Olan Soule

Active - 1949 - 1981  |   Born - Feb 28, 1909 in La Harpe, IL  |   Died - Feb 1, 1994   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Western

Share on

Olan Soule was so familiar as a character actor in movies and television during the 1950s and 1960s -- and right into the 1980s -- that audiences could be forgiven for not even reckoning with his 25-year career on radio. Soule was born in 1909 in La Harpe, Illinois, to a family that reportedly could trace its ancestry back to three passengers on the Mayflower. He began acting in tent shows in his teens, and made his first appearance on radio in 1926. With his rich, expressive voice -- which frequently seemed to belong to characters that audiences thought of as more physically imposing than the slightly built, 135-pound actor -- he quickly found himself in demand for a multitude of roles. Soule ultimately became closely associated with two series, spending more than a decade on the radio soap opera Bachelor's Children, and a nine-year run on The First Nighter, starting in the 1940s. He made the jump to television in 1949, but even in the visual medium his voice was initially part of his fortune -- one of his early movie assignments was as the narrator of the feature film Beyond The Forest (1949), starring Bette Davis. And many of those early on-screen assignments in features were uncredited, such as his appearance as Mr. Krull in Robert Wise's The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). Still, Soule did attract attention, with his signature thin physique and the fact that he seemed to show up dozens of times a year, all over television and in movies. By the start of the 1960s, he'd amassed literally hundreds of screen appearances, making him one of the most recognizable character actors of the time period.

One producer who took full advantage of Soule's skills early and often was Jack Webb, himself a radio veteran, who cast him in well over two dozen episodes of the original in 1950s Dragnet television series, principally in the recurring role of Ray Pinker. When Webb revived Dragnet in the second half of the 1960s, Soule was no less active, showing up at least a half dozen times each season, often in the role of police-lab scientist Ray Murray. Soule's studious, cerebral portrayal of Murray was reminiscent of the lab technician portrayed by Webb himself in He Walked By Night, the movie that led Webb to create Dragnet in the first place. In between those assignments, Soule appeared in dozens of features and was seen on the small screen in everything from Bonanza and Petticoat Junction to My Three Sons and the Herschel Bernardi series Arnie. Later in his career, Soule returned to his roots, lending his vocal talent to the animated series Super Friends.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography