Ezra Stone (December 2, 1917 – March 3, 1994) was an American actor and director who had a long career on the stage, in films, radio, and television, mostly as a director. His most notable role as an actor was that of the awkwardly mischievous teenager Henry Aldrich in the radio comedy hit, The Aldrich Family, for most of its fourteen-year run.
Born Ezra Chaim Feinstone in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Stone studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began his professional career on stage in the mid-1930s, when he was first tapped to play Henry Aldrich in the Clifford Goldsmith play, What a Life. Goldsmith then brought Henry and his family to sketches for popular radio series featuring singers Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith, before the sketches' popularity moved NBC to give Goldsmith a chance to develop a full half-hour comedy as a summer replacement for Jack Benny in 1938.
By 1939, The Aldrich Family had become a hit series in its own right; Katherine Raht's (as mother Alice Aldrich) opening bellow ("Hen-reeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Hennnnn-ry Aldrich!") and Stone's adenoidal reply ("Coming, Mother!"), fashioned at first by Kate Smith's director Bob Welsh, became the show's instant trademarks. House Jameson played stern but affectionate father Sam Aldrich.
In one way, the show and its star were deceptive, according to radio historian Gerald Nachman: like Fanny Brice, who played five- or six-year-oldBaby Snooks for over two decades, Ezra Stone didn't exactly resemble a clumsy teenager, either.
Ezra Stone . . . a dark-eyed Jewish kid . . . looked nothing at all like a gawky all-American boy next door in the studio audience's minds. Recalls (Jackie) Kelk (who played Henry's buddy Homer), "It was a big shock to people who came to see the show in the studio, because I looked more the (Henry Aldrich) part; I was slight and skinny. Ezra was this fat little man in a vest who smoked cigars. (From "Valued Families," in Raised on Radio. (Pantheon Books, 1998.)
But Nachman also noted The Aldrich Family, for better or worse, "set the tone" for many situation comedies to be, even if it was somewhat derivative of the Andy Hardy formula of girls, grades, and growing pains. Popularity aside, The Aldrich Family itself, Nachman continued,
. . . was hopelessly bland, neither quite zany nor lifelike, and Henry's teenage girl problems and peccadilloes, heard on tape today, lack the charm, spice, or whimsy of rival shows like Junior Miss or Meet Corliss Archer---possibly because the young female is more complex than the male.
Whether or not he really resembled his character, Stone played Henry until 1942, when he was succeeded by Bobby Ellis. During his military service, Henry was played by Norman Tokar (one of the show's writers, and the eventual lead director for television's Leave It to Beaver, a show influenced to some degree by The Aldrich Family), Dickie Jones (1943–44), and Raymond Ives (1944–45). Stone then returned to the role after the war and stayed until 1952, when Bobby Ellis took the role for the show's final radio season.
When his acting life with The Aldrich Family ended, Stone turned primarily to directing on stage and in television---ironically, his first television directing assignment was the television version ofThe Aldrich Family in 1952. From there he went on to direct for numerous shows, including I Married Joan, Bachelor Father, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Lassie, The Munsters, Lost in Space, Julia, and Love, American Style.
Stone also played numerous small roles in film and television. In 1976, he appeared in a television special, The Good Old Days of Radio, in which he and several vintage radio stars---including Art Linkletter, Eddie Anderson (Rochester on The Jack Benny Program), Jim Jordan (Fibber McGee & Molly), Dennis Day, George Fenneman (Groucho Marx's sidekick for You Bet Your Life), andEdgar Bergen---discussed highlights of their radio careers.
Personal life and death
Ezra Stone and wife Sara were married for 48 years until her death in 1990. They resided in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Four years later, Stone was fatally injured in a car accident near Perth Amboy, New Jersey at age 76.