Actor Paul Douglas Got His Big Break By Being Fired

Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh in the 1951 baseball movie Angels in the Outfield. In a hotel room, Janet is wearing a coat and smart hat and has turned away from Paul with a pensive look on her face. Paul wears slacks and a white dress shirt and has his hands at his sides, looking past Janet.
Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh in Angels in the Outfield (1951)

The nicest Christmas present Paul Douglas ever received was a neat little typewritten notice informing him that two weeks from date his services would no longer be required.

For he walked right out of radio station WCAU in Philadelphia, where Santa Claus brought him the odd gift, into the offices of the Columbia Broadcasting System, and there, in the short space of a year, won his way into the front rank of big league radio.

For the average individual, being fired at any time would be pretty tough, but being fired on Christmas would be a catastrophe. But catastrophes are never catastrophes for Paul Douglas. He's had plenty of them in his brief career -- more perhaps at the age of 26 than fall to the lot of the average mortal in a normal lifetime -- but he's always been able to laugh them off.

Years earlier he had scraped up carfare to Philadelphia and wandered into the studio of WCAU. He'd never had any radio experience, but he did get an audition, and landed a job on the announcing staff of the Quaker City station then and there.

In no time at all, he was WCAU's star announcer, attested to by the fact that when a new $5 million slaughterhouse was opened in Philadelphia, and WCAU was entrusted with the job of broadcasting the two-hour dedication ceremonies, Douglas was given the assignment.

If you have never dedicated a slaughterhouse, you have no idea what a tough job it is to keep things zipping along for two hours. But just when it began to appear that the final hour of the dedication would develop into one hour of silence in respect to the ill-fated cattle, the mayor of Philadelphia hove in sight.

Douglas seized upon His Honor eagerly, and explained that the going was getting pretty rough, and the mayor responded with a one-hour address of the general subject of Forward Strides in City Dressed Meats which saved the day.

Under Douglas' direction, WCAU instituted the first sports period over the radio in Philadelphia. It soon won a tremendous following, and Douglas became widely known to sports fans. His inability to take seriously any of the current luminaries of the world of sports gave his daily column a spriteliness that won the young radio sports editor wide acclaim.

One night, when the sports world happened to be in the doldrums, and there wasn't much of anything to spend 10 minutes in saying, Douglas hit on the idea of presenting the entire period in satiric verse. So many requests were received for copies of the broadcast that it was necessary to have it mimeographed to satisfy the demand. Thereafter, when things were dull, he followed that practice, and WCAU's sports listeners came eventually to prefer dull days to busy ones.

There are times, Douglas says, when he wishes faintly he were back at WCAU instead of being one of the Columbia network's aces, just so he might be conducting that sports period again.

And in his specialty, sports, Douglas pulled a radio boner that made history -- and no one except Douglas himself ever noticed it.

Handling the broadcast of the Penn State-Notre Dame football game in Philadelphia, Douglas obtained a copy of the starting lineups from both coaches. However, Knute Rockne made a last-minute change in his plans and sent in a second string backfield to start the game, in place of the famous quartet of Brill-Savoldi-Schwartz-Carideo.

Douglas didn't hear about that, and for eight minutes of thrilling play, he proceeded blissfully ignorant to credit various members of the star backfield with one touchdown after another. It wasn't until Rockne sent in the regular backs, and the change was announced, that Douglas became aware of his error. But he went right on as if nothing had happened, and the station never received a single letter calling attention to the miscue.

Stanley Yates in Radio Guide, Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 1933

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