Born in Alameda, California, Heidt attended Culver Academies.
From 1932 to 1953, he was one of the more popular radio bandleaders, heard on both NBC and CBS in a variety of different formats over the years. He began on the NBC Blue Network in 1932 with Shell Oil's Ship of Joy and Answers by the Dancers. During the late 1930s on CBS he did Captain Dobbsie's Ship of Joy and Horace Heidt's Alemite Brigadeers before returning to NBC for 1937-39 broadcasts.
Heidt's 1939–41 radio show was adapted for this 1941 film.
Singer Matt Dennis got his start with Heidt's band, and Art Carney was the band's singing comedian. The Heidt band's recordings were highly-successful with "Gone with the Wind" going to No. 1 in 1937 and "Ti-Pi-Tin" to No. 1 in 1938. In 1939, "The Man with the Mandolin" ranked No. 2 on the charts.
His NBC Pot o' Gold radio show (1939–41) was the basis for a 1941 film of the same title. Produced by James Roosevelt (son of the U.S. president) and directed by George Marshall, the film starred James Stewart and Paulette Goddard, and it featured Heidt portraying himself with his band. Carney can be glimpsed in some of the film's musical numbers. The movie gives a fairly accurate depiction of Heidt's radio show but features staged sequences, such as a scene in which a Minnesota farmer (allegedly phoned at random by Heidt during his radio show) is played by well-known character actor John Qualen.
From 1940–44 he did Tums Treasure Chest, followed by 1943–45 shows on the Blue Network. Lucky Strike sponsored The American Way on CBS in 1953.
On December 7, 1947, NBC launched The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program and accordionist Dick Contino, the first winner of the $5,000 prize, soon had his own show. Heidt's talent search catapulted such performers as Art Carney, Frankie Carle, Gordon MacRae, the King Sisters, Alvino Rey, Frank DeVol and Al Hirt. When the program expanded from radio to television in 1950, it was one of the first talent shows on TV. Other winners included the Philharmonics and vocalist Ralph Sigwald.
With fame, Heidt moved into the then-new Brentwood neighborhood of West Los Angeles at 1525 San Vicente Boulevard. He bought the mansion from the widow of a retired dentist, which offered stunning views of Santa Monica Canyon, overlooking the Riviera Country Club and Catalina Island on a clear day. The expansive chateau-style residence, featured in 1927 on the cover of the rotogravure magazine Pictorial California, has long since been razed and the property subdivided.
Horace Heidt died in 1986 and was interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
For his contribution to radio, Heidt has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1631 Vine Street; and a second star for his contribution to television at 6628 Hollywood Boulevard.
His 1941 song, "The Hut-Sut Song", is heard in the movie A Christmas Story.
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