Pioneers of the Air: African-American Kansans on Early Radio, Pt. 8

Like his contemporary Ruby Dandridge, Roy Glenn was both a Kansas native and prolific actor on network radio during the 1940s and 1950s. Glenn was born June 3, 1914 in Pittsburgh, KS, but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was six. He was cast in various stage performances during the 1930s and in later years claimed that he made his first radio appearances during this time as well, starring on the bi-racial The Gilmore Gasoline Show in 1936. Records indicate this was his only work on the medium until 1946 when he earned a part on The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show. He was one of several black radio actors that was cast on this show and, later, Beulah. There is no evidence that Glenn ever had long-running roles as did Ruby Dandridge. However, as a journeyman actor he is credited with parts on some of old time radio’s most popular and fondly remembered series.19

Glenn’s radio-ography is headlined by guest appearances on The Jack Benny Show, a perennially top-rated radio comedy program during the 1940s and early 1950s. He earned spots on eight broadcasts of Suspense, a weekly anthology series which ran from 1942 until 1962 and attracted Hollywood headliners for the lead parts. No less impressive are seven appearances on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a private-eye program which aired between 1949 and 1962. He joined Cary Grant on a broadcast of the marquee series Lux Radio Theatre. Mystery shows were a good fit for Glenn’s voice talents and, in addition to Johnny Dollar, he was cast at times in Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1949 – 1953), which featured Dick Powell in the title role, and in The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1947 – 1948). Glenn’s resume could also boast of appearances on Pete Kelly’s Blues, featuring Jack Webb of Dragnet fame (1951), Crime Classics (1953 – 1954), and Rocky Jordan (1945 – 1947), co-written, incidentally, by Gomer Cool who broke into radio on Kansas City’s KMBC. During the heyday of Glenn’s radio work from the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s his talent landed him on individual episodes of the police show Broadway is My Beat (1949 – 1954), Tales of the Texas Rangers, a western, (1950 – 1952), the experimental CBS Radio Workshop (1956 – 1957), Romance (1943 – 1957), and Hallmark Hall of Fame (1948 – 1953).20

With the demise of dramatic radio in the early 1960s Glenn transitioned to television and continued with film roles, his most prominent parts coming in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and A Raisin in the Sun. He died prematurely of a heart attack in 1971 at the age of 56.

Kansas may not be able to claim the radio heritage of states such as New York or California, but the early accomplishments of African-American Kansans in the field are an area in which the state may be proud. From the efforts of Sumner High School staff to get students engaged in the emerging wireless technology to George Hamilton’s daily broadcasts in 1925 to the dramatic roles of Roy Glenn in the mid-1950s, black Kansans had a steady presence on the nation’s airwaves.

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