Ray came from a modest, middle-class family with an older brother who had volunteered for military service in 1938 and who was already overseas doing combat duty. A friend of the family who worked in radio knew Celeste Rush, the wife of Lou Merrill, a very busy, very good radio actor in Hollywood for many years. Celeste, a handsome woman with raven black hair, had at one time done some radio acting herself. Currently, however, she conducted the Celeste Rush School of Radio Acting. The family friend contacted Celeste on behalf of the eager teenager, and Celeste invited Ray Kemper for an interview. This resulted not only in his acceptance but carried a scholarship so that Ray's tuition would be only $10 a month, a fraction of the usual rate. Ray explained that his parents were "anything but wealthy," so his after-school job at a grocery store paid the modest fee. He remembers his radio acting school days vividly:
"There were only about eight students in the class which met once a week on Saturday morning. Celeste herself was the teacher and I believe a good one. She also held classes for other students during the week, but, of course, I couldn't attend any of those because of school. She had some kind of arrangement with local radio station KFWB to air a production of her choice each week. We, her students, were the actors, sound effects men or women and anything else that needed doing to get the show on the air. It was always done live. That was great experience for all of us. I had a big advantage in the choice of parts because I was the only male in the class. Celeste always directed the production."
Perhaps it should be noted that such local productions on radio by groups within the community were not totally motivated by the radio station's altruism. The FCC required evidence of community service broadcasts for license renewals, and such productions by educational and civic organizations didn't cost the station a dime! The time slot was usually one that wasn't attractive to commercial sponsors.
Sound Effects at Don Lee/Mutual
Ray Kemper, Tom Hanley and Norm McDonnel
In his book The Great American Broadcast Leonard Maltin quotes from the Gassman brothers' tape Ray's accounts of how sound effects can misfire, how he and Tom Hanley achieved more realistic gunshots for the later CBS radio classic Gunsmoke, and other highlights. Kemper is quoted as saying, "You used different psychology with different directors."
One year later in 1948 an "executive" (who shall be nameless) lured Ray Kemper away from radio to a position as writer/director for a major ad agency in Hollywood. He soon found that the main criterion for a good ad man was to be a first class "huckster." After suffering in that job for two years Ray resigned and returned to what he perceived to be his "first love" -- acting. He did a few radio shows and appeared in one movie, Navy Bound with Tom Neal. However, Ray explained that because he and his family had become accustomed to eating regularly he accepted a position in the CBS Radio (Hollywood) sound effects department when it became available in March, 1951, and for the next seven years did sound effects with such programs as The Jack Benny Show, Gunsmoke, Suspense, Escape, Fort Laramie, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Whistler, Romance, Amos 'n Andy and many others. During this period he continued his writing career, selling scripts to Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel.
CBS TV and Red Skelton
During the next twenty years Ray Kemper was responsible for the audio on such shows as the Red Skelton Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Jeffersons, Maude, Three's Company, The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers' Comedy Hour, One Day at a Time and many more. He also rode herd over CBS specials including Death of a Salesman, The Ann Margaret Show, Brigadoon , and showcases which featured Diana Ross, Dean Martin, and Danny Thomas. In 1967 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his sound engineering on the musical Brigadoon.
Deciding that he'd had enough of the "craziness of Hollywood," Ray Kemper retired in 1980. He and wife Novice built a home in the Sierra Nevada mountains, 45 miles northeast of Fresno, where they now live. They have two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grand- children.
He has resisted all temptations to return to "the business" except one:
"In 1991 I was asked to fly back to New Jersey to write and direct a recreation of a Gunsmoke show. I couldn't resist that one and accepted. Afterward they presented me with an award honoring me for my contributions to the golden age of radio. Although very flattered -- I also found myself laughing because I knew something they didn't. I knew that deep down inside I was still the same skinny, shy, red-headed kid I had always been."
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