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Happy Birthday, Vic Perrin!

Happy Birthday, Vic Perrin!

Posted by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. on Apr 26th 2021

Old-time radio fans remember actor Victor Herbert Perrin—born in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin on this date in 1916—as a member-in-good-standing of the informal “stock company” of performers frequently used by director-producer Norm Macdonnell for the popular radio series Gunsmoke. What you may not know, however, is that Perrin was also a writer; he penned five scripts for the program, two in tandem with fellow Gunsmoke actor Harry Bartell. (Vic and Harry were not only colleagues but remarkably close friends, and their fascination with the Chester Wesley Proudfoot character would result in collaborations like “Chester’s Inheritance.”) It would appear that the time Perrin put in as a “badger” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was put to excellent use where his creative muse was concerned.

Acting became a passion for Vic Perrin while he was still attending college, obtaining his thespic experience on the campus radio station. After graduation, Vic was presented with a choice: “starving in New York or starving in Hollywood.” It’s warmer out West, so Perrin—armed with two letters of recommendation from a professor—knocked on endless doors until he finally landed a job parking cars in a lot at the National Broadcasting Company. Six weeks later, a spot for a junior announcer opened up at NBC and Vic’s successful audition won him the gig.

Having established a beachhead in radio, Vic Perrin made the decision to hone his craft by joining a Shakespearean workshop instituted by Academy Award-winning actor Charles Laughton. Under Laughton’s tutelage, a group of actors (which included big names like Shelley Winters, Robert Ryan, and Jane Wyatt) congregated at the actor’s Hollywood home three-days-a-week to read and study classic plays. Vic would later credit the experience for his success in the industry, remembering the advice given to him by Laughton: “Let the words do the work. Don’t inject too much emotion into them, just let them come out.”

Vic Perrin would rise through the ranks of announcers at NBC and eventually move over to ABC when that network emerged from the old NBC Blue. Perrin also did what working radio actors did back in the day: read a lot of daytime drama scripts in front of a microphone. He had roles on Aunt Mary and Dr. Paul, and one of the more interesting “washboard weepies” on which Vic worked was The Story of Holly Sloan, which also showcased the talents of actress-singer Gale Page and Let George Do It star Bob Bailey. (Perrin played “Clay Brown,” “the faithful boy from back home who followed [Holly] to New York.”) Vic was also a member of the voluminous One Man’s Family cast, playing “Ross Farnsworth.” Perrin even headlined two radio programs as the star. On The Zane Grey Show, he was lead cowboy “Tex Thorne,” but was replaced by Don McLaughlin when the show moved to New York. From 1950 to 1952, he gave voice to circus star and wild animal tamer Clyde Beatty on Mutual’s The Clyde Beatty Show.

Cementing a friendship with radio auteur Jack Webb worked wonders for Vic Perrin’s acting career in the aural medium. Perrin appeared on Pat Novak for Hire and Pete Kelly’s Blues, and was a charter member of the “stock company” frequently used on Webb’s Dragnet. (Vic even got a tryout as “Frank Smith,” the replacement partner for Joe Friday after the death of Ben Romero [Barton Yarborough]. Webb was reluctant to lose such a valuable supporting player, however, and assigned Ben Alexander to the role.) Perrin would continue his association with Webb not only on both the 1952-59 and the 1967-70 TV versions of Dragnet (not to mention the 1954 feature film, in which he played a deputy D.A.) but on Webb-affiliated series like Adam-12 and Project U.F.O.

Vic Perrin’s most prolific radio collaborations were with director-producer Norm Macdonnell. Gunsmoke has already been mentioned, of course, but Vic also made appearances on such Macdonnell-supervised programs as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Escape, Have Gun — Will Travel, The Lux Radio Theatre, Rogers of the Gazette, Romance, and Suspense. Perrin also had a weekly gig as Sergeant Gorce on Macdonnell’s Fort Laramie, a Western in the Gunsmoke mold that starred Raymond Burr as Lee Quince, “Captain of Cavalry” at the titular Wyoming Army post. Modern day listeners recognize Laramie as an exemplary radio drama…but sadly, its run over CBS was brief (January 22 to October 28, 1956).

Because so many broadcasts have been lost to the ravages of time and neglect, compiling a complete list of Vic Perrin’s radio acting credits would be a particularly daunting task. Among the shows that Vic appeared on include The CBS Radio Workshop, Crime Classics, Errand of Mercy, Family Theatre, Free World Theatre, Frontier Gentleman (under the pseudonym “Richard Perkins”), The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hopalong Cassidy, The Hour of St. Francis, The Line-Up, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone, The NBC University Theatre, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, Night Beat, The Pacific Story, Retribution, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Roy Rogers Show, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, Somebody Knows, Stars Over Hollywood, The Story of Doctor Kildare, Whispering Streets, The Whistler, Wild Bill Hickok, You Were There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Perrin was even an enthusiastic participant in the attempts to revive radio drama in the 70s on series like The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears/Mutual Radio Theatre (reunited with Norm Macdonnell!).

Vic Perrin made his motion picture debut in 1947’s Magic Town, uncredited as an elevator operator. His first credited part was in the Ida Lupino-directed Outrage (1950), and although many of his movie roles were small ones Vic did memorable work in features like Black Tuesday (1954), Airport (1970), and Black Oak Conspiracy (1977). (One of Perrin’s oddest turns is in the 1954 Randolph Scott oater Riding Shotgun; his character has little dialogue, preferring to walk menacingly around holding a noose.) Vic was seen more often on the small screen, guesting on such classic favorites as The Adventures of Superman, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, Have Gun -– Will Travel, Mannix, Maverick, Mission: Impossible, Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, Star Trek (Tharn in “Mirror, Mirror”), The Twilight Zone, and The Untouchables.

Vic Perrin’s television immortality was cemented with this unforgettable opening narration: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission…” Vic was “The Control Voice” on The Outer Limits, a 1963-65 ABC-TV science-fiction anthology that became a cult favorite despite its brief network run. Perrin’s voice would become his fortune on TV whether it was on animated cartoon series (The Adventures of Jonny Quest, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?) or voice-overs for commercials, selling everything from the Yellow Pages to Porsches. Perrin believed that commercials were every bit as challenging as acting, observing to The New York Times in 1967: “I’m able to be much more selective about the acting parts I do now. When your bread and butter depends on just being an actor, you have to accept parts that you like to think are beneath you. Now, I don’t work as an actor too often, but when I do, it’s in better parts.” Vic Perrin passed away in 1989 at the age of 73.

Back when Victor Perrin wasn’t selective about acting parts he racked up an impressive c.v. of radio credits…and Radio Spirits offers a lot of his work on CD. To start, we recommend his two signature radio series—Dragnet (The Big Blast, Big Crime, The Big Death, The Big Gamble, The Big Make, Get ‘Em, and Night Watch) and Gunsmoke (Around Dodge City, Dead or Alive, Flashback, The Hunter, and Snakebite). In addition, Radio Spirits has on hand compendiums of Have Gun – Will Travel (Bitter Vengeance, Dressed to Kill) along with the complete run of Fort Laramie on two fantastic sets (Fort Laramie and Fort Laramie, Volume Two). Of course, you can listen for Vic on our fistful of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections (Confidential, Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Medium Rare Matters, and Wayward Matters). Rounding out the sets featuring our birthday celebrant are Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Family Theatre: Every Home, Frontier Gentleman: The Violent Years, Great Radio Detectives, Great Radio Science Fiction, The Line-Up: Witness, Nero Wolfe: Parties for Death, Romance, Somebody Knows, Stop the Press!, and The Story of Doctor Kildare.

As they say in the commercials—but wait! There’s more! At our digital downloads store, you’ll find Mr. Perrin in collections of Dragnet (Crime to PunishmentOfficial FilesProtect the Innocent), Escape (ClassicsThe Hunted and the Haunted), Frontier Gentleman (Aces and EightsFrontier Gentleman), Gunsmoke (Bloody HandsKillers & SpoilersThe Round Up), Have Gun – Will Travel (Blind CourageHave Gun – Will Travel), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Surplus Homicides), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Archives CollectionMysterious MattersPhantom Chases). It’s Vic Perrin’s birthday…and your shopping cart awaits!