Ghosts of Arthur Anderson’s past far from haunting

by Shelby Harrell

If Arthur Anderson was haunted by his own past, the spirits would surely be impressed by his 75-year-long career that began in 1934, when Anderson was only 12.

The fact of the matter is, Anderson is far from being a “scrooge” and is in no need of any Christmas enlightenment. With years of radio experience under his belt, Anderson agreed to visit WCU and reprise his original role of “The Ghost of Christmas Past” in the re-creation of the Campbell’s Playhouse adaptation of A Christmas Carol, originally directed by Orson Welles.

The show was a sold-out success and depicted a “live broadcast” of favorite Christmas carols performed in conjunction with Charles Dickens famous Christmas tale. Andersons special touch of realistic history created a wholesome Christmas experience, leaving the audience with sugarplums dancing in their heads.

 But “The Ghost of Christmas Past” wasn’t the only role that Anderson played while he was in town. As part of WCU’s Visiting Scholar Program, WCU hosted a public presentation and book signing on Tuesday, Dec. 7.  Anderson, accompanied by his wife Alice, spoke humbly to WCU about his lifelong career in radio, television, movies and famous cartoon voices.

Probably his most notable character was Anderson’s voice role of “Lucky the Leprechaun,” which was Anderson’s longest running role – for 29 years. Additionally, Anderson is author of two published books, “Let’s Pretend and the Golden Age of Radio” and an autobiography called “An Actor’s Odyssey: Orson Welles to Lucky the Leprechaun.”

Anderson began his professional acting career in network radio before he even reached adolescence.  His role on the CBS radio show Let’s Pretend introduced Anderson to his career, which has lasted for decades and expanded into many different roles of acting.

“It sounds silly to say it but practically every role I’ve played has been my favorite,” said Anderson in an interview for WCJ. “They are all a new challenge, and I have enjoyed every single one of them.”

 Orson Welles was certainly a contributing factor to Anderson’s career as he cast him in several roles such as “Lucius” in Julius Caesar on Broadway, and as the lead in Treasure Island as Jim Hawkins for the CBS radio network. Three months later, Anderson played the role of “The Ghost of Christmas Past” in the adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and Anderson worked with Welles for a final time in a CBS television network presentation of King Lear in 1983.

 Needless to say, Anderson became a regular as he continued to play many roles for the CBS and NBC networks throughout the “Golden Age” of radio.

But it was not only radio Anderson thrived upon. Before graduating from the Professional Children’s school in New York, Anderson appeared as a paid actor on NBC’s first experimental television stations in 1937-38. He participated in summer and winter stock touring shows where he played the role of “Colonel Pickering” in the tour of My Fair Lady, in which he gained valuable acting experience

Anderson continued to tour with national companies to play roles in shows such as Romanoff and Juliet and Cactus Flower. Anderson also spent two years with a Broadway company for the musical 1776, and then later played the role of the father in The Fantasticks for a year.

But of course Anderson didn’t limit his talents to only stage and radio, he has been in a number of films including Zelig with Woody Allen, and has played other roles in Green Card, I’m Not a Rappaport, and Midnight Cowboy.

Futhermore, the 2008 movie Me and Orson Welles is loosely based on Anderson’s life while playing Lucius in Welles’ 1937 production of Julius Caesar.  The modern day actor Zac Effron played the role of Lucius in the film.

 Anderson was also very involved with early live network television. He worked with shows such as Hallmark Playhouse, The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, The Phil Silvers Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Car 54 Where Are You, Studio One in Hollywood, and Route 66.

Apart from network television appearances, Anderson has also played roles in many different television commercials and for seven years he was the spokesperson for Kuppenheimer Men’s Clothiers.

After years of acting on television, radio, and on stage, one might wonder how someone like Arthur Anderson ended up doing cartoon voice over’s like his role as “Lucky the Leprechaun.” Interestingly, Anderson’s early radio career prepared him for these animated roles.

Aside from being the voice behind everyone’s favorite leprechaun, he was also the voice for “Eustace” in the popular Courage the Cowardly Dog cartoon, and has recently done a voice over for the Cartoon Network Racing video game, which included his character “Eustace.”

This year, Anderson has been working on a film titled “Oh Sister” in which he will play the lead role as “Aidan Wallace.” The film is currently going through editing and has not yet been released. It will tell the story of a sixty-year long sibling rivalry.

On the re-creation of A Christmas Carol, Anderson said that  “It brings back very happy memories because it is a lovely story. I was 16 years old, my voice was just changing and I was surprised Orson called me for this part.”

As an 88 year-old, Anderson is still going strong. Although his career may be dwindling down due to his age, on Dec. 9 Anderson recreated his eerie “Ghost of Christmas Past” role and proved to everyone that he has still got it.

See some images from Arthur Anderson visit to Western Carolina University.