“Whoah, Nellie!” Happy Birthday, Richard “Dick” Lane

He was Joe Penner’s frequent foil on film and radio, Jackie Robinson’s celluloid manager, the human soundtrack to a generation of wrestling and roller derby-mad Angelenos, and the man who first uttered the phrase, “Whooooaaaah, Nellie!” into a broadcasting microphone.

Richard “Dick” Lane was born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin on May 28, 1899. After early success as an announcer and emcee (and as an “iron jaw” act in various circuses…an odd occupation for such a gifted talker), he came to Broadway in 1928, where he appeared in the long-running comedy Present Arms. In 1930, he appeared in the Vanderbilt Revue alongside eventual film and radio co-star Joe Penner (the subject of my Wanna Buy a Duck? website, where you’ll find plenty of info, video & photos of Lane).

Lane made his film debut beside Bob Hope in the 1935 comedy Shop Talk, and following 110 stage performances of George White’s Scandals of 1936 (where he appeared with Bert Lahr, Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards and Rudy Vallee, among many others), it was off to Hollywood for good.


In this rare autographed photo from the set of RKO’s 1938 feature I’m From the City, Dick Lane (third from right) receives a birthday cake from star Joe Penner. Also in the shot to the left of Penner are (l to r) director Ben Holmes, Kay Sutton and Lorraine Krueger. Co-star Kathryn Sheldon is on the far right. Check out stuntman/gorilla performer (you read that right) Charles Gemora’s sketch of himself at far left.

Starting with RKO’s New Faces of 1937 (where he portrayed a conniving stockbroker opposite Milton Berle), he appeared in six of Joe Penner’s feature films, as well as on the comedian’s CBS radio program, The Park Avenue Penners. In the 1947-48 season, he starred as Oliver Anderson in his own syndicated radio series, The Anderson Family (to stream or download an episode, click HERE).

Frequently cast as a fast-talking con-man, carnival barker or grifter, he was also at home in roles on the good side of the law. From 1941 (when Penner passed away) to 1949, he portrayed Inspector Farraday in thirteen Boston Blackie program pictures for Columbia Studios. He also was cast as a baseball coach in The Babe Ruth Story, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and The Jackie Robinson Story.

Lane was born with the gift of gab, and could keep up a steady patter with the best in the business. By the late 1940s, he’d largely returned to his first love, the announcer’s booth, both in film roles and the new medium of television.


Dick Lane at work in the KTLA broadcast booth

As Dick Lane, he is perhaps best known to 1950s and 1960s Los Angeles sports fans as the ubiquitous broadcast voice of wrestling, roller derby (The Los Angeles Thunderbirds) and midget auto racing, among many other sports. He was a regular on The Spade Cooley Show, and his work for station KTLA’s weekly variety show, Dixie Showboat, earned him an Emmy nomination in 1951. He is also fondly remembered for his Chevrolet commercials, where he slapped the fenders of the cars to accentuate his sales pitch.

He frequently used the phrase “Whoooaaah, Nellie” to punctuate the action on his wrestling and roller derby broadcasts, and it was soon adopted by a young Keith Jackson. To his credit, Jackson has always attributed the phrase to Lane.

Dick Lane made his final film apearance in Kansas City Bomber (1972), starring Raquel Welch.

Dick Lane made his final film apearance in Kansas City Bomber (1972), starring Raquel Welch.

For two brief recordings (and a really bad screen capture photo) of Lane in the broadcast booth (including a terrific “Whoah, Nellie” at a “Gorgeous George” wrestling match), click HERE for a brief article with two Dick Lane audio/video links.

Here’s a short scene from The Day the Bookies Wept, starring Joe Penner. That’s Lane on the left:

For a video clip featuring Lane and Penner from I’m From the City, click HERE.

Lane died on September 5, 1982 in Newport Beach, California. He was inducted into the Southern California Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.

craig hodgkins

~ by Craig Hodgkins on June 2, 2008.

19 Responses to ““Whoah, Nellie!” Happy Birthday, Richard “Dick” Lane”

  1. Dick Lane also was the announcer for “Jalopy Derby” from Ascot Stadium in Gardena, CA. He was constantly uttering his “Whoah Nellies” for racers A. J. Foyt, Termite Snyder, Armand Wahl, and Rufus P. Jones, AKA Parnelli Jones. Foyt and Jones went on to the big time in auto racing; Wahl and Snyder disappeared. Still their names are chiseled into my memory as two of the “whoah Nellie” guys.

    Geoff Sanders
    Portland OR

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Geoff. It seems that Dick Lane was omnipresent on the LA sports airwaves for most of the 50s and 60s. After posting this, I tracked down some brief audio of his broadcasting work, which I added to the post. Now to locate one of his Chevy commercials!

  3. The 11 year old kid sitting beneath Dick Lane’s plywood announcer’s booth at Western Speedway in 1959 was me. Dick was an amazing announcer who could, with his voice, excite an audience. The jalopy races, destruction derby, and the appliance auction in the tent are some of the memories of childhood I had. How many kids of 11 today would ride their bicycles 10 miles in a metro area to see a sporting event?
    Dick was good, very good at what he did.

  4. You’re so right, Bob. What a treat to have heard Lane live so many times. He really did have an amazing pace to his patter. Check out his work in “The Day the Bookies Wept” and “I’m From the City” on my Penner website, and you’ll see (and hear) Lane at his non-sporting event best.

  5. Craig,

    He did parts on the “Superman” series from time-to-time also.
    Think it must have been 1960-61 when I went to Western Speedway.
    Ascot Park was upscale, too rich for my poorboy blood back then.
    Doesn’t take much to hear his voice in my head. Was distinctive.
    Also, remember him on TV from the Olympic Auditorium doing wrestling. Remember when Freddie Blassie took his glasses and stomped on the lenses he held them up to the camera….shattered.
    They were great actors, what we needed, played by not overplayed.
    Hometown hero.



  6. Craig, was taking a look at Dick Lane on the internet because I have great childhood memories of wrestling. Tried to find “Skull Murphy” on Wikipedia, but nothing there. Dick was a genius, and turned the locker room interview into a media event more exciting than the wrestling itself.

  7. Dick Lane will be enshrined into the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame’s Announcers Wing. The event takes place on Feburary14, 2009 at the Embassy Suites in Downey California from noon until five. For more information: rollerderbyhalloffame.com

    Marc Stern
    Director of Communications

  8. Great to hear of Dick’s upcoming honor, Marc…he absolutely belongs in the RDHOF (and a few others, which may not exist!) I checked out your website, and love what you are doing to honor all former skaters, and to make it as easy as possible for them to attend. Very classy! Hope the event exceeds expectations for you.

  9. I remember him announcing wrestling, roller derby, jalopy races along with demo derby, X racing with the dirt cam and I think he announced Flat track and TT motorcycle racing at times. Fond memories.

  10. whoaaa nelly, loved it when he said it. many happy times watching Roller Derby withmy family on Sundays. thanks Dick and thanks to all Roller Derby guys and gals!

  11. My father and I would laugh every time a promotion voiced by Dick would come on KTLA for an upcoming boxing event at the Olympic Auditorium. The promotion would always end with Dick saying, “And tell your mother-in-law there’s wrestling every thursday night at the beautiful Olympic Auditorium.”

  12. I would love to have a poster of Dick Lane in his cowboy garb selling cars. As a kid growing up in LA, he was hard to miss.

  13. Hi Craig,
    I have fond memories of ” Ol Leatherbritches ” announcing the racing events for Jalopy Derby when Armand Wahl, Pete Cardenas, Stan Baker, Parnelli Jones, and A.J. Foyt were part of the drivers racing then. Dick always kept it exciting even when Gorgeous George was wrestling.

  14. I would love to have a picture of Dick Lane in the roller rink.

  15. Lane was also known for saying “Don’t put your coffee pot on yet!”

  16. Lane did the commercials for Central Chevrolet in Los Angeles on the Spade obey Show. I remember the only time I saw him Lose it, when he hit the hood of new Chevy and put a big dent in the panel.. This Must have been about 1952.

  17. What did Dick always say in his Chevy car commercial? That term, was it Whoa Nellie, became the ultimate car selling pitch of So Cal. I can see him slapping the hood of the car and saying….so, o.k. I’m 76. He said,???. Thanks for reminding me of Dick Lane and his wide and wild presence during the early pioneering days of So Cal TV.

  18. My husband and I were fortunate to be invited to Dick and Esther’s Newport Beach home to watch the Christmas boat parade in the early 70’s. They were both very gracious people. Have many fond memories of Dick during his career. Really enjoyed his Inspector Farraday character in the Boston Blackie movies.

    • I am trying to locate more info on Dick Lane’s extended family. From his Vaudeville days he knew about the code to help a fellow performer in need. My mother is a now retired, but recognizable television actress who talks fondly of Dick and his family. When my mother and grandmother came to town (Hollywood) to find work, while they struggled the Lane’s took them in and helped them get on their feet. I still recall watching roller derby games on television on Saturdays and when he came on, if they were around, my mom or grandmother would exclaim that “Daddy” was on. I’d love to know more about his married life and family.

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