Bud Collyer was born Clayton Johnson Heermance, Jr. in New York City, to Clayton Johnson Heermance and Caroline Collyer. He originally sought a career in the law, attending Williams College and Fordham University law school. Though he became a law clerk after his graduation, making as much in a month of radio as he did in a year of clerking convinced him to make broadcasting his career, changing his surname and becoming a familiar voice on all three major radio networks by 1940. Among others, his radio roles as Terry and the Pirates (Pat Ryan), Renfrew of the Mounted (the title role), and Abie's Irish Rose (the title role, again), not to mention announcing for a number of radio soap operas—including The Guiding Light and The Goldbergs, which was actually a serial comedy with dramatic overtones.
Collyer's best-remembered radio role arrived in early 1940: the title role in The Adventures of Superman on the Mutual Broadcasting System, a role he performed in the 1940s radio drama and subsequent Superman cartoons. Collyer supplied the voices of both Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. A highlight of every Superman episode was the moment when Clark Kent changed into his Superman costume, an effect which Collyer conveyed by shifting voices while speaking the immortal phrase "This is (or "looks like") a job for SUPERMAN!!" (Collyer's voice shifted by an octave whenever he made the transition from the one identity to the other.)
Collyer got his first helping of game shows when he co-hosted ABC's (the former NBC Blue network) Break the Bank with future Miss America Pageant mainstay Bert Parks; and, when he was picked to host the radio original of the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman team's first game, Winner Take All—the latter also becoming, in due course, the first hosting seat for another game show titan, Bill Cullen.
Beat The Clock
Collyer went on to host the television versions of both shows, but in 1950 he got the job which genuinely made him a household name: Beat the Clock, a stunt game show which pitted couples (usually, but not exclusively, married) against the clock in a race to perform silly (sometimes messy) tasks, which were called "problems" but could with more accuracy be called "stunts." The grand prizes for these usually came in terms of cash or home appliances. (When Monty Hall hosted the program in the 1980s, the "problems" did indeed come to be called "stunts.") Collyer hosted the show for eleven years (1950–61), and he also co-produced it for part of its run.
Collyer did an excellent job keeping the show fast-paced; he spoke quickly and brightly, and was often moving around the stage as much as the contestants. Frequently Collyer would interrupt a stunt to offer helpful advice, or demonstrate a more efficient way to win the game. One of Collyer's trademarks on the show was securing his long-tubed stage microphone in his armpit (particularly while demonstrating the basics of a stunt for his contestants). He also typically wore bow ties, and liked to point out when contestants were "bow-tie guys" like himself, though initially, through the mid-1950s, he wore straight "four-in-hand" neckties most weeks. He enjoyed meeting families of contestants, and was fond of children. He would always ask about contestants' children, and sometimes would compare the number and sexes with that of his own family. When children were brought onstage with their parents, he would take time to talk to each of them and ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up, in a manner reminiscent of his contemporary, Art Linkletter.
At the height of the show's popularity, an installment of The Honeymooners (which surfaced years later, when Jackie Gleason released the so-called "Lost Episodes") featured blustery Ralph Kramden and scatterbrained Ed Norton appearing on and playing Beat the Clock. Unlike the show's familiar parody of The $64,000 Question (The $99,000 Answer), Gleason's Beat the Clock episode used the actual show and set, complete with the familiar large minute clock emblazoned with sponsor Sylvania's logo, and ending with Collyer and his famous sign-off: "Next time may be your time to beat the clock."
To Tell the Truth
In 1956, Collyer became equally, if not more, familiar as the host of a new Goodson-Todman production, To Tell the Truth, on CBS. This panel show featured four celebrities questioning three challengers all claiming to be the same person. Collyer would read an affidavit from the actual contestant, and then monitor the panel's cross-examination. Because the show depended on conversation instead of physical stunts, Collyer's demeanor on To Tell the Truth was much calmer and more avuncular than his fever-pitch performances on Beat The Clock. After the celebrities voted for their choices, Collyer intoned the famous phrase, "Will the real... John Doe... please... stand up?" Collyer always employed pauses to build the suspense. Sometimes one or both impostors would pretend to stand up before the real contestant did, bringing a moment of last-minute suspense as well as a chuckle from Collyer. The sequence provided an especially riotous moment in 1962, when Collyer purred, with a particularly pronounced twinkle, "Will the real Bob Miller... please... stand up?" Two Bob Millers, both pitchers for the newborn New York Mets, rose in response.
Among the celebrities who served as To Tell The Truth panelists during the 14-year run of the show were Don Ameche, Orson Bean, Johnny Carson, Ralph Bellamy, Polly Bergen,Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, Bert Convy, Hy Gardner, Phyllis Newman and Tom Poston. The show became popular enough to sustain a weekday version as well as a weekly evening version, and Collyer presided over both concurrently.
Collyer's other game show hosting included the DuMont game shows Talent Jackpot (1949) and On Your Way (1953–1954), the short-lived (two years) game show Feather Your Nest, and the ABC game Number Please in 1961 (which replaced Beat the Clock on the Monday after the final ABC episode).
On September 24, 1957, Collyer was among the guests on To Tell the Truth panelist Polly Bergen's premiere episode of her short-lived NBC comedy/variety show, The Polly Bergen Show.
The Superman connection and the Beat The Clock revival
In 1966, Collyer reprised his role as the voice of Superman in the Filmation animated television series The New Adventures of Superman.
In 1969, Beat The Clock was brought back for a new syndicated run; the host chosen for the show was Jack Narz. One legend holds that Narz was flying to New York to host the first tapings of the show, and none other than Collyer himself sat next to Narz on the flight. Narz was nervous and did not know what to expect, but was pleased to find Collyer as generous and kind as he appeared on television. Collyer wished him luck and opined that his run would be as long as the original, and before the week was done, handwritten notes for every member of the crew who had worked on the original series arrived from Collyer, wishing them all luck. (Collyer's written replies to fan mail were often in longhand.)
There was a side of Collyer's career that involved controversy. During his 1950s heyday with Beat The Clock and To Tell The Truth, he was a leader in an overtly anti-Communist faction of the New York chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. That faction supported such publications as Red Channels (the famous list of 151 reputed Communists or reputed fellow travelers, as the term was then, in radio and television) and interest groups that shared the authors' politics—groups like AWARE, Inc. (co-founded, in fact, by the man who wrote Red Channels' introduction), purporting to screen broadcast performers for actual or alleged Communist ties, pressuring networks and advertisers to shun them under threat of boycott.
An opposing faction, led by CBS radio personality John Henry Faulk and Orson Bean, defeated Collyer's faction in an election to run the New York local.
Religion and charitable work were very important to Collyer, and he was always particularly pleased to hear contestants say that they considered donating portions of their winnings to the church, or that they planned to donate to charities. He would often include "God bless you" in his parting words to contestants. He was always particularly happy to have a contestant that was a minister on the show and would ask about his congregation. On Beat The Clock, he often delivered public service messages about such charitable causes as the March of Dimes and other drives for research of diseases.
Collyer taught a Sunday school class at his Presbyterian church in Connecticut for more than thirty-five years and spent some of his off time as a caretaker at his church. According to one story, a parishioner called the church one Sunday during a particularly heavy snowstorm to inquire if the church would have services that day. "Oh yes," Collyer replied, tongue in cheek, "God and I are here." Collyer was known to have contributed to various Christian religious works, including authoring at least one religious book and making a recording of the New Testament of the Good News Bible. He wrote two inspirational books, Thou Shalt Not Fear (1962) and With the Whole Heart (1966).
When To Tell the Truth was planned to be revived for syndication, producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman wanted Collyer to once again host the show. However, when they called Collyer, he declined, citing his poor health. When Goodson and Todman called Gary Moore about the job, he immediately contacted Collyer, who said to Moore that "I am just not up to it." Collyer died at age 61 from a circulatory ailment in Greenwich, Connecticut, on the same day To Tell The Truth was revived in syndication. At the time of his death, he was married to 1930s movie actress Marian Shockley, with whom he had three children. In 1957, his son Mike appeared as a guest challenger on the To Tell the Truth show, under the name of "Pat Rizzuto". His brother, Richard V. "Dick" Heermance, film editor and producer, also appeared as a contestant on To Tell the Truth as himself on October 21, 1958. Two of the panelists voted for him, even though he looked nothing like his brother. Bud Collyer is interred at Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich. In 1985, he was posthumously named as one of the honorees by DC Comics in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great.His daughter, Cynthia, a former television personality in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had taken up residence in Mequon, Wisconsin as of February 2009.