Les Damon in Old Time Radio: A hard-working actor, Les Damon seemed more dedicated to Radio than furthering his Movie career
The Radio Industry rose on the fame and attraction of Hollywood A-Listers who took time from their busy schedules to appear (usually with a healthy compensation) on the Air. However, the backbone of the Radio Business as the community of "Radio Row" players who commuted from microphone to microphone, appearing on several shows each week (often, several each day). For most of these players, acting began as a passion, but they ultimately kept at the demanding profession to pay the bills.
One of the more prolific Radio Row Players was Providence, Rhode Island native Les Damon. Born on March 31, 1908, Lester Joseph Damon would matriculate at Brown University before taking up acting professionally. Damon began working with a series of stock theater companies in 1930. This meant acting in various roles on different stages in different towns, often a new town each night. Eventually, he traveled to England where he served an apprenticeship with the Old Vic Company for a year.
Unfortunately, the America that now-polished actor Les Damon returned to was in the depths of the Great Depression. There were a good deal more polished actors than there were stage acting jobs, but, fortunately, the growing Radio industry was desperate for new talent. Amon landed in Chicago where he became a player for the Hummert Radio Factory.
Advertising executive Frank Hummert and his wife, Anne created Air Features, Inc., the production company out of Chicago that produced a significant portion of the daily Soap Operas airing during the period, along with other dramatic and musical content. Hummert Factory Soaps that Damon appeared in included Houseboat Hannah, The Romance of Helen Trent, and several others. Usually called upon to play dependable go-getters or authority figures, Les also played in non-Hummert day-time fare such as The Right to Happiness, Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, and Portia Faces Life.
During the early 1940s, Damon moved to the Radio Row in New York. By now, most radio production was migrating to Hollywood's Radio Row, but there was still plenty of work on the East Coast for those willing to pursue it. In 1941, Himan Brown began adapting the successful Thin Man film series to the airwaves and cast Damon in the role of suave amateur criminologist Nick Charles. The role was brought to the big screen by the great William Powell, but to Damon's credit, he made the character his own rather than imitating Powell's performance.
The soft-boiled detective character still held several of the attributes that made the series a hit on the screen, including several "squeaky kisses" between Nick and his bride, Nora, played by Claudia Morgan. The show would move from NBC to CBS in 1943, which was about the time that Les Damon received a notice from his Draft Board. To the credit of the Army Air Forces, the brass quickly realized that his talents would be wasted manning a machine gun or wrenching on airplanes, and he was assigned to an AFRS station serving as a Technical Sergeant for the Fourteenth Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was responsible for live broadcasts and news features between transcribed programming from Stateside. Tech Sgt Damon was awarded the Bronze Star for his service and he mustered out in 1946.
Although his role as Nick had been taken up by David Gothard and Les Tremayne, the producers were more than happy to welcome Damon back when he returned to civilian life. He stayed with Thin Man for just one more season before going freelance on the New York Radio Row, playing parts on several soaps and landing an occasional gig on Cavalcade of America.
In 1950, Damon was ready to take on a little more hard-boiled detective role in the form of private eye Michael Waring, The Falcon. This was another role that Damon took over from Les Tramayne. Fortunately, the two actors had rather similar voices. Damon stayed with The Falcon until 1953 before reuniting with Claudia organ in a reprise of The Adventures of the Abbotts on NBC, which had originally been The Abbott Mysteries on Mutual, starring Les Tremayne in 1945-47.
Like several other Radio Row professionals during the early 1950s, Damon's versatility and work ethic landed him several TV guest spots, including character roles on The Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners, The Dick Powell Show, The New Breed, and Have Gun – Will Travel. His experience also led to TV Soaps, including appearances on The Guiding Light, The Edge of Night, and As the World Turns.Les Damon remained a dedicated Radio Row player until his death. On July 21, 1962, he suffered a fatal heart attack while admitted to the UCLA Medical Center. He was 54. Les Damon's remains were interred at the National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Two months after Damon's passing, the Golden Age of Radio came to an end with the final broadcast of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar on September 30, 1962.