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Olan Soule; Actor's Versatile Voice Led to Multimedia Career

February 04, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Olan Soule, veteran radio, television and film actor perhaps best-known for his leading roles in the radio series "First Nighter," as a lab technician in the multimedia "Dragnet" and as the voice of Batman in the animated CBS television series, has died. He was 84.

Soule died Tuesday of lung cancer at his daughter's home in Corona.

A native of La Harpe, Ill., the slight, bespectacled Soule never weighed more than 135 pounds but had a chameleon voice that could portray a heavy as well as an egghead or a milquetoast. He always worked--amassing credits in about 7,000 radio shows and commercials, 200 television series and 60 films.

"People can't get over my skinny build when they meet me in person after hearing me play heroes and lovers on radio," he told The Times in 1968 after he was hired as the voice of Batman, the muscular Caped Crusader. "One guy really laid it on the line. He looked me over and his parting shot was, 'Well, I don't mind telling you I'm disappointed.' "

Soule began his acting career in 1926 with a touring stock company in Wisconsin, the Jack Brooks Tent Show, playing juvenile leads, singing, dancing, playing drums, driving trucks and erecting the tents six nights a week for $35.

But he quickly gravitated to Chicago and national radio. His first break was the role of Daddy Warbucks' Chinese cook, Aha, in the series "Little Orphan Annie."

"I got a waiter in a Chinese restaurant to teach me how to say things phonetically," he told The Times years later.

Soule went on to the role of Coach Hardy in the classic radio series "Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy" and performed for 11 years on the daytime soap opera "Bachelor's Children." From 1943 to 1949 and for its final season in 1952-53, he was the male lead in plays presented on the prime-time radio series "First Nighter." In 1947, he moved with the show to Hollywood.

As radio drama waned, Soule segued to the newer medium of television, beginning with the popular KTTV shows, "Home Magazine of the Air," a small-screen version of The Times' now-defunct Home Magazine, and "Home Shop Show."

"Because of my build and glasses," Soule once told The Times of his shift from radio to television and movies, "I've mostly played lab technicians, newscasters and railroad clerks."

In addition to role in the long-running "Dragnet," in which he performed with his friend Jack Webb on radio, television and two feature films, Soule portrayed Tut on "Captain Midnight" and choir director John Masters on "The Andy Griffith Show" and had roles on "I Love Lucy," "The Jack Benny Show," "The Burns and Allen Show," "The Twilight Zone," "Dallas," "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island" and "Simon and Simon." He continued as the voice of Batman in the animated "Super Friends" until 1984 when he was 75.

Among Soule's films were "North by Northwest," "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Towering Inferno" and "The Apple Dumpling Gang."

Soule served as president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Hollywood local from 1954 to 1956 and created its pension and welfare fund.

He is survived by his daughter, Jo Ann, his son, Jon, and eight grandchildren. His wife of 63 years, Norma, died in 1992.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills.

Graveside services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

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