Eriksmoen: After 'Bambi,' North Dakota couple was very active in show business

Getty Images / Special to The Forum
Getty Images / Special to The ForumGetty Images / Special to The Forum

Following their roles in the movie "Bambi," North Dakota-born Paula Winslowe and John Sutherland became one of the most active married couples in show business.

Sutherland, who was born in Williston, produced scores of short animated cartoons, and Winslowe, who was born in Grafton, was the voice of numerous characters on radio and also became an active character actress on television.

Sutherland left Disney on Sept. 28, 1940, on good terms. He said, "Walt complimented me on my work and said that he would be glad to recommend me for a job" or he would be happy to fund animated or live-action films that he would write or produce. Later that year, Sutherland assisted in writing the story line for the movie "Flight Command."

In 1941, as the country was gearing up for possible involvement in World War II, Darryl Zanuck, president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts, contacted Disney about producing industrial training films. Disney was not interested in getting involved, but he recommended Sutherland who then became the producer for the project.

Sutherland went to Washington, D.C., in July 1941 to begin work with the Department of Defense as a writer, director and producer of 17 training films for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Following the war, he formed John Sutherland Production in 1945 and then partnered with Larry Morey to produce a series of puppet animation films called "Daffy Dittys."

Between 1945 and 1947, Sutherland and Morey produced six films that failed to generate much interest, so the two men dissolved their partnership. Morey then returned to the Disney studios as a lyricist and screenwriter.

In 1947, Sutherland became involved in producing and writing the screenplay for a Michael Shayne detective motion picture called "Too Many Winners." The next year, he directed a Cold War animated short film titled "Going Places" and produced a commercial for Chiquita Bananas, which was about the time he met with Alfred P. Sloan, president of General Motors. Sutherland convinced Sloan to finance the production of instructional cartoons that "extolled economic concepts, especially the benefits of capitalism."

These short films were excellently produced, and soon other business entities such as the New York Stock Exchange, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Consumer Finance Association asked Sutherland to produce similar films for them. "Time magazine called Sutherland one of the best makers of industrial shorts."

In 1968, Sutherland changed his focus and began producing educational films, starting first with the "Project Bilingual" series. In the 1970s, he produced several series of short animated cartoons for the children's television show "Captain Kangaroo." While Sutherland was busy producing short animated features, his wife Paula Winslowe "became a radio industry mainstay."

She was a favorite actress of dramatic program director-producers like Elliott Lewis and Cecil B. DeMille. Lewis, known as "Mr. Radio," cast Winslowe in countless episodes of "Suspense," and DeMille directed her in "well over a dozen roles" on "Lux Radio Theater," for which she also did the commercials.

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However, it was for radio comedy shows that Winslowe is best remembered. She could frequently be heard on "Fibber McGee and Molly," "The Great Gildersleeve," "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day," "The Halls of Ivy," "The Jack Benny Program" and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."

In 1945, Winslowe landed the role of Peg Riley, the wife of Chester A. Riley, played by William Bendix, on "The Life of Riley." This was a hit show that ran until 1951, and Winslowe remained on the show the whole time. In 1948, Winslowe received her second recurring role on radio when she was cast as Martha Conklin, wife of the irascible high school principal Osgood Conklin on "Our Miss Brooks." When that show also moved to television in 1952, Winslowe continued in the role of Martha Conklin.

Winslowe was a frequent character actress on television, and once again, it was in situation comedies that she was in most demand. She appeared on "I Love Lucy," "December Bride," "The Bob Cummings Show," "Father Knows Best," "Burns and Allen," "Jack Benny," "The Real McCoys" and "Ozzie and Harriet." The show that utilized her vocal talents the most was "The Flintstones," on which she was the voice of numerous characters.

The only movie Winslowe can be seen in is the Alfred Hitchcock classic "North by Northwest," with her role as a lady at an auction. Another North Dakota actress who had a minor role in the movie was Sally Fraser from Williston.

In the 1970s, Elliott Lewis attempted to revive dramatic radio with the program "Sears Radio Theatre," and one of the main actors of his repertory group was Paula Winslowe.

Winslowe died on March 7, 1996, and John Sutherland died Feb. 17, 2001.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.