Today is the birthday of Lester “Les” Tremayne (1913-2003). Tremayne is easily one of “those guys” whose face and voice you know intimately from lots of high profile work, but whose name you probably never learned.
Tremayne was born in England; his mother was English actress Dolly Tremayne. At age four the family moved to Chicago — one of his defining features would always be his generic sounding American accent. His professional life began as a teenager, acting in community theatre, dancing in what was left of vaudeville, and performing as an outside “talker” in amusement parks (“Hurry, Hurry, Hurry!”) . But it was in radio that he first gained major success, using his rich voice and clipped diction to the desired effect throughout the 1930s and 40s on such shows as The Adventures of the Thin Man, The Romance of Helen Trent, The Falcon and The Abbott Mysteries.
It wasn’t until the end of the Old Time Radio era that he began to work in television and film. Tremayne was one of those figures that especially characterized the 1950s and to a lesser extent the 1960s…guys who were cast as actors but who brought along a formal, stilted quality more characteristic of their work as announcers. With the added benefit of his pencil thin mustache, Tremayne was often cast as judges, lawyers, army generals and other authority figures, with a bland, impersonality that your correspondent has always finds hilarious for its utter artificiality. No one in the real world ever behaved or spoke like this, but for a time, it was a staple of the products of Hollywood. One of Tremayne’s best known roles to modern audiences would be the Auctioneerin Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). He was also an army general in The War of the Worlds (1953):
But his golden tones were often still employed off-camera as voiceovers in films like Forbidden Planet (1956), and From Earth to the Moon (1958), and several Elvis movies. He constantly guest starred in television throughout the 50s and 60s. He was a regular on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1958-1959), and was cast as an opposing lawyer in Perry Mason so many times that Mason ought to have smelled a rat (“Wait a minute…aren’t you-?”). People my age might remember him as Mentor from Shazam! (1974-1976). In the 70s and 80s, voiceovers in animated children’s programming became his principal bread and butter, both on prime-time specials and Saturday morning fare. His voice can be heard in The Phantom Tollboth (1970), The Cricket in Times Square (1973), Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975) all the way to The Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1990). See his crazy list of credits here.
To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.