Today, April 18, is Bob Hastings’ birthday.
Younger audiences might know him best as the voice of Commissioner Gordon in Batman the Animated Series, but Hastings has had a long and varied career. He voiced Archie Andrews on radio for about eight years after he got out of the Army Air Corp in World War II; and was a frequent guest performer on the radio series X-Minus One. He also co-starred in the adventure serial The Sea Hound, and was a regular on the children’s show Coast-to-Coast on a Bus. To name just a few of his radio credits.
His TV roles include the voice of Clark Kent/Superboy in the 1966 Superboy animated series; Lt. Carpenter on McHale’s Navy; Capt. Burt Ramsey on General Hospital; Tommy Kelsey on All in the Family; and guest spots on shows such as Captain Video and His Video Rangers (in which his brother, Don, played the Video Ranger); The Twilight Zone; The Incredible Hulk; The Rockford Files; The Dukes of Hazzard; and Remington Steele. He also did various voices on animated series over the years.
Hastings is also a frequent guest at the annual Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, and in 2003 performed in a radio play I wrote. This year’s convention—the 26th— took place April 13 and 14 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in the suburb of Blue Ash.
Next year’s convention is currently scheduled for April 12 and 13, 2013 at the same location, and Hastings is expected to attend again. There had been some concern that this would be the last convention, but enough people were determined to keep it going that it will live on.
I first met Bob Hastings at the 1999 convention, and interviewed him for an article on the continuing appeal of old-time radio. It appeared in Zoom! Magazine, the in-flight magazine of Vanguard Airlines, in 2002. He told me the beauty of radio is that an actor can play any type of character.
“That’s all we did in those days,” he said. “We all did different kinds of accents.”
One thing he told me that didn’t make it into the article was that working on an animated series is the same as working on radio, except for the set up.
“The big difference, actually, is in radio you stood opposite each other and you played,” he said. “When you do these cartoon series, everybody has his own little spot, so you’re never looking at the actor you’re working with.”
Hastings said there are little partitions between the actors; and that both he and Mark Hamill (who played the Joker) liked to stand up during tapings.
“If everybody’s there, you just do the whole show. Just like you would regularly,” Hastings said. “Otherwise somebody reads the part of the person who isn’t there. It’s radio. I loved radio. The best actors I ever worked with were radio actors. By far, because you had to be an actor.”
Hastings started as a singer. In 1939, he commuted from New York to Chicago to sing on the radio show National Barn Dance until his voice changed on the air. He still sang as an adult. In 1967, he released an album called Bob Hastings Sings for the Family.
The late Hal Stone, who played Jughead on Archie Andrews, wrote in his autobiography, Aw… Relax, Archie! Re-laxx! (page 213), that Hastings was once hired to be one of the celebrities making appearances at the Universal Studios tourist attraction, and that he became known as the “mayor” of the Universal Studios tour.
The Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention is a casual affair. Hastings and other radio actors mingle with the other attendees. As I said in a previous post, the convention’s casual nature can lead to some fun moments. One year Hastings performed the lead in a detective program. When his character demanded some information or other, one of the other performers ad-libbed Jughead’s “relax” line from the opening of Archie Andrews.
Hastings gave him a look that was beyond priceless, but pro that he is, continued on with his lines, unfazed.
In his autobiography, Stone wrote that Hastings, “didn’t become afflicted with the ‘smell me, I’m a star’ Hollywood nonsense.” That’s certainly true. In this age of “reality” shows and people who are famous for being famous more so than for any significant accomplishments, it’s good to know that at least one “celebrity” is as ordinary, and down-to-earth as the rest of us. I put “celebrity” in quotes because I doubt Bob Hastings would use (or ever has used) that word to describe himself.
Happy birthday, Mr. Hastings.
Copyright 2012 Patrick Keating