Radio Theater’s Peggy Webber is 90 and Cooler Than You
The term “radio silence” is the last thing you would attribute to actress and cello-voice producer Peggy Webber, who for decades has been anything but silent. Impresario of the airwaves of LA, she is our reigning queen of radio theater – an art lost in the age of digital entertainment. Founder and flagship of the 90-year-old California Artists Radio Theater, or CART, Webber has been a force of nature in the retro radio realm of yesteryear since it was, well, the new radio.
CART specializes in the production of classic tales by Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, George Bernard Shaw, Chekhov and Oscar Wilde, as well as contemporary plays, most adapted for radio, produced and directed by Webber. Past and present players in the CART repertoire include Michael York, Samantha Eggar, Roddy McDowall, Ed Asner, David Warner, and William Shatner.
Her business grew out of a true radio repertoire business, some of whose actors – including Webber herself – actually date back to the golden age of radio, when Orson Welles was one of its star performers. âHe was my idol,â says Webber, who has worked with Welles on radio and in movies.
Born in Laredo, Texas, Webber jokingly calls her past “somewhat infamous.” Daughter of an oil tanker, she established herself as a dancer at the age of two and a half and has already given 21 rappels in front of a dazzled audience. Then the Great Depression hit and oil prices plummeted, sending the family to pack their bags west. Growing up, Webber decided that taking action was his true calling. She started out as a vaudevillian child, then got roles on the radio and on stage in Hollywood, where she excelled in character work. In 1946 Time magazine published an article on the astonishing range of representations of Webber.
CART programs have been broadcast on KPCC, KUSC, NPR and more recently Sirius XM, although they are currently broadcast between operators. Webber goes on and is not discouraged, as she believes CART’s body of recordings, all available on the company’s website (cartradio.com), has a second audience in schools and tutoring programs.
Almost every month, Webber travels from his Hollywood home to the Garland Hotel in North Hollywood to supervise his productions, which are recorded in front of an audience consisting mostly of “mature” clients. The unstoppable Webber doesn’t seem to have heard of retirement. Actress Eggar observes, âThere aren’t enough adjectives to describe Peggy, but she’s both strong and gentle, and serves as a beacon for how to live her life.
âI’ve had a certain type of dedication since I was young,â says Webber, âand that dedication is what keeps me going. It’s like having a child. You have been given the confidence to take care of this creature, and I have always felt the same about the opportunities given to me – it is a responsibility.
Who other than Webber would have thought of getting centenary Norman Lloyd to star in a recent production of “Heartbreak House”? Now it’s dedication.
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