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Ezra Stone; Played Henry Aldrich on Radio Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ezra Stone, radio’s long-suffering Henry Aldrich, a woeful teen-ager whose plaintive cry of “Coming, Mother!” became an anthem in American living rooms, has died.

Stone, who also helped stage Irving Berlin’s legendary “This Is the Army” revue during World War II, was killed in an automobile accident Thursday in Woodbridge, N.J. He was 76.

Stone had been living in Newton, Pa., on the family farm.

Associated Press reported that Stone was on the New Jersey Turnpike when his car veered off the road. The wire service quoted police as saying he died at the scene.

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Stone had been acting since he was 7 years old, when he started doing radio and local stage productions near his home in Philadelphia.

The character for which he will always be known grew out of “What a Life,” a play produced by George Abbott in 1938.

It was written by Clifford Goldsmith, and its success moved Goldsmith into the top echelon of radio writers at $3,000 a week.

It was in the play that Stone first created the cacophonous, cracking voice that became a symbol of the pain of adolescence.

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He was only 19 when he first played Henry and, by the following year, he would direct his first play--Milton Berle’s “See My Lawyer.”

From Broadway, Stone and “The Aldrich Family,” as they came to be known, moved into national radio as an interlude on the Rudy Vallee show.

In 1939, the family had become so popular that Henry, who remained age 16 through the 14-year run of the show, and his family evolved into their own time slot on NBC, where his mirthful mayhem was heard first on Tuesdays and then Thursdays.

At least once each week, Henry’s mother, played by Lea Penman, would call out for her son: “Hen-Ree! Henry Aldrich.”

His throaty response of “Coming, Mother!” brought forth laughter that almost always overwhelmed the next few words of dialogue both at home and in the audience.

Henry was always the focal point of madness. His efforts to make a phone call would eventually put every phone in town out of service; if he was sent to the store, every merchant in the area would somehow suffer; a lost pair of pants evolved into a crisis that threatened his family and relationship with his girl, Kathleen.

During World War II, Stone joined the Army Special Services unit, although he was frequently permitted to fulfill his radio obligations.

During the war, Stone, Gary Merrill and Josh Logan--under Berlin’s direction--produced a musical revue of 300 soldiers to entertain their fellow servicemen.

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Later, he staged morale boosters for IBM salespeople and directed many episodes of popular TV series. Among them were “I Love Lucy,” “Lost in Space,” “Laredo,” “Julia,” “Lassie” and “The Munsters.”

Stone, who late in life could still entertain friends with Henry Aldrich’s wailings, was a widower. He is survived by a son, daughter, sister and four grandchildren.


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