The Life of Radio Soap Actress Tess Sheehan

Tess Sheehan at a CBS radio microphone
Tess Sheehan performing on Wendy Warren and the News

Tess Sheehan has become accustomed to it but when she first turned to radio, she was very much intrigued by the idea of acting in an air-conditioned studio every day. Sheehan, who plays Aunt Dorrie in CBS's Wendy Warren and the News and Nora in NBC's When a Girl Marries, has played to audiences in extremes of heat and cold, in freight sheds and tents, and under American, Canadian, and European skies.

Dramatic training, at the time that Sheehan studied to become an actress, consisted of a complete course in elocution. A Detroit girl -- her father worked his way through the University of Michigan by running a dancing academy -- Sheehan began her career in Canada as a reader. During her 20 years as a headliner on the Chautauqua circuit, she appeared in almost every county seat in the 48 states and every province in Canada.

"Those were the days," she recalls, "when it was all in a day's work to start out in horses and sleds at seven in the morning, with the temperature at 30 degrees below zero, and drive until six at night to put on an evening's entertainment."

One evening her company played in a freight shed where the "heating system" was an oil stove on the platform and the audience sat bundled in furs and blankets because of the intense cold.

During the summer months, the company often played in a tent in heat so intense that the grease paint melted as the actors daubed it on their faces. Sometimes, when violent thunderstorms bent the supporting poles of the tent and heavy rains made the stage a mudslide, Sheehan dispelled the audience's fears with a reading of "How Frogs Go to Sleep," a humorous monologue which she has often rendered on the radio.

During the war, Sheehan joined the USO and toured the European theater with Raymond Massey in Our Town and followed this up with a tour of the Pacific bases in The Ghost Train. Curios from all over the world line the bookshelves of her New York apartment.

From Radio Best, June 1950