Shirley Mitchell

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The Box has always been a gigantic fan of bygone eras, especially the era from the early 1930s to the early- to mid-1950s when radio was the entertainment medium of choice for Americans.

Shirley Mitchell in the early 1940s

Toledo has a long history of producing talented actors and actresses, and radio was no exception. Danny Thomas was on a radio show, Drene Time, that was mostly known for its happy married couple The Bickersons. But one of the most prolific performers, and one of my favorites, was Shirley Mitchell.

Shirley was born in 1919 to Mr. and Mrs. Sam Mitchell who, at least according to this 1943 Mitch Woodbury column, lived at 431 Islington Street, right down the street from Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral (commonly known as Holy Rosary Cathedral).

According to her parents, Shirley started impersonating movie stars when she was six years old. She sang the lead role in the operetta “Hiawatha” at Longfellow school, and by the age of 13 she was on WSPD radio’s “Children’s Hour.” She took dramatic training at the University of Toledo and the University of Michigan, and eventually was being heard frequently in Cleveland when she decided to head to Chicago, then a major radio center.

From there it was on to Hollywood, where she eventually landed the role of Leila Ransom, the southern belle love interest of The Great Gildersleeve, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve.

“Radio’s Sweetheart.” That’s what they’re calling Toledo’s Shirley Mitchell in Hollywood these days …

Usually cast as the ingenue romantic interest, Shirley is now one of the busiest microphone performers on the west coast. Not only that, she is one of the best liked and best known. Only last week she was the subject of a two-page illustrated spread in the kilocycle publication, Radio Life Weekly. And the article by Coy Williams is very flattering in its praise of the local miss.

“There’s an ever-smilin’ blonde around town who’s gone and built herself the doggonest monopoly we’ve come across,” Mr. Williams writes. “She’s cornered the market on long term romance and won the unique title of ‘Radio’s Sweetheart’.”

Woodbury reported in the 1943 column quoted above that Mitchell shared a house in the Hollywood Hills with none other than Dinah Shore.

When radio faded, Mitchell moved to television and played a wide range of major and minor roles, and was even in I Love Lucy. She died Nov. 11, 2013 at the age of 94, and was, when she died, probably one of the very few stars of the Golden Age of Radio still living.

Season three of The Great Gildersleeve, the NBC show starring Harold Peary, had just started its third season when Woodbury wrote his column. It can be found here, and Mitchell plays a pivotal role. The shows sound great and after seventy years they’re still pretty amusing.

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