Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, February 2, 2021


 Chester A. Riley, a riveter at the Cunningham Aircraft factory in California, first saw daylight on January 16, 1944, on radio's Blue Network.  The Life of Riley was a revamped version of a proposed radio series for Groucho Marx.  With William Bendix in the title role, the show moved into the American pysche, continuing on the radio until June 29, 1951, including a move to NBC radio.  Bendix carried the character into the 1949 film The Life of Riley; his lead in the film prevented him at first from starring in the television version of the show. NBC television aired two live test programs, one starring Herb Vigran, the other, Buddy Gray.  Because Bendix was unable to play Riley in the series due to his RKO movie contract, NBC tapped Jackie Gleason to play Riley for a single season, from October 4, 1949. to March 28, 1950.  (Gleson also played Riley for one episode of the radio show when Bendix had strained his throat.)  The Jackie Gleason version of the television last for only 26 episodes because creator Irving Brechner could not come to an agreement for a full 39-week season.

Bendix finally got his chance to play Riley on television with the show's second incarnation, from January 2, 1953, to May 23, 1958, for six seasons -- a total of 217 episodes.  Marjorie Reynolds played Peg, Riley's wife, and Lugene Sanders and Wesley Morgan played their children, Babs and Junior.  Next door neighbor Jim Gillis was played by Tom D'Andrea, while Gloria Blondell protrtayed his wife Honeybee.  Among those who added their talents over the series in recurring roles were Stirlung Holloway (14 episodes), Martin Milner (5 episodes),  James Gleason (4 episodes), Charlie Ruggles (4 episodes), Joe Flynn (2 episodes), John Hoyt (2 episodes), Nancy Kulp (2 episoes), Richard Eacon (2 episodes),  and Lorraine Bendix (William Bendix's daughter) (2 episodes).

In the very episode of the Bendix The Life of Riley, "Babs' School Election" (January 2, 1953), Babs is running for president of her college freshman class and Riley tries to help.  Of course things get messed up.  "What a revoltin' development this is."


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