Peary and Waterman
Get to know the Men behind the voice of The Great Man
Peary was born Jose' Pereira de Faria to Portuguese parents in San Leandro, CA. in 1908. He began working in local radio in 1923, and had his own show, The Spanish Serenader in San Francisco. In 1937 he moved to Chicago to seek bigger opportunities in radio. In Chicago he found work on a variety of shows, including the Lights Out horror series. For a time he was a supporting player on the Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters show. Here he met and became good friends with fellow actor Willard Waterman. Waterman, who sounded uncannily like Peary, would be his replacement as Sheriff Mike Shaw. Eventually Peary would find work on the Fibber McGee and Molly show.
By the 1949-50 season Peary was becoming frustrated with the show. He felt that he should have greater opportunity to showcase his singing voice. His agents, MCA Inc, were confident they could get Peary a better deal, even a piece of the show. At the time upstart CBS was "raiding" NBC for talent. Jack Benny, also an MCA client, had already moved to CBS for better treatment and financial and capital gains considerations. Peary thought he saw a better deal, and signed with CBS. In retrospect, he "outsmarted himself."
The Gildersleeve character and show still belonged to NBC and the sponsor, Kraft Foods. Kraft refused to move to CBS, and Peary's new contract with CBS kept him from appearing on NBC. Fortunately for Kraft, The Great Gildersleeve was bigger than its star, and Willard Waterman was waiting in the wings to again take over for Peary.
Waterman had attended the University of Wisconsin during the mid 1930s where he began his acting career in student productions. He began his radio career in Madison, and moved to NBC in Chicago in early 1936. When he found work on The Tom Mix Straight Shooters, it was noticed that not only did he sound like Peary, but they looked alike enough to be siblings. Peary and Waterman became life-long friends.
Waterman took over the role of Gildersleeve in episode 370, Sept 6, 1950. The episode revolves around Gildy coming home from a long vacation, and comments that he is a "New Man, he even looks different!" as well as announcing that Marjorie is in a family way. For the most part the transition from Peary to Waterman was seamless. However, out of respect for Peary's work, Waterman refused to imitate Peary's trademark laugh; "Hal used that [laugh] before he ever did Gildersleeve," said Waterman. Many felt that Waterman's portrayal was more "human." Waterman would stay with the show on the radio through the end of its run in 1957, as well as portraying Gildy in the NBC Television production of The Great Gildersleeve. The TV show only lasted for one season of 39 episodes.
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Hoping to capitalize on their new relationship, CBS and Peary came up with The Harold Peary Show, commonly referred to as Honest Harold.The show was about a bachelor radio announcer in a small Midwestern town. Harold Hemp hosted a home making program and did some crooning on the radio. His pals included a kid named Marvin, who was a slightly less bratty remake of Leroy, and veterinarian Dr. Yancey whose irascibility closely identified him with Judge Hooker. Peary also brought along his "dirty" laugh and other mannerisms. The show was very good comic work, but it was seen by the critics as too similar to Gildersleeve, and response was underwhelming.