The Life of Riley

The Life of Riley

William Bendix

Born on January 14, 1906 in New York City

Died on December 14, 1964 in Los Angeles, California of lobar pneumonia

THE LIFE OF RILEY

CBS 1941, ABC 1944-1945, NBC, 1945-1951

The Life of Riley, with William Bendix in the title role, was a popular American radio situation comedy series of the 1940s that was adapted into a 1949 feature film, a long-run 1950s television series (originally with Jackie Gleason as Riley for one truncated season, then with Bendix for six seasons), and a 1958 Dell comic book.

The first Life of Riley radio show was a summer replacement show heard on CBS from April 12, 1941 to September 6, 1941. The CBS program starred Lionel Stander as J. Riley Farnsworth and had no real connection with the more famous series that followed a few years later.

The radio program starring William Bendix initially aired on the Blue Network, later known as ABC, from January 16, 1944 to June 8, 1945. Then it moved to NBC, where it was broadcast from September 8, 1945 to June 29, 1951. The supporting cast featured John Brown, who portrayed not only undertaker "Digger" O'Dell but also Riley's co-worker Jim Gillis. (Brown also played the character of Waldo Binny.) Whereas Gillis gave Riley bad information that got him into trouble, Digger gave him good information that "helped him out of a hole," as he might have put it. Brown's lines as the undertaker were often repetitive, including puns based on his profession; but, thanks to Brown's delivery, the audience loved him. The program was broadcast live with a studio audience, most of whom were not aware Brown played both characters. As a result, when Digger delivered his first line, it was usually greeted with howls of laughter and applause from surprised audience members.

The series was co-developed by the non-performing Marx Brother, Gummo. The American Meat Institute (1944-45), Procter & Gamble (Teel dentifrice and Prell shampoo) (1945-49), and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (1949-51) took turns as the radio program's sponsor.