Tweed, Tommy (1908-1971)
Multi-talented Thomas William Tweed, known professionally as Tommy, was born
in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 1908 and left his central Canadian stamp on theatre, radio and film. He originally enrolled in pre-medicine at the University of Manitoba, but he had a wrist problem that made laboratory work too difficult, so he switched majors to psychology and philosophy. He graduated in 1931 and returned home for a while, and in 1933, took a Greek steamer out of Quebec and toured France, Austria and Italy. He later wrote that travels helped him in "seeing a new pattern of familiar things." Once home, he took to the stage and a Winnipeg Free Press review of his role as the French janitor in "Madame Sherry" in 1934 was an early indicator of his later successes in comedy. "Tom Tweed carried the most conspicuously comic part without a single let-down, although now and again his exuberance almost overpowered the other players," the review said. He moved to Toronto in 1941 to take up freelance acting and writing, and based on his keen fondness for Canadian history, (his grandfather Thomas Tweed was a member of the first Northwest Territories legislature) wrote adaptations for radio. They ranged from the serious "The Brass Pounder from Illinois" to the humorous "A Short Exegesis of Parkinson's Law" and the 1961 satire, "Full Speed Sideways," a play which spoofed a naval battle on the prairies during the Riel Rebellion. His earliest voice works were with CBC Radio, one work starring him as Judge Pepperleigh in Stephen Leacock's "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" in 1946.Fellow CBC worker Frank Willis recalled Tweed was also a master of improvisation as recounted in "The Birth of Radio in Canada: Signing On" by Bill McNeil and Morris Wolfe. "Another time the sound effects recordings didn’t work and Tommy Tweed, without blinking an eye, took over and imitated the sound of a dog pursuing Huckleberry Finn through a swamp," Willis said. In 1949, Tweed was in the cast of the CBC's adaptation of Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," in which Captain Ahab was played by Lorne Greene. In the 1950s, Tweed played several roles in radio adaptations of "Jake and the Kid" by W.O. Mitchell, whom he had first worked with in his Winnipeg theatre days. Tweed also became a regular narrator for a series of National Film Board productions in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, the Walt Disney Co. began film production of Canadian author's Sheila Burnford's "The Incredible Journey," a story of three house pets' quest to get back home against terrible odds in the wilderness of northwestern Ontario. Tommy Tweed was cast as a hermit in the production, which was redone in 1993 under the name "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey." In 1968, Tweed was awarded ACTRA's John Drainie Award for Distinguished Contribution to Canadian broadcasting, along with Esse Ljungh, W.O. Mitchell, and Jean Murray. Tommy Tweed died in 1971 at the age of 63.
Written by Joseph Chrysdale - May, 2007
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