Edward Joel Pawley (March 16, 1901, Kansas City, Missouri - January 27, 1988, Charlottesville, Virginia) was an American actor of radio, films and Broadway. The full name on his birth certificate is Edward Joel Stone Pawley, however, he never used the Stone name. It derived from a Stone family in Illinois.
At maturity, Pawley was 5'-10" tall with thick black hair and blue eyes. While in high school, he became interested in both journalism and acting. Acting won out after taking drama classes and appearing in high school plays. After moving to New York City in 1920 to pursue a career in the theater, he married (in 1922) his high school sweetheart, Martina May Martin, who had become a professional stage actress. They had one child, a son named Martin Herbert Pawley (b. 1923). Edward and Martina later divorced only to remarry and divorce again. In 1937, he married the then popular Broadway singer, dancer and actress Helen Shipman. They remained married for 47 years until her death on April 13, 1984.
Pawley began his theatrical career in 1920 and reached the Broadway stage in 1923 in The Shame Woman. He went on to star in various well-known Broadway plays, including Elmer Gantry(1928), Processional (1928), Street Scene (1929), Subway Express (1929), Two Seconds (1931), Life Begins (1932), and The Willow and I (1942). Pawley's rich, baritone voice was hailed by leading journalists of the day, including Walter Winchell and Heywood Hale Broun. Although he was probably best known in the theater for his portrayal of Elmer Gantry in the Broadway play of the same name, it was his portrayal of John Allen in Two Seconds that brought him to the attention of Hollywood by way of Warner Brothers. Winchell wrote that Pawley received a standing ovation after his opening night performance in Two Seconds.
Not long after talkies came into vogue, Pawley left the theater after 1932 and went to Hollywood where he performed in over 50 movies during a relatively brief (for Hollywood) ten-year span. He had feature roles in such movies as Hoosier Schoolboy with Mickey Rooney, G-Men with James Cagney, The Oklahoma Kid with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, King Solomon of Broadwaywith Edmund Lowe and Louise Henry, Each Dawn I Die with George Raft and Cagney, Tom Sawyer, Detective with Janet Waldo and Donald O'Connor and Romance on the Range with Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes. He played mostly "bad guy" roles in gangster, horror, comedy and Western films. He became friends with Cagney (with whom he made five movies), Jackie Cooper(four movies) and Francis Lederer. One of his earliest friends in the entertainment industry was Arthur Hughes who played Bill Davidson on the long-running radio show, Just Plain Bill. Arthur also acted in some Broadway plays and was Pawley's best man at his wedding (in 1922) to stage actress Martina May Martin (his first wife).
Pawley became disenchanted with Hollywood during the attempted infiltration by the communists in the late 1930s and early 1940s; consequently, he left in 1942 and returned briefly to Broadway where he starred with Gregory Peck in The Willow and I. Previously when in New York City in the 1930s, Pawley had performed leading romantic roles on The Collier Hour radio program; consequently, he also became involved with radio upon his return to NYC. He played opposite Lucille Wall in the radio soap opera, Portia Faces Life. He and Wall were the "Love Story Boy and Girl" on that show. In 1943, Pawley auditioned for and was subsequently cast in the starring role of "Steve Wilson" on the top-rated radio drama series, Big Town. He left Portia Faces Life to replace actor Edward G. Robinson who had played the Steve Wilson role from 1937–42, when the show was produced in Hollywood. Steve Wilson's sidekick on Big Town was "girl reporter" Lorelei Kilbourne, played by Fran Carlon. That role was originally played first by Claire Trevor and, later, by Ona Munson when Edward G. Robinson starred as "Steve Wilson.
During Pawley's eight-year reign, Big Town achieved the "number one" rating for reporter-type drama shows on radio. In the January 1948 Nielson Ratings, the show was ranked #12 among ALL radio programs... ahead of such popular shows as Suspense, Sam Spade, Mr. District Attorney, The FBI in Peace and War, Blondie, and Mr. and Mrs. North. His audience was estimated anywhere from 10 million to 20 million listeners which is still a huge following, even in the 21st century, for any radio or TV series/show.
Edward Pawley left Big Town in 1951 and retired near the small village of Amissville in rural Rappahannock County, Virginia. He had fallen in love with the State early during his theatrical career. In retirement, Pawley raised and sold championship goats, wrote poetry, and worked part-time as a radio announcer at local radio station WCVA in Culpeper, Virginia. Edward and Helen later moved to Rock Mills, Virginia in the mid-1950s where they lived on the original site of the Rock Mill near the confluence of the Thornton and Rush Rivers. To Edward, living at Rock Mills was the fruition of his dream to live close to nature. He and Helen maintained an organic vegetable farm (in addition to a goat farm), where they produced pesticide-free vegetables, goat milk, and cheese. For a while, they also ran a local grocery store, the "Cash and Totem Store", where they sold, among other staples, some of their own produce. Helen marketed her "Virginia Honey Girl" line of fruits preserved in honey and offered it for sale in their store.
Edward and Helen were proponents of "back-to-the-earth living with nature" before it became popular. They had no children together, but became spiritual parents of many children in the area. In his will, Edward named the Rottier family children as his spiritual children - Jane, Ross, Kathyrn, Juia, Richard, and Robin. Kathryn Rottier is a mural painter in Northern Virginia.
Edward fell in love with Virginia while touring with the play East Is West in 1920. He played the role of a Chinaman in that stage production, and it was his first professional acting role. After retirement, Pawley would become the quintessential "Virginia Gentleman" and was loved for his integrity, patriotism, and charm. He was admired for his vocabulary and speaking voice, as well as his status as an entertainer in three different media forms (theater, film, and radio).
Edward died just two months shy of his 87th birthday as the result of a heart condition while a patient at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. His residence at the time of his death was in the village of Rock Mills, Rappahannock County, Virginia. Pawley and his second wife, Helen Shipman, were cremated, and their ashes were scattered at their favorite spot alongside the Rush River which partially flows through their former estate in the village of Rock Mills. A raised bronze plaque at that site is a memorial to their lives and careers in the entertainment medium.
Pawley had two younger brothers who were also actors: William M. "Bud" Pawley (b. ca. 1903) and J. Anthony Pawley (b. ca. 1910). Both brothers acted in Broadway plays, as well as films, but neither achieved the success and acclaim which their older brother received.
NOTE: The bulk of the information mentioned in this article is contained in the book titled.. EDWARD J. PAWLEY: BROADWAY'S ELMER GANTRY, RADIO'S STEVE WILSON, AND HOLLYWOOD'S PERENNIAL BAD GUY (pub. by Outskirts Press, 2006) by Robert Gibson Corder, Ph.D.