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Michael Raffetto, 91; Ex-Radio Actor

June 08, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michael Raffetto, the original Paul Barbour on radio's beloved "One Man's Family," the landmark domestic anthology of the 1930s and '40s "dedicated to the mothers and fathers of the younger generation and to their bewildering offspring," has died at his home in Berkeley, his family announced Thursday.

Raffetto, who played the eldest son of Henry and Frances Barbour on one of radio's longest running and most popular programs, also was heard as Jack Packard, a daring globe trotter on "I Love a Mystery," an equally perennial favorite during the gloomy Depression and war years that kept Americans home by their radios.

Raffetto, a native Californian born in the gold-country mining town of Placerville, was 91 when he died May 31.

"One Man's Family" was the creation of Carlton E. Morse, who also fashioned "I Love a Mystery." It was said to have been patterned after John Galsworthy's evergreen "Forsyte Saga." Raffetto said in a 1987 interview that the show's vast appeal may have evolved from Morse's own nurturing nature.

"If there was a sentimental or sad scene (in the script), the tears would roll down his cheeks."

From its initial broadcast on April 29, 1932, until May 8, 1959, (Raffetto was on the show until 1956) it was heard regularly on NBC in various conformations. Its cast came to number in the hundreds.

Raffetto's character was that of a fighter pilot, wounded in World War I, whose bride died in the flu epidemic of that era. He carried the physical and psychological scars throughout his life, never remarrying although his love interests became an integral part of the story line. It was to Paul that the four other Barbour children turned for solace and advice when their caring but always proper father would have been impatient with them.

And for several years it was Paul who ended each chapter thusly: "That's how it is with the Barbours today."

Generations listened as the carefully defined Barbours agonized over their subtle conflicts. Parents and then their children grew and grew old with them.

When Morse created a second program, shifting from domestic to adventure drama with "I Love a Mystery" in 1939, he took along three members of the "Family" crew.

Raffetto was Packard, a soft-spoken, taciturn hero in the best traditions of the West; Barton Yarborough, who had been Paul Barbour's brother, Clifford, was Doc Long, the brawling womanizer, while Walter Paterson, second husband of Barbour daughter Claudia, was Reggie York, the proper Englishman.

They were "specialists in adventure," as the announcer would intone each week, circling the globe apprehending sadistic ruffians. The brutality of the shows was atypical of the time. There would be victims of werewolves whose throats had been torn out, bloody brawls with exotic weapons, knifings, hangings and--more routinely--shootings.

Mercedes McCambridge, the gravelly voiced actress who later went on to film fame (particularly as the uncredited voice of "The Exorcist") was a cast regular as was Gloria Blondell, sister of Joan. That program ran intermittently until 1952 but transcriptions of it remain prevalent and popular today.

Raffetto, a cum laude graduate of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall in 1925, practiced law briefly in San Francisco but soon returned to Berkeley where he taught drama and directed at Los Angeles' Greek Theatre in the late 1920s. He starred in and produced "Arm of the Law" for NBC in 1930, became the network's West Coast program director and joined the "Family" cast.

His other radio credits included "Death Valley Days" and "Attorney for the Defense."

As a youth, Raffetto made a few silent films, including "Tillie's Punctured Romance," and had a small part in "A Foreign Affair" with Marlene Dietrich in 1948 and "Storm Center" with Bette Davis in 1956.

Survivors include his wife, Constance, four daughters and five grandchildren.

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