William Harold Saunders, a news anchor for WSUN, the former city-owned TV station in St. Petersburg, a Detroit police officer and a radio show actor during the 1930s and 1940s, died Tuesday of lung cancer and complications from emphysema at his home in Clearwater. He was 88.
An only child, he came to America from his native Berlin at age 6 with his mother, a stage actress, and his father, an opera singer. He first performed on stage with his parents at a very young age.
Born Willi Schenk, Saunders changed his name in the mid-1920s and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. "He wanted an American name," his wife, Irene Saunders, said.
Saunders joined the Detroit Police Department in 1927. During the Depression he began moonlighting in radio. He worked in early radio shows and read the Detroit Times comics on Sundays.
He left the police force in 1942 to pursue his acting career. He often played the villain in Lone Ranger and Green Hornet during the 1940s, when he worked for WXYZ radio station in Detroit.
"If you heard (his voice) one time, you would listen to it forever. He never had any special training. He was born like that," Mrs. Saunders said. "He could portray most any (accent)."
Saunders' acting career also included spots in Army and Navy training films and two starring roles in performances at the Schubert Lafayette Theater in Detroit.
In the early 1950s, he became a radio news anchor at WHLS in Port Huron, Mich. In 1957 he elicited a confession from a murder suspect during a prison interview. "The prisoner took a liking to him. Bill got the confession out of him by giving him cigarettes," Mrs. Saunders said. "They had the room bugged when he got the confession, but it didn't work the first time so he had to do it again."
In the late 1950s, Saunders "was tired of the rat race in the big city so he was looking for something else," Mrs. Saunders said. "He went to Miami for an interview (at a radio station), but he didn't like their offer." He stopped in St. Petersburg on his way home and made some demo tapes for WSUN, then a city-owned St. Petersburg TV station. He worked there several years, reading news and doing commercials, until his retirement in 1970.
After retiring, Mr. Saunders was a volunteer announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Saunders is survived by a son, Bill, Kalamazoo, Mich.; a daughter, Annette Frantz, Dowagiac, Mich.; a grandson, Eric Saunders, Harper Woods, Mich.; a granddaughter, Andrea Pendowski, Sylvania, Ohio; three great-grandsons, Mike Saunders, Marquette, Mich., and Ben Pendowski and Ross Pendowski, both of Sylvania; and three great-granddaughters, Jacqueline Saunders, Marquette, and Anna Pendowski and Maureen Pendowski, both of Sylvania.
Memorial services were held Thursday and Friday at Sylvan Abbey Memorial Chapel in Clearwater.
Information from the Detroit Free Press was used for this article.