|Born||August 29, 1907|
Pleasant Lake, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||May 28, 1986 (aged 78)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California|
(m. 1928; div. 1945)
Frederick W. Cole
(m. 1950; div. 1956)
|Relatives||Joseph Williams (grandson)|
Lurene Tuttle (August 29, 1907 – May 28, 1986) was an American actress and acting coach, who made the transition from vaudeville to radio, and later films and television. Her most enduring impact was as one of network radio's more versatile actresses. Often appearing in 15 shows per week, comedies, dramas, thrillers, soap operas, and crime dramas, she became known as the "First Lady of Radio".
Tuttle was born August 29, 1907, at Pleasant Lake, Indiana, into a family with strong ties to entertainment. Her father, Clair Vivien Tuttle (1883–1950), had been a performer in minstrel shows before becoming a station agent for a railroad. Her grandfather, Frank Tuttle, managed an opera house and taught drama. Her mother was Verna Sylvia (Long) Tuttle. She discovered her own knack for acting after moving with her family to Glendale, Arizona. She later credited a drama coach there for "making me aware of life as it really is—by making me study life in real situations."
After her family moved to Southern California, Tuttle appeared in productions at the Pasadena Playhouse, then joined the vaudeville troupe Murphy's Comedians. By the time of the Great Depression, Tuttle had put her vocal versatility to work in radio, and within a decade, she became an in-demand actress in the medium.
Tuttle's radio debut came in 1936 when she appeared on Hollywood Hotel with Dick Powell. Despite having never performed before a microphone, Tuttle's audition won her a three-year contract with the program.
Thirteen years later, one newspaper columnist called her "quite possibly the most-heard woman in America."
On radio's The Adventures of Sam Spade she played just about every female role as well as Spade's secretary Effie Perrine. She appeared in such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and concurrently appeared on The Great Gildersleeve as the niece Marjorie Forrester. Tuttle had regular roles in such shows as Brenthouse, Dr. Christian, Duffy's Tavern, One Man's Family, The Red Skelton Show (as Junior's mother and as Daisy June, roles that she shared with Harriet Nelson), Hollywood Hotel, and Those We Love.
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.
Tuttle guest starred on the radio police series Dragnet, starring Jack Webb, Lux Radio Theater, The Screen Guild Theater and Suspense, in the episode "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.
It was during her time on Hollywood Hotel that Tuttle became involved 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 per 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 later became the first female president of the federation's Hollywood local.
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 Olivia 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."
Tuttle became a familiar face to millions of television viewers with more than 100 appearances from 1950 to 1986, often in the role of an inquisitive busybody. On television 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). Columnist Hedda Hopper called the selection of Leon Ames as Father and Tuttle as Mother "what I consider 22 carat casting with two all-Americans."
Heaven Only Knows (1947) was her first film. She went on to appear in such films as Orson Welles's Macbeth (1948, as one of the Three Witches), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948, as Mr. Blandings' secretary, Mary), and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960, as the wife of Sheriff Chambers). In Don't Bother to Knock (1952), she portrayed a mother who unknowingly lets a disturbed woman (played by Marilyn Monroe) babysit her daughter. The next year she appeared again with Monroe in Niagara, as Mrs. Kettering. She had a rare starring role in Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960). She played Grandma Pusser in the original Walking Tall film trilogy, and also appeared in horror films such as The Manitou (1978), starring Tony Curtis. Her final film role was in the 1983 film Testament.
She guest-starred twice on Edmond O'Brien's 1960 crime drama Johnny Midnight. She then played a supporting role in the 1961 Father of the Bride television situation comedy. She made six guest appearances on Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr, during the nine-year run of the show from 1957 to 1966. She usually played the role of the defendant, such as Anna Houser in "The Case of the Substitute Face" in 1958, Sarette Winslow in "The Case of the Artful Dodger" in 1959, Sarah Breel in "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe" in 1963, and Josephine Kempton in "The Case of the Grinning Gorilla" in 1965. However, in 1966, she played the murderess, Henny McLeod, in "The Case of the Avenging Angel".
In 1958 and 1959, she was cast in two episodes as Gladys Purvis, the mother of series character Kate McCoy, played by Kathleen Nolan, in the sitcom The Real McCoys, with Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna. She appeared twice on the NBC western series The Californians, once as Belle Calhoun in "Skeleton in the Closet" (1958) and then as Maude Sorel in "The Painted Lady" (1959). She guest-starred with Andrew Duggan in his crime series Bourbon Street Beat.
Tuttle appeared three times each on sitcoms The Danny Thomas Show and Petticoat Junction and twice on the following: Leave It to Beaver, The Bob Cummings Show, The Ann Sothern Show, Pete and Gladys, The Andy Griffith Show, Hazel, General Electric Theater, Switch, and Fantasy Island; she appeared as Lee Meriwether's aunt in the final episode of Barnaby Jones in 1980.
In 1960, she was cast as Mrs. Courtland in the episode "The Raffle Ticket" of the sitcom based on the comic strip Dennis the Menace, with Jay North and Joseph Kearns.
Tuttle guest-starred in such westerns as Buckskin, The Restless Gun, Colt .45, Johnny Ringo, The Cowboys, Little House on the Prairie, Wanted Dead or Alive, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Lawman, and The Iron Horse.
Tuttle was cast as Mrs. Grange in the 1963 episode "The Risk" on the drama series Mr. Novak, starring James Franciscus as an idealistic high school teacher. She later appeared on the popular 1960s sitcoms I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, and Petticoat Junction.
Tuttle's best-known role to the general public was likely in 32 episodes of the series Julia (1968–1971) as Hannah Yarby. In 1972, she appeared as Bella Swann on the episode "Farmer Ted and the News" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Mrs. Sharp on The Partridge Family.
In 1980, Tuttle appeared as Mrs. McIntyre in the television movie White Mama, with Bette Davis. From 1981-1984, Tuttle appeared six times on the drama series Trapper John, M.D. One of her last roles was in episode 25 ("Murder in the Afternoon") of Murder, She Wrote as Agnes Cochran. The episode first aired on October 13, 1985.
In 1944, Tuttle received Radio Life magazine's Distinguished Achievement Award for Best Supporting Feminine Player.
Tuttle has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – "Star of Radio" at 1760 Vine Street and "Star of Television" at 7011 Hollywood Boulevard. Both stars were dedicated February 8, 1960.
Tuttle married Melville Ruick, an actor whom she had met during her radio years; the couple had a daughter, Barbara (1930-1974), who was married to film composer John Williams.
Tuttle and Ruick eventually divorced. She remarried, to Frederick W. Cole, an engineer, on November 27, 1950, in Pasadena, California. She sued him for divorce on January 4, 1956.
She became a respected acting coach and teacher—something she had always done, even at the height of her acting career (she often re-trained radio actors who had been away from the craft during service in World War II).
Tuttle had a hobby of collecting toy dogs. A 1930 newspaper article reported "Her dressing room shelf is filled with more than 200 miniature replicas of every variety of dog known."
Tuttle, a registered Republican, campaigned for Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election.
Tuttle died from cancer on May 28, 1986 at a hospital in Encino, California. Memorial services were held June 2, 1986 at Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.
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.
She also played the part of Eddie Haskell's landlady in Leave It to Beaver's 1962 episode called "Bachelor at Large".
Tuttle played the swallow in "The Happy Prince", an adaption of Oscar Wilde's short story with Orson Welles and Bing Crosby (1946). The story had been adapted for radio by Orson Welles in 1944, featuring a musical score by Bernard Herrmann. It aired on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame broadcast on December 24, 1944 with Lureen Tuttle playing The Swallow and featuring Bing Crosby alongside Orson Welles, with Herrmann's music conducted by Victor Young.
Brenthouse, serial drama.