Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hal Stone--Time Flies

Proving the old adage that time flies, today marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hal Stone, a man I only really ever met a handful of times but a man I still find myself missing.

To quote myself from 2007: Hal Stone’s biggest show biz claim to fame was a long run as classic sidekick Jughead on the ARCHIE ANDREWS radio series. Following that stint, he spent decades directing mostly TV commercials and by all accounts enjoying it immensely. He was smart, gentlemanly, and genuinely witty but also a curmudgeon of the first order. I worked opposite him as an actor in old-time radio re-creations and under him as a director. During casting, he was amazing to watch as he cast multiple roles by ear and instinct. As a director, he appreciated that the actors—even those of us who were and are amateurs—knew what they were doing by the time we got to a read-through. He took a nurturing but essentially hands-off role when it came to anything but timing.

Having portrayed Jughead twice myself opposite original ARCHIE ANDREWS Bob Hastings, I was initially disappointed when Hal started coming to the shows knowing that he owned that role. That first year, though, we met up in the hallway of the hotel and exchanged an impromptu conversation in full Jug voice to scattered passerby applause. That won me over. He signed a copy of his autobiography to me a couple years later and then wrote me a nice email when I reviewed it here at the Library about a year ago. In recent years he had become a welcome fixture of the radio conventions and a keeper of the flame for OTR on various web boards and newsletters. 

Maybe it was because of the Jughead connection. Maybe that's why I appreciated him so much. Before Hal even started coming to the Cincinnati Convention, Dan Hughes pointed out to me that he held court regularly on the OLD TIME RADIO DIGEST, an email subscriber "newsletter. I joined and there he was. I was impressed by his knowledge, his sense of fun and his writing style. Then they announced he was coming to Cincinnati and I was, as I said, a bit put out as the Jughead role was my very favorite role and the only one I'd played twice! I needn't have worried. He won me over in a second.  

Almost immediately, I heard rumors that his politics leaned quite the opposite of mine but I didn't care. One could say the same about many in the old time radio hobby. That wasn't what we all had in common but it didn't come between us and our mutual love for OTR either.

Watching Hal onstage with Bob Hastings was an absolute delight. In fact, their nearly six decade long friendship had gotten to the point where I would have paid money to see the two of them sniping at each other good-naturedly up there on stage, script or no script. They were both consummate professionals and their instinctive timing together was just incredible.

Hal had a book out. He had originally intended to write about his television days but was convinced to write his radio memoir first. I missed it the first couple of years he came to Cincinnati but here's what I wrote when I finally got it: Unlike many celebrities, Hal lives in the present. He tells great stories of "the good old days" but he prefers to deal with today. His informal autobiography is one of my favorite OTR related books and that’s where you’ll find most of his great anecdotes about life, radio and television.

Hal brought a limited number of copies to the convention at first and I kept missing them. Finally, in 2004, I grabbed the last copy in the dealers room, just before I had to hurry off to a re-creation. I arrived early and there was still a group on stage rehearsing a different show. Not wanting to be conspicuous, I sat in the back row…next to Hal. He saw the book in my hand, sighed and whispered "Now you’re gonna want me to sign it." With a flourish, he pulled out a pen, grabbed the book, and wrote the nice inscription seen here, then tossed it back in my lap as if he were just so put out having to do all that work. 

The year Hal became our director was fun. Our regular director, Don Ramlow, took ill and Hal had offered to direct a SAM SPADE re-creation in which both Rene and I were cast. I had warned our son, David, then about 8 years old, that he had to behave because Mr. Stone had been in the business longer and might not have the patience Mr. Ramlow had shown with little boys. As we arrived at rehearsal, Hal didn't have us onstage at all but sitting in a circle in chairs for a read-through. David walked up and stood in front of him just staring. I tried to coax him back. Finally, Hal addressed him, rather like Clifton Webb's Mr. Belvedere: "Can I help you, young man?" Without missing a beat, David said, "My daddy says you're older and grumpier than the regular guy." The ensemble cracked up while Rene grabbed Dave and I sheepishly attempted to turn invisible. Hal looked at me as the laughter died down and deadpanned, "You can be replaced."

But I wasn't...and working under his quirky, encouraging direction was a revelation and a treat after years studying the more traditional directing of Mr. Ramlow.

In between Cons, I was always pleased to continue to read Hal's often opinionated rants on the OTR Digest. One day his Digest comment mentioned that he was going in for routine surgery and that he'd be back posting in a week or so. It was the complications from that routine surgery that took Hal Stone from us...five years ago today. Sigh. I still miss you, Hal. Time flies.

The photo at top comes courtesy of Derek Tague and was taken by Mitchell Weisberg in October of 2002 at New jersey's Friends of Old-Time Radio Con.


  1. Lord how I miss him. He was a dear.

  2. Hal was one of my very favorite people of that bunch of favorite people that I get to see every year in Cincinnati. He liked to point to my (trademark) goatee and say, "When're you gonna get rid of that thing?!?" "I'm not." Then he'd shake his head and groan.

    Gruff. Funny. Professional. Friendly. Intelligent. Lovable.
    Hey, sorry, Hal - you were all those things...and I only barely knew you! I miss you, friend.

    And, yeah, I'm still keeping the goatee.