Character actor Junius Conyers Matthews—born in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1890—would achieve his show business immortality in the twilight of his career despite years of diligently working on stage, in movies, and on television and radio. Fittingly, Junius’ fame would depend on his voice: in 1963, he emoted as crotchety “Archimedes the Owl” in the Walt Disney animated feature film The Sword in the Stone. Three years later, Matthews made the first of three appearances as “Rabbit” in Disney’s featurette adaptations of the Winnie the Pooh stories beginning with Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and concluding with 1977’s anthology The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which he completed before his passing in 1978.
Junius Matthews’ acting career began back in 1914, when he landed a role in the Broadway production Young Wisdom. He followed that up with work in Any House (1916) and scored a motion picture debut with The Silent Witness in 1917. Junius enlisted as a private in the Army during WWI, briefly putting his show business career on pause, and once discharged went back to the Broadway stage in The Phantom Legion (1919). Throughout the 1920s Matthews appeared in such productions as The Little Clay Cart, The Dybbuk, and The Taming of the Shrew.
Junius Matthews’ distinctive voice was put to good use in western-themed radio shows, where he was often called upon to play old codgers or miners–any “old fart” character was right up Matthews’ alley. Among the aural oaters he worked on were The Cisco Kid, Frontier Gentleman, Gunsmoke, The Roy Rogers Show, The Six Shooter, and Wild Bill Hickok. Junius’ “codgerly” activities culminated in his being cast as sidekick “Wichita” in Luke Slaughter of Tombstone, a series directed and produced by William N. Robson (who was also in the chair for Suspense at that time). The program was heard over CBS Radio from February 23 to June 15, 1958, with actor Sam Buffington played the title role.
Junius Matthews’ other significant radio roles include that
of Grandpa Eph on the daytime drama David Harum; Ling Wee, a
Chinese restaurant waiter on Gasoline Alley; and Red
Lantern, a “wise old fish” on the children’s program The Land of the
Lost. Matthews also appeared on the likes of The Adventures
of Maisie, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The
Adventures of Sam Spade, Arthur Hopkins Presents, Bold
Venture, Broadway’s My Beat, The CBS
Radio Workshop, The Cavalcade of America, The
Columbia Workshop, Crime Classics, Escape, Family
Theatre, Great Plays, Hollywood Star
Playhouse, Ideas That Came True, Let
George Do It, The Line-Up, The Lux Radio
Theatre, Mystery is My Hobby, NBC
Presents Short Story, The NBC University Theatre, Night
Beat, On Stage, The Pendleton Story, Radio
Guild, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Romance, The
Silent Men, Stars in the Air, The Story
of Dr. Kildare, Suspense, This is Our
Enemy, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, WOR
Summer Theatre, The Whistler, Words at
War, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
As you can see, Junius Matthews was quite busy in radio so his motion picture work was fairly spotty and sporadic, with bit roles and uncredited parts in such features as Without Reservations (1945), I’ve Always Loved You (1946), The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), Chicken Every Sunday (1948), Half Angel (1951), My Wife’s Best Friend (1952), Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955), and A Summer Place (1959). A notable exception to this was Matthews’ onscreen credit for Black Angel (1946), a noir classic starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, and Peter Lorre. Junius did a little better on the small screen, making appearances on such shows as Dragnet, The Gale Storm Show: Oh, Susanna!, The Gene Autry Show, The Great Gildersleeve, Have Gun – Will Travel, I Led Three Lives, The Lineup, and The Real McCoys.
Although he voiced the character of “Scottie the Terrier” in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), the story goes that Junius Matthews’ fellow radio crony Karl Swenson recommended Junius to Walt Disney himself for The Sword and the Stone (1963). (Karl explained to Walt that Matthews was quite versatile, having once voiced a potato on a radio broadcast.) Junius was originally going to be the voice of Merlin, but decided to switch roles with Swenson so that Matthews could play Archimedes (the owl). Disney was impressed by Julius’ fine work and was motivated to cast the actor in the Winnie the Pooh featurettes as Rabbit, a role that became the responsibility of Will Ryan and Ken Sansom after Junius’ passing in 1978.
The biographical background on today’s birthday celebrant has always been a bit sketchy…but one thing that is certain is that you can check out Junius Matthews’ performances in any number of Radio Spirits collections. To start, we recommend checking out Junius’ signature role on Luke Slaughter of Tombstone and add to that his solid support on five Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar sets: Dollar in the Dark, Fabulous Freelance, Mysterious Matters, Phantom Chases, and Wayward Matters. You’ll also find Matthews on sets of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely Canyons, Night Tide), Broadway’s My Beat (Dark Whispers, The Loneliest Mile), The Six Shooter (Gray Steel, Special Edition), and Suspense (Dead of Night, Ties That Bind). In addition, the birthday boy can be heard on Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Frontier Gentleman, The Line Up: Witness, Night Beat: Human Interest, Romance, and Voyage of the Scarlet Queen.
In our digital downloads store you’ll find more Junius Matthews on Crime Classics, Escape Essentials, Escape: The Hunted and the Haunted, Gunsmoke: The Round Up, Let George Do It: Cry Uncle, The Line Up, Richard Diamond: Shamus, Richard Diamond: Trouble, Sam Spade: Volumes One and Two, Suspense: Tales Well Calculated, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Fatal Matters. Happy birthday, Junius!