Fred McCarthy: The Voice of Tonto

Grave of Fred McCarthy, Actor and radio star

Having spent the morning in Edinboro, I headed westward on Route 6N and soon after crossing Interstate 78, turned southward onto Route 98 toward Conneaut. I slowed down as I entered the collection of houses clustered around the intersection of Route 98, Crossingville and North Mosierville Roads – the community is small enough if one blinks, it would be missed altogether.

At the intersection, I turned onto Crossingville Road and headed westward. Only a short distance from the intersection, I spotted St. James Cemetery on my right and entered the sacred grounds through the first entrance. Turning left on the first roadway, I carefully scanned the stones as I drove slowly among the field of stone. Noticing the stone which brought me to this rural cemetery, I parked on the roadway and made my way over to it.

At the top of the stone was the family name McCarthy, with Dennis and Sarah listed just beneath. On the base of the monument are inscribed the names of four of Dennis and Sarah’s children. Among those names was listed the gentleman whose career in radio and stage is well known, even if his name isn’t. The second name from the right was Fred and beneath his name were the dates 1876-1957.

Born John Frederick McCarthy on August 14, 1876 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Fred was the son of Irish immigrants Dennis and Sarah McCarthy. He fell in love with acting and would have a career in acting, but his stage appearances were not under his own name, but he was billed as John Todd.

Exactly when McCarthy took the name John Todd and started preforming on stage is not clear. What is known is he was performing on Broadway as early as 1908, when he was a part of The Flower of the Ranch, and he was using the name of John Todd. He played Dick Spaulding for all sixteen performances in April of that year. McCarthy would alsomake notable appearances in: Experience in 1918, Lusmore in 1919, Macushia in 1920, The Mask of Hamlet in 1921 and Money in the Air in 1932.

Note: The Internet Broadway Database does not record McCarthy as performing on Broadway from 1921 through 1932. The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) in the November 27, 1927 edition records that McCarthy performed in the play The Piper on Broadway, but did not include any definite dates for this performance. The only clue states the play was before he arrived in Minneapolis, which was five years prior to the article, which would be 1922.

In the mid- to late 1920s, McCarthy was a part of the Bainbridge Players, a theatrical group. He originally was a performer for the group, but McCarthy would eventually add directing duties to his duties with the Bainbridge Players.

By 1933, McCarthy was working for Detroit station WXYZ, where his voice would become well-known to radio listeners around the world. McCarthy made appearances in minor roles for the first episodes of a serial western called The Lone Ranger, but none of them were noteworthy. However, on February 25, 1933, on the twelfth episode of The Lone Ranger, McCarthy would first voice the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto, a roll he would perform for more than twenty years. When The Lone Ranger radio drama ended on September 3, 1954, McCarthy was the only original member of the cast having appeared in over 2,500 half-hour programs.

The character of Tonto was not to be the stupid sidekick as the name implies, but as a faithful companion who held high principles and helped guide the actions of The Lone Ranger. While McCarthy may have portrayed Tonto this way on the radio, in a less politically correct time, McCarthy would put on a wig to portray Tonto for publicity appearances, despite being a bald, stocky figure of Irish. Note: Publicity appearances by Tonto would eventually be turned over to a Native American. The station attempted to give the voice role to a Native American actor, but the actor turned down the role due to the way Tonto spoke in a broken English.

McCarthy’s voice acting would also find him appearing on the radio program The Green Hornet as Dan Reid, who was the nephew of The Lone Ranger and father of The Green Hornet.

McCarthy passed on July 14, 1957, in Detroit at the age of eighty. His body was taken to Edinboro, where services were held before burial in Crossingville. Note: for reasons unknown, in a number of newspaper articles post-1993, it is stated McCarthy died March 31, 1985. It is unclear why this date is used as it is off by thirty-plus years.

I finished visiting the grave of the radio dramatist. The man who voiced two notable characters during his lifetime, is remembered only by a brief mention on the family stone. Remembering his contribution to the Golden Age of Radio, I left him to rest with other family members among the field of stone west of Crossingville.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s