently, a young adult onThe Great Gildersleeve as the niece Marjorie Forrester, a character 20 years her junior. Tuttle also had regular roles in such shows as Brenthouse (a soap opera, as Nancy), Dr. Christian (as nurse Judy Price), Duffy's Tavern (as Dolly Snaffle), One Man's Family (another soap; various roles), The Red Skelton Show (as Junior's mommy and as Daisy June, roles she shared with Harriet Nelson), Hollywood Hotel and the soap opera Those We Love.
She made numerous guest appearances on such shows as Dragnet, Lux Radio Theater, The Screen Guild Theater and Suspense (in "The Sisters", with Rosalind Russell). In The Whistler she played good and evil twins and used separate microphones to stay in character for each twin.
Dr. Christian was unusual in that the show, according to critic Leonard Maltin (in The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age), solicited scripts from listeners (one of whom was a young Rod Serling) and put them on the air — with a little help. Tuttle recalled:
- The real writers on the show had to fix them quite often a lot, because they were really quite amateurish. But they had nice thoughts, they had nice plots. They just needed fixing; the dialogue didn't work too well.
It was during her time on Hollywood Hotel that Tuttle became an inadvertent co-catalyst in the founding of the American Federation of Radio Artists. According to Maltin, Tuttle's male counterpart on the show, veteran actor Frank Nelson (a frequent guest performer on Jack Benny's program), tried to get both a raise to $35-per-show — at a time when the show paid $5,000 an appearance to headlining guest stars. Nelson eventually got the raises, but the negotiations prompted him to become an AFRA co-founder and one of its active members.
Tuttle also remembered the day the Hollywood Hotel sound effects man was upstaged by a Hollywood legend:
- The soundman was supposed to do a little yipping, yappy dog, like a terrier. He sounded like a Newfoundland dog or something, and the director kept saying, "That won't do." So Olivia de Havilland was sitting next to me, and she says, "I can do a very good dog." And I said, "Well, I don't think they'll let you do a dog. This is an audience show; you're a star, you can't do a dog." And she says, "I'm going to do it." So she went over to the director, went into the booth and said, "I'd like to try doing this dog for you." So they put her behind the screen, and she went on the show and she did that yipping dog."
Films and television
Tuttle became a familiar face to millions of television viewers with over 100 TV appearances from 1950 to 1986. On TV and in films, Tuttle streamlined herself into a pattern of roles between wise, loving wives/mothers or bristling matrons. She was familiar to the early television audience as wife/mother Lavinia (Vinnie) Day in Life with Father (1953-1955), while concurrently graduating to film roles in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and such other films as Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Orson Welles's Macbeth, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Fortune Cookie and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis. In Don't Bother to Knock (1952) she portrayed a mother who lets a disturbed Marilyn Monroe babysit her daughter, and had a rare starring role as Ma Barker in Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960).
She guest starred twice on Edmond O'Brien's 1960 syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight. She then played a supporting role in the short-lived Father of the Bride (1961) television situation comedy.
Lurene Tuttle's best known role to the general public was her stint as Lloyd Nolan's senior nurse in the Diahann Carroll series Julia (1968-1971) as the humorless but still warm-hearted Hannah Yarby. In 1980, Tuttle appeared in the Bette Davis television movie, White Mama.
Tuttle married Melville Ruick, an actor she had met during her radio years; the couple had a daughter, Barbara Ruick, a musical comedy actress who married famed film composer John Williams before dying unexpectedly in 1974. Tuttle and Ruick eventually divorced; Tuttle remarried, but her second marriage didn't last very long. She became a respected acting coach and teacher — something she'd always done, even at the height of her acting career (she often re-trained radio actors who'd been away from the craft during service in World War II — until her death from cancer in 1986, aged 79. She was survived by three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Her Sam Spade co-star, Howard Duff, who delivered her eulogy, remembered Tuttle:
- She could just take hold of a part and do something with it... I think she never met a part she didn't like. She just loved to work, she loved to act. She's a woman who was born to do what she was doing and loved every minute of it.
- "I could play opposite Jimmy Stewart or Fredric March or Cary Grant or Gary Cooper and Leslie Howard, and on the air I could be the most glamorous, gorgeous, tall, black-haired female you've ever seen in your life. Whatever I wished to be, I could be with my voice, which was the thrilling part to me."---On radio acting with major film stars doing radio guest turns.
- "There are very clever people in the business now who are just voice characters, who... turn on Voice 36 or Voice 9 or Voice 12 or something. But we always worked from the full person, at least I did, and I know that all of us tried to work that way because that's the only honest way to do it. You have to have a person who lives and breathes and walks and is alive, rather than just turning on a voice. You could conjure up, through imagination, anything you wanted to be." — On whether she was merely a voice artist.
- "He got steamed up and the half-hour show didn't really satisfy him, so he kept the audience there afterwards... He did at least an hour, sometimes an hour and a half." — On Red Skelton's being unable to stop performing after each installment of his half-hour show was done for the night.
- "Dear Lurene, Thank you for pulling me through so many broadcasts---fondly, Ronnie." --A note Tuttle received from actor Ronald Colman, who was fond of radio and accepted numerous radio jobs himself when film roles became harder for him to come by in his later years.
- The Great Gildersleeve, "Marjorie's Cake" (7 September 1941)
- The Adventures of Sam Spade, "The Dry Martini Caper" (1 August 1948)
- Suspense, "Can't We Be Friends?" (25 July 1946)
- Suspense, "The Sisters" (with Rosalind Russell, 9 December 1948)
- Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, The Big Broadcast 1920-1950.
- Leonard Maltin, The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age. (New York: Dutton, 1997.)
- Gerald Nachman, Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon, 1998.)
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