America got into the war, of course, on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And a day or two later, why, we were in the war. We had been quasi in the war, in the sense that we had been helping England fight Germany, but we weren't fighting Germany; we weren't in the war. We were all against Hitler and so on, but when the Japanese got in the war and when we got in the war, then, against the Japs and the Germans, then it was really quite a thing. I was fifteen when the news broke.
And I remember when I was fourteen; I was on a program called The Adventures of Lou Loyal. There was a girl in it named Betsy True and it was about two kids together with their uncle who was in the FBI, fighting spies and things like that. Many of the programs had a hue toward those kinds of things; war type stories. During the war, many of the good actors were being drafted or enlisting and going away. So that left those of us who were younger and I was one of them. There was more parts to work on, more shows.
During my entire career I've been on about 10,000 shows. I was on, well, they were called, "soap operas" and the reason for that is that they were sponsored by soap companies. One of them was called Ma Perkins, others were called Road of Life, Backstage Wife, the Right to Happiness, the Guiding Light - it's still on, even to this very day of this year as a television soap opera. I'm told that it is; I don't watch television soap operas. But these shows were all generated from Chicago, or most of them were. Most of the kids shows were; practically all of them. A few came from New York or Detroit. The Lone Ranger came from Detroit; the Green Hornet came from Detroit. One that I liked to listen to as kid was called Let's Pretend and that came from New York. The big night time shows with the stars; the Jack Bennys, the Bob Hopes, they all came from the west coast because that's where these people lived. These shows were on the network lines; they weren't broadcast over a station; they were on network telephone lines. I was on the show Captain Midnight from about 1942 until 1948, except for the time I was in the service, which was two years. It was on the network. Little Orphan Annie had long since gone off the air; it went off in 1940 and Ovaltine sponsored Captain Midnight then. The sponsor would own the show. Their writers wrote the shows; they owned the shows. They owned the rights to the actors in the shows. They had you under contract. You could only work for one sponsor - for one product at the same time.
These shows were recorded on 16 inch glass discs that had been coated with an acrylic of some kind that the cutting needle of the arm could cut a groove into and actually make a recording on a glass disc. So Ovaltine had bought 5:30 to 5:45 time all the way across the country because they figured the little urchins were in now; they had just washed their hands, they were lying down on the rug because the radio is the size of a console television set today. They're lying down on the rug, they going to listen to Captain Midnight and daddy's almost home from work. And mom is in the kitchen cooking the food. That was the utopian American family in those days. I'm talking about the 1940's.
So we would go on the air in Chicago at 4:30. But it wasn't heard in Chicago. We were going on the air through the lines to the East Coast, which was 5:30. There, on the East Coast, they would make a 16 inch glass disc recording, which holds 15 minutes of time and play it back from New York to Chicago at 5:30 - one hour later. Or 45 minutes later after we ended, they'd start the show. We'd be on our way home, we actors, and could hear it in our cars. And then they would take it off the air, off the line, they used to call it, in Denver and play it there at Mountain Time, and the same in Los Angeles.
I didn't sign a contract with Captain Midnight because the Union, AFRA, had a law that said that unless an agent can get you enough above scale for the gig, that when you are through with it, and they've gotten their cut, their ten percent you still have at minimum scale, then they can't take a commission. And none of these directors would pay anybody above scale. They thought the scale was too high to begin with and they were probably right. So that ended Miss Foley being an agent.
By this time I knew most of the people in town and I was a free agent. I could go anywhere, work for anybody, make the rounds, go around, try to see people, keep myself before them; plug them.
When World War Two broke, I did more and more shows. When I turned seventeen, I decided that when I was finally going to have to go into the service - and you had to go at eighteen - that I didn't want to be drafted, because then I could be sent in the infantry, or the Navy, or all kinds of branches of the service that would not appeal to me. So I enlisted in the Army Air Corps, because I wanted to become a pilot. And I enlisted as what was called an Air Cadet, so I could become a pilot and learn how to fly. And the thing was, they said you could be called any month up to the sixth month after your 18th birthday. So I picked the sixth month because I wanted to work as much as I could. In those days, because of a lack of other men being around, young men, I'd be making about five hundred dollars a week. Well, that doesn't like a lot of money now, but in 1945 that was a lot of money. I went, not long ago, to the Chamber of Commerce and also a bank to verify this. And they said that in 1945, if you made five hundred dollars a week, in order to make the equivalent amount of money - spending money today, you'd have to make thirteen times that, or sixty-five hundred dollars a week. And we would spend it. I bought my mother a fur coat, half of a car, my dad paid for the other half we lived better.