Willard Waterman was a native of Madison, Wisconsin, and had attended the University of Wisconsin to study electrical engineering. When he began skipping classes to attend drama classes, the Dean of the engineering school suggested that perhaps he should consider making his living as an actor. Waterman took this suggestion to heart, and headed for the Chicago radio scene in 1934, where he quickly became successful, appearing on an average of forty shows a week, with roles on everything from “Amos ‘n Andy,” “My Friend Irma,” and soap operas like “Ma Perkins” and “Helen Trent.”
When Harold Peary left the program in 1950, Willard Waterman stepped into the role. Peary and Willard knew each other well, having both been active in Chicago radio for many years. In fact, this was not the first time that Waterman had replaced Peary– Waterman had replaced Peary as the Sheriff on the “Tom Mix Ralston Sharpshooter” program in the 1930’s. Peary and Waterman had such similar, booming voices, that Waterman later recalled that if they were cast on the same program, they’d decide ahead of time who would use a high voice and who a low voice. Their voices were so similar, many listeners didn’t even notice the difference.
As Bob Beckett notes in a posting to the OTR list:
“Waterman did an amazing job in nearly perfectly capturing the tone and subtleties of Peary’s voice on a consistent basis, and interrelated with the show’s other characters just as well as Peary also. It was a great imitation. But there was really only ONE Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, and that of course was Mr. Harold Peary. Waterman just imitated him…and did a wonderful job in keeping the integrity and spirit of the originator. To change it in any way would have been a mistake.”
Waterman appeared in the 1955 television version of “The Great Gildersleeve.” He also made guest appearances on many television programs including popular Westerns like “Maverick,” “Bat Masterson,” and “Wagon Train,” and played the recurring role of Mac Maginnis on “The Real McCoys.” He also appeared in many movies, including the role of Claude Upson in “Auntie Mame” and Mr. Vanderhof in “The Apartment.”