A Tale of Three Careers: The Remarkable Bob Hastings
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By John C. Alsedek:
Longevity is perhaps the toughest commodity to come by in show business. Just think about it: think of the television stars of your youth and then ask yourself when you last saw them in anything. So when someone is able to stay in the limelight for twenty years or so, that’s an accomplishment. Now, take that twenty years and quadruple it. That’s the career of the late, great Bob Hastings, who was a genuine luminary on radio, television, and in the voiceover booth for nine decades.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1925, Bob Hastings got started early; by his eleventh birthday he was a boy singer on radio shows such as Doug Gray’s Singing Gang and Coast to Coast on a Bus, and then a regular on The Adventures of the Sea Hound. By the time he hit adulthood, Hastings was ticketed for radio stardom. Following a stint during World War II as a navigator on B-29 Stratofortresses, Hastings became a radio star as the voice of Archie Andrews in a series based on the popular comic book character from 1946–1951. But then, three years into his run on Archie Andrews, Hastings started his second career—on the fledgling medium of television.
The clean-cut young Hastings found himself frequently cast in space opera series that were all the rage on early TV: Captain Video and His Video Rangers (on which his brother, Don, was a regular), Atom Squad, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. At the same time, he was continuing his radio career, appearing in 34 episodes of the classic science fiction anthology X Minus One (1955–57). By the late 1950’s, Hastings was a familiar face to TV audiences from his frequent appearances on The Phil Silvers Show (1956–59) and Kitty Foyle (1958), as well as guest roles on dozens of other programs.
Then in 1962, Hastings landed the role that Gen X’ers like me instantly remember him for: Lt. Elroy Carpenter on the TV sitcom McHale’s Navy. It launched Hastings into a period of his career where you could barely turn on the television without seeing him or hearing his voice; well over two hundred television and film parts in the course of a little over a decade, including recurring roles on All in the Family, The Edge of Night, General Hospital, and CBS Afternoon Playhouse. My personal favorite, and one I didn’t realize until I started writing this: Hastings was the voice of the cuckoo clock raven on The Munsters!
From the mid-Sixties till the mid-Eighties, Hastings was on everything: from Love American Style to The Greatest American Hero, from The Odd Couple to The Dukes of Hazzard. But as happens with almost every actor, the parts started becoming fewer and fewer as he got into his fifties. And then, just as he thought his long and successful career in radio and television acting was winding down, he got a whole new lease on life when he was cast as the voice of Commissioner Jim Gordon in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992.
Hastings was no stranger to voice acting—by the early 1960’s, it had essentially replaced the then-dead radio dramas as his second vocation. He’d voiced Superboy in Filmation’s The New Adventures of Superboy as well as racking up credits on Hanna-Barbera shows such as Yogi’s Space Race, Challenge of the Super Friends, and Captain Caveman & the Teen Angels. But getting the role of Commissioner Gordon on the popular and critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series was both the cherry on top of an already-great career and the impetus for that career to be extended. Hastings would continue voicing Commissioner Gordon for the next decade on multiple Batman animated series and video games, three Batman animated films, and related appearances on shows such as Superman: The Animated Series, Gotham Girls, and Static Shock.
In 2004, at the age of 79, Bob Hastings retired . . . more or less. But he continued to entertain at conventions, even returning to his roots to do live performances of old-time radio scripts; his last performance was less than a year before his death in 2014 at the age of 89. What he left behind was a wife of sixty-six years, four children, 23 grand- and great-grandchildren . . . and one heck of an entertainment legacy.
And speaking of which, next time I’ll be writing about a radio show Bob Hastings was very closely associated with: the aforementioned classic science fiction anthology X Minus One. Until then, thanks for tuning in!
Writer, producer, and radio-drama aficionado, John C. Alsedek, shares the history of radio and the impact it has made on the world of entertainment.