KARL SWENSON BIOGRAPHY
by Julie-Ann S. (Sneddy)
Karl Swenson was born on 23 July, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York. Not much can be found about his personal life other than that he was married to actress Joan Tompkins until his death.
Swenson's entertainment career started with him doing radio. He was considered to be one of the busiest radio actors during the golden years of network radio and his voice could be heard on many radio shows and serials. Most of his dramatic work occurred in daytime serials such as Portia Faces Life.
Leading roles in radio serials included the title roles in the daily serial Lorenzo Jones (1937-1955) and the adventure series Mr. Chamelon in 1948. He was also heard on the Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Our Gal Sunday (as Lord Henry), This is Your F.B.I (1945-1947) and Cavalcade of America.
Karl Malden, who worked in radio, during his early career, was very much impressed by Swenson. In his autobiography, Malden writes "...that Swenson had a such a heavy radio schedule that he had an assistant who attended the rehearsals for him and marked his script. Swenson, hurrying from another show, would tip the elevator man a few bucks to hold the door so not a minute was wasted. He would then dash into the studio, take the script from his assistant and step to the mike as the 'On the Air' sign flashed."*
In 1954, Swenson carried over his role of Walter Manning in the radio serial Portia Faces Life to the television series of the same name and played the part for one year (1954-55). He also appeared in many other television shows over the years. Guest starring roles were in such television shows as Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Mission Impossible, Sugarfoot, The Rifleman, 77 Sunset Strip, Cimarron Strip, Hawaii Five-O and Happy Days. His wife Joan, sometimes appeared with him.
He appeared in four episodes of Bonanza:
1: Carl Harris - The Sun Mountain Herd/Death on Sun Mountain (season 1)
2: Ike Taggert - Day of Reckoning (season 2)
3: Dr. Woods - A Natural Wizard (season 7)
4: Captain Nells Larson - Showdown at Tahoe (season 9)
Starting in 1958, Karl Swenson was seen in a variety of small roles in a number of movies. These movies in included North to Alaska (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Birds (1963) and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).
Due to his early career in radio, Swenson was also used as a voice actor in animated films and TV shows. His most notable animated film role was that of the wizard Merlin in Disney's The Sword in the Stone (1963). On television he can be heard as Dr. Carl Benson in the episode "Night of the Clones" in the cartoon series The Amazing Spider-Man.
From 1974 to 1978, Swenson appeared as lumber mill owner and founder of Walnut Grove, Lars Hanson in the TV series Little House on the Prairie.
His last appearance on LHOTP reflected what was happening in real life. In the episode "There's No Place Like Home" - Part 2, his character Lars Hanson was ill after having a massive stroke and at the end of the episode Laura Ingalls tells us that Mr. Hanson died. Swenson, himself at the time of filming of this episode was also in failing health and he died before this episode aired on 16 October, 1978.
Karl Swenson, died from a heart attack, on 8 October, 1978 in Torrington, Conneticut. He was 70 years old.
* (Source: Karl Malden...On the Radio by Jack French, 1999)
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