Today’s installment of Radio Round-Up explores the radio career of Arthur Q. Bryan, best known as the voice of Elmer Fudd…
Born in Brooklyn in 1899, Arthur Quirk Bryan started as a concert singer and performed in choirs at various churches in New York City. By 1918, he was an insurance clerk at the Mutual Life Insurance Company, but aspired to become a concert singer. Press stories on Bryan’s career noted that his work in radio started in 1924, but recent evidence—from a radio listing— indicates his first appearance as a singer happened at WGBS in June 1926, on early Thursday evenings.
He continued as a tenor soloist at WEAF by 1928, while also performing with the Seiberling Singers and the Jeddo Highlanders. In 1929, he became an announcer for WOR in New Jersey. Among the programs he announced was for the children’s radio host “Uncle Don” Carney. Bryan left WOR in 1931, and was hired by WCAU in Philadelphia as a writer/performer. He remained in the East Coast—as he shifted from different stations—until 1936, when he decided to move to Hollywood to become a scenario writer for Paramount Pictures.
This venture into screenwriting wasn’t successful, and Bryan went into KFWB, a local radio station owned by Warner Bros. He performed on a show called The Grouch Club, with “grouch-master” Jack Lescoulie, which first aired around 1938. The show revolved around a discussion of people who wished to complain about everyday life, in which Bryan played a regular part as “The Little Man.” He spoke with a speech impediment similar to rhotacism—unable to pronounce “L” or “R” sounds, with “W” in its place, which he used throughout many of his roles in animation and radio.
The animators and directors at Warners frequently visited KFWB, which was few buildings away from the animation department on Sunset Boulevard. Tex Avery heard Bryan’s performance and used the voice for Dangerous Dan McFoo (1939), where the diminutive character is introduced and looks to the audience saying, “Hewwo, ev-webody!” Here is an excerpt from The Grouch Club, from a February 21, 1940 broadcast:
In the early 1940s, Bryan provided the voice for Elmer Fudd for his first crystallized appearance in Elmer’s Candid Camera (1940). He continued to voice Elmer for Warner Bros., while also performing on different radio programs. The same year of the definitive Bugs and Elmer encounter in A Wild Hare (1940), Bryan joined the cast of Al Pearce and His Gang as “Waymond Wadcliffe.” By 1941, Bryan appeared on a show called Nitwit Court, which often featured Mel Blanc and Sara Berner, though no episodes are known to exist in circulation. Not many of Al Pearce’s broadcasts are widely circulated, but here is a guest appearance with the character on The Jack Benny Program, from November 16, 1941:
Though he played supporting characters on radio, Bryan starred in a short-lived summer replacement series called Major Hoople in 1942. Sadly, like Nitwit Court, no episodes are known to exist. A short time later, in the fall of that year, Bryan became a regular cast member on The Great Gildersleeve. He assumed different roles before playing as Floyd Munson, the barber—a character first played by Mel Blanc. In the spring of 1943, Bryan played a regular part as Doc Gamble on Fibber McGee and Molly, an alternative adversary to McGee after his former neighbor Thockmorton Gildersleeve moved to his own program. Here is an excerpt from a June 8, 1943 broadcast, where listeners will notice the vast difference between the contemptuous physician on this show and the dimwitted hunter Elmer Fudd:
Bryan often migrated to New York for different radio programs. In 1947, he spent a few weeks on the East Coast on The Milton Berle Show, but did not become a regular cast member. His performances on radio displayed a broader acting range than heard on his comedy and variety appearances. Bryan acted in several episodes of Lux Radio Theatre and Screen Directors Playhouse throughout the 1940s. These anthology series broadcast adaptations of movies, with some of the original actors involved during production. For one such example, Bryan played the role of the angel-in-training Clarence in the Screen Directors Playhouse production of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), broadcast on May 8, 1949:
In the mid-1940s and early 1950s, Bryan appeared on several crime dramas and detective shows including Adventures of Phillip Marlowe (1947-58), Jeff Regan, Investigator (1948-50), The Man from Homicide (1950-51), and Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1949-53), which starred actor Dick Powell. In Richard Diamond, he took over the role of Lieutenant Walt Levinson from Ed Begley for a brief period. Here is an excerpt from a November 22, 1950 broadcast:
Throughout the 1950s, Bryan’s vocal performances in radio and animated cartoons kept him busy. He continued to portray his most enduring radio character Floyd Munson on The Great Gildersleeve until 1955, and retired his role of Doc Gamble on Fibber McGee and Molly two years later. His last voice recording for Warner Bros. was as Elmer Fudd in Friz Freleng’s Person to Bunny (1960), which occurred on January 2, 1959. Several months later, in November, Bryan succumbed to a sudden attack at the age of 60. Voice actor Hal Smith took over the voice of Elmer Fudd by the following year.
For clarification on Bryan’s career in animation, he wasn’t restricted to play only in the same speech patterns mainly used for Elmer Fudd. On two occasions, director Chuck Jones allowed him to play different characters in his cartoons—he uses his normal voice as the exhausted businessman in A Pest in the House (1947) and uses a French accent as the casting director in Past Perfumance (1955).
As a special bonus, here is some brief footage of Bryan as “Waymond Wadcliffe,” either from the late 1930s or early 1940s.
(Thanks to Keith Scott and Yowp for their help.)