The sad news came this morning via Mark Evanier's website. Richard Beals died yesterday. Born March 16, 1927, he turned what many with his dreams would have termed an insurmountable disability into a triumphant career. His autobiography is appropriately titled Think Big, and its back cover summarizes, "Was he just lucky? No. Dick believes that 'Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.' Dick prepares, and then gives life's challenges everything he has in his 4'6", 68-pound frame." He loved sports - but his size kept him off the playing field. Except that it didn't - because he adapted his role to that of cheerleader and commentator. He loved acting - but his size and eternally youthful voice would have been an impediment to most other performers. Nevertheless, he turned that voice into an asset, by daring to move to California in 1952 to try to make a living in a highly competitive field.
I quote from Think Big, page 81:
It happened on a day when a bunch of us were sitting around in the lobby of CBS.
"Hey, busy actor," [Virginia Gregg] said, grinning at me. "Which of the directors upstairs here have you met?"
"Well, none, actually," I said. "I got to see Mr. Del Valle's secretary, but she told me not to bother seeing the directors at CBS."
"Why not?" Ginny cried in disbelief.
"She said Mr. Del Valle's wife does all the kid's parts and I wouldn't stand a chance."
"She said what?" Her eyes flashed all sorts of colors. "You come with me." With that she grabbed my wrist and hauled me to the elevator. When the door opened, she yanked me in and smashed the button for floor three and tapped her foot as the elevator slowly responded. It opened and down the aisle we went. She dragged me past the first secretary into the first director's office as a startled Elliott Lewis looked up.
"Elliott, from this moment on, never use me for kid's parts, on Suspense or any of the other shows you direct. Use Dick Beals. Is that clear? He's better than I will ever be."
And without waiting for an answer, down the aisle we went to the next office and the next one and the next one. Same story. Same startled director. When we got to the last office there sat Mr. Del Valle's secretary. Ginny, followed by my wrist and then me, flew into Mr. Del Valle's office. The man behind the desk, tanned, steel-gray hair, crew cut, ex-marine type, continued reading the script on his desk. He slowly raised his arm and waved a hello.
"Jaime, listen to me for a second," she began impatiently. "This is Dick Beals. He does kid's voices. Use him. Don’t use me ever again." Silence. Long pause. "Are you listening, Jaime?"
He never looked up. "OK, dear, anything you say," he murmured. "Be talking to you soon, Dick." Silence. Longer pause. "What are we having for dinner, honey? I'll be home right after the show … 'bout 6:30."
Mission accomplished. In less than five minutes I was locked in to every CBS radio show. Shows like Suspense, Lineup, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Amos and Andy and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The last CBS radio show … Gunsmoke … went off the air six years later. God bless you, Virginia Gregg, wherever you are.
I first met him at a Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark a few years ago where he was appearing as one of the celebrity guests. The voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer, both Yank and Dan of Roger Ramjet's American Eagles, and more, more, more (including roles in those CBS shows he cited) - he was a wonderful choice as a guest. I was fortunate enough (Thanks, Anthony Tollin!) to appear in a Superman re-creation as Lois Lane, interacting with Beals as Jimmy Olsen - which meant I saw at first-hand how unfailingly professional and supportive he was, whether working with professionals or amateurs. He remains an example for us all of how to triumph over challenges.
Think Big, folks! He did.