Well I‘m back on the bench in front of the old library. Not a bad morning, slightly cool, perhaps spot of rain later, should be a perfect day to chat with someone interesting. I‘ll do my usual, hang around for an hour, you never know who might turn up.

The other day I ran into Betty again. Running into Betty isn’t difficult in Tatamagouche. Betty seems to appear everywhere. If you go into Shell or the Chowder House for morning coffee she will be there. Betty holds court, strutting her stuff verbally. Locals, tourists anyone within earshot will be buttonholed and held captive until her rant is over. Her complaint the other day I‘ve heard more than once before, Why doesn’t the government do something for Betty.

As for today, it would appear that Betty is no where to be seen. I am safe for the moment.

My perch on the bench provides me with a total recognizance of the comings and goings of the movers and shakers on the North Shore. From my vantage point I witness the steady flow of traffic to the Post Office and Scotia Bank , the sprawl of down town Tatamagouche. This is as close at it gets to the real action. For us out of towners, the so called Come from Aways, it as close as we get to Bay and Bloor or even George and Hollis Streets.

Twenty after eleven and not an hello from anyone when I notice a blue ford pick up park in front of Hueston’s Butcher shop. Out steps Lionel , you know Lionel , Lionel the fine old gentleman who has the voice. I don’t mean he has an opinion, no I mean a real voice a professional voice. If Richard Burton were still alive then he would give up Elizabeth Taylor for Lionel’s voice. Perhaps it is gift from his English Grandfather, someone said that his people came from Kent .

I first noticed Lionel years ago when I was in Tri County Ford and he was getting his snow tires put on his blue ford. It was his voice that captured my attention. All he wanted was an appointment but it was the way he spoke to staff. Slow with a deep full pronunciation of each syllable. It was magic.

Later that same month over coffee with the boys in The Chowder House, Lionel reminisced about his early years in New York in Radio Drama. It was then that I realized that Lionel was an actor. Now edging towards 80, Lionel spent a lifetime in radio drama.

After I got know him better I realized that Lionel simply lives Radio, I don’t mean the news or Sports but Drama, Radio Drama.

Tales of live broadcasts that went haywire, real actors, not just a face but people that had true voices, boy can Lionel play the part. It doesn’t take much to get him going. Offer him a cup of coffee and Philip Marlowe appears before you eyes. Lionel spent 40 years trying to find work, mostly in New York during the Hey Day of radio, the forties and early fifties.

Always curious I asked him one day if I would remember any of the programs he was in. His response was that nobody would remember any of the characters that he portrayed.

They were the other parts, the limited role, the stand by guy or maybe if he was lucky the understudy to a Radio Star of his day.

For my part I definitely remember radio. When I was a kid radio drama was my escape. It was my way of avoiding playing Crazy Eights with my younger brother. I did and still detest playing card games.

I would go upstairs in the duplex that we shared with my Grandmother. She and I would eat fig newtons and spend hours listening to Perry Mason, I was a Spy for the FBI or if I was lucky an episode of Boston Blaikie. The first time I mentioned Boston Blackie to Lionel a huge smile appeared on his face and then he broke into character, “ He was an Enemy to those who make him an enemy a friend to those who have no friend.” Yes that was his persona, every program started and finished with that line I boasted.

Last month at a church social Lionel treated everyone to a selection famous voices from the past. It is remarkable how a person changes when they are in character.

As it turns out Lionel was a cast member of the Boston Blackie show. In fact he was a close as you could get to Richard Kollmar the actor who played Blackie until 1952. He was his understudy, he knew the part inside out and every Tuesday and Thursday night he was ready to play the role if Kollmar was sick, but it never happen. Over 7 years on the program and Lionel never spoke a line.

The next time you see Lionel in town asked him about his New York days. He might be shy but I guarantee that he will go in and out of characters from Philip Marlowe to Nero Wolfe and back to his favourite Boston Blaikie.

You might think that Lionel had a remarkable career , but not in his opinion. He will tell you that it was hardly a living, let alone a career. He never owned a car, he couldn’t get a mortgage, he never married, all that he did was survive from one bit part to the next, never really having a role to play.

As for television, he never appeared on it, never wanted to. Live theatre turned out to be the reason that brought him back to Canada. That stage in his career never amounted to much either. As he approached his 60s he did a bit of directing, mostly high school plays. In his opinion it was a way of keeping his feet wet.

Never wanting to be too inquisitive I once asked him, how he ended up in Tatamagouche. He had a simple answer. When his Canadian pension kicked in, it was the first time that he had a guaranteed cheque at the end of the month. He was able to put down roots and why not here in Tatamagouche he told me.

Lionel and I chatted for about twenty minutes today. It is always great just to sit on the bench and listen to his voice. With a wry smile he got up from the bench and as he opened the door of his ford he asked me what I remember most from the radio drama days. Every Tuesday and Thursday with my Grandmother and yes the fig newtons were a treat as well.


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