William Bennett Kilpack (February 6, 1883, Long Melford – August 17, 1962, Santa Monica) known simply as Bennett Kilpack, was an actor, director and playwright. He is best known for his performances in the title role of NBC's Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. The drama was one of radio's longest running shows (October 12, 1937 to April 19, 1955), continuing well into the television era.
Unable to find an engineering job in the United States, he became an actor. Kilpack's first acting job was as Michael Cassio inOthello. World War I interrupted Kilpack's early stage career; he became a member of the Royal Flying Corps and was stationed in Canada as salvage department head at a large flying field. In this capacity, he dismantled the plane in which Vernon Castle, the dancer, crashed.
He toured with Sir Philip Ben Greet's Shakespearean players, had several important parts in Broadway plays, and in 1927 was given the lead role in The Wayside Inn, an early radio serial. He subsequently played the part of Cephus in Way Back Home, which was presented on radio and as a film, with Phillips Lord as Seth Parker. As a radio serial it was also known as Sunday Night at Seth Parker's. Kilpack made his CBS debut in 1935 in Vanished Voices and subsequently played roles on CBS Radio in Hilltop House, Gang Busters, The Goldbergs, The Shadow and Grand Central Station.
Kilpack began his run as Mr. Keen in 1937. For 18 years Keen and his faithful assistant, Mike Clancy, entertained followers with their intuitive perception that kept listeners coming back for more. With 1690 nationwide broadcasts, Mr. Keen was the most resilient private detective in a namesake role. The nearest competitors were Nick Carter, Master Detective(726 broadcasts), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (657) and The Adventures of the Falcon (473). Over a span of 13 years, Bennett appeared on nearly 1300 of the 1700 broadcasts. At age 67, Bennett made his last appearance as Mr. Keen on October 26, 1950, the show's 1314th broadcast.
Bennett married Mabel Alice Cromer (b. May 4, 1890, Revere, MA) April 29, 1909, in Boston, MA. Kilpack sent his wife to Paris but, according to The New York Times, failed to follow her there as he promised, so she divorced him there in March 1925 on grounds of desertion.
In September 1940, Bennett married a second time, to Dorothy Young Schisler (Mrs. Meryle Raymond Schisler, nee Young). Dorothy had been married once before, to Meryle Raymond Schisler (b. April 29, 1905, New York) Dorothy and Meryle were married Dorothy October 17, 1932, in Mount Vernon, NY. Just before marrying, Meryle had served as a soldier in the Army at Schofield Military Reservation, Oahu, Hawaii.
Prior to marrying Meryle and Bennett, Dorothy had a son, John Charles Stressling, born August 15, 1927, whom Bennett adopted, changing his surname to Kilpack. John's natural father, an emigrant from Germany, had died in an auto accident.
John Charlie Young (sic), was admitted to St. Christopher's in Dobbs Ferry on October 4, 1935 — a school that, at the time, admitted only protestant children of single parents. Records show that he was the child of a single parent — Dorothy Young — and that he was being raised by his maternal grandmother, Susan S. Young (nee Griggs, b. Aug. 11, 1876, Dedham, MA - d. July 14, 1954, Bangor, Maine). John met Admission criteria primarily because his grandmother, Susan S. Young, who had become a widow in April 1935, did not have means of support. Also, his mother, Dorothy was single at the time and did not have a job. John's room and board was financed by a foundation connected to St. Christopher's. John's mother later contributed money towards his room and board. John was discharged from the school on June 27, 1941. John Graduated from St. John's School in June 1945.
Dorothy died December 1, 1955, in Southampton, Bermuda. Dorothy was born on January 11, 1910, in Dedham, Massachusetts. Dorothy died of an overdose of sleeping pills (barbiturates). At that time, she and Bennett had vacation homes in Dover, Vermont, and Bermuda.
Bennett died of cancer in Santa Monica in 1962 and was buried at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California. He was survived by his adopted son, John Charles Stressling, a brother, John Gilbert Kilpack (b. Nov. 15, 1881 - d. Dec. 1966, Portland), and a sister, Lucy Mary Karcher (b. December 8, 1885, England - d. January 11, 1963,Buffalo). John Charles Kilpack, who had changed his surname back to Stressling, died February 11, 2006, in Sun City, California.