About The Artist
Janet Milligan wrote in one of her columns that Don was born in Gainesville, Missouri during the time World War I was being fought. Gainesville is located in the Ozark country area of Missouri. Prior to Don's birth, three sisters had been born. All told, there were four brothers and four sisters in the Sullivan household.
The Sullivan family lived in a rural community and back then it meant that his early schooling was in one of those fabled one room rural schools. He attended high school in Gainesville and graduated in 1934.
After graduation, Don stuck around and helped his father on the family farm. But something must have struck him, for he had set off for New York City along with his guitar, but found he didn't have a way to get in the door. He did find part time work as a riding instructor at a dude ranch on the weekends. Square dances were a part of the weekend events at this ranch and he was glad to be able to take part in those dances to get experience.
But Don felt he could find a better job. He found one working at General Motors in Linden, New Jersey. He got himself involved with a hillbilly band whose members all worked at the GM factory. They auditioned at WBNX and were given a show on Sunday afternoons.
One of his early breaks came from being a member of a Cowboy and Indian fan club. This enabled him to meet another member, Princess Atalie Unkalunt, who had studied opera in Paris and was also being featured with the Boston Symphony orchestra on a network show. The princess, who was said to be a cousin of Will Rogers, heard Don sing at one of the fan club meetings. Don must have made an impression for she invited him to appear on her NBC show. The show aired three times a week and one of those shows was broadcast once a week to Europe over short wave radio.
He became a fixture on the show - staying with it for a full season.
Around the time his gig on the network show ended, he had met up with another cowboy singer in New York - Ed McBride. The got together for a time and did some rehearsals and found that they would probably have a better chance if they worked as a team. They auditioned for several stations and earned themselves three shows a day, two on New York radio stations and one in Philadelphia on the CBS newtwork.
They worked together for about a year which led to an opportunity to go to London with the International Broadcasting Company. Ms. Milligan reported they set off for London by boat on January 21, 1939.
The radio industry in England was not the same as the USA in those days. Broadcasters transmitted their shows to England from France. Thus, their new stint was to be with Radio Normandy and that lasted about eight months. They were one of the top acts over there and it was noted that they still had a fan club as late as 1946.
Don and Ed had decided to return to the United States after that effort. They had originally booked themselves on the Athenia, but they missed that departure. As fate would have it, they were lucky as the ship was blown up by the Germans, killing nearly every one on board.
They did manage to finanlly secure room on another ship, the Manhattan. The ship's so-called capacity was said to be 700 passengers, but this war time journey had over 1,800 passengers. That ship had a fair share of entertainers on board including the famed conductor, Toscanini. Once the ship was out of the 'danger zone', the entertainers on board began to provide the passengers with some of their talents in moonlight concerts.
When they finally reached the United States, Ed had decided that it was time for him to leave the entertainment business and bid Don good-bye. Don teamed up with Jake Watts and found themselves making records for the Decca label as the Ozark Boys, Jake and Don.
Jake and Don were ambitious - they decided to try their luck in Hollywood and motion pictures.
Don did end up in a few pictures, but an event in Pearl Harbor changed his life and he found himself enlisted in the U. S. Air Force. He wwas sent back to the States after being hospitalized for an undisclosed reason. He was discharged on June 24, 1944. It was around this time he found work at radio station KWTO in Springfield, Missouri.
Don won first prize on a Major Bowes radio show back in 1937 which led to his career as a radio entertainer then. In 1947, he was part of the weekly Saturday show over KMBC in Kansas City, Missouri, the Brush Creek Follies.
He was a featured performer on the Nighttime on the Trail show on KMBC which was on the CBS coast-to-coast network back then. The show was on at 11:00pm Monday evenings, he played the part of a moon-struck cowboy balladeer. The half-hour show featured other artists such as The Rhythm Riders along with occasional duets with Louisiana Lou. Andy Anderson (the wizard of the accordion) was part of the cast as were the Tune Chasers. Harry Douglas handled the task of the announcer for the show.
While at KMBC, Don also teamed up with Denny Slofoot.
He was also a member of the Dinner Bell Roundup at noon each weekday on KMBC. And finally, played himself on the Adventures of the Trail Scout that was heard over KMBC's popular Big Brother Club meeting each weekday at 5:15pm.
He also recorded on the Blue Bird and Decca labels as well as making several television appearances.
They wrote that in 1939, he was leading his own show in Europe and singing over Radio Normandy in France. When the Germans came, he retreated back to the continent, but returned again as a member of the U.S. Army in the 8th Air Force.
In 1953, Don was working over radio station WHB in Kansas City, Missouri with his band, the Midwesterners that included:
Don and the band in addition to their radio station work, did numerous personal appearances in the Kansas and Missouri area.
Around 1956, he was appearing on the Cowtown Jubilee show being aired over KCMO (KIMO?) out of Kansas City, Missouri.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Movies appeared in by Don Sullivan:
Credits & Sources
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