An actor of radio, television and Broadway, by 1952, Bunce had the unique distinction of being both the final national president of AFRA — American Federation of Radio Artists — and the first national president of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Bunce was elected AFRA president at the national convention in New York, held August 21 — 23, 1952, where one of the resolutions passed was to merge with Television Authority (TVA). TVA had been created in 1949 by the parent organization of AFRA, Actors’ Equity, Screen Actors Guild and several other unions — collectively the Associated Actors and Artistes of America — in an attempt to devise a solution to a jurisdiction dispute over union representation of TV actors. In February 1952, TVA lost NLRB elections with Screen Actors Guild over which union should cover film TV, leaving TVA with jurisdiction over live TV. In September 1952, TVA merged with AFRA, creating AFTRA.
Few AFTRAns would have known that Bunce, the youngest of three children, lost his mother Alice in April 1915, just two months before his 15th birthday. She died from a heart attack suffered in court during divorce proceedings against his father, Theodore D. Bunce Jr., an inventor and president of the Storage Battery Supply Company of Manhattan. After her death, young Bunce lived for a time in Massachusetts with his sister before heading to New York, where he worked at what was later described as a “runner and office-sweeper for a cotton broker” and selling candy for a wholesale house. Then the acting bug bit, and by the time he was 20, he was acting with the Institute Players of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1920 and 1921. Perhaps his first public notice came in November 1921, when a Brooklyn Life review of the Institute Players’ production of Alfred Sutro’s Mollentrave on Women noted, “Special mention should also be made of Alan Bunce, who was engagingly realistic as the awkward youth.”
The 21-year-old Bunce made his professional New York stage debut in March 1922 — just three weeks after the death of his father — in a Eugene O’Neill play, The First Man, at the Neighborhood Playhouse on the city’s Lower East Side. He worked steadily after that. In 1939, he got his big break as star of radio soap opera Young Dr. Malone, when he was nearly 40 years old. By 1943, the show was broadcast on more than 89 stations to an audience of over 9 million listeners and profiled in fan magazines. He continued in the role until November of 1944, when he left to become co-star of a radio domestic comedy, Ethel and Albert, until it ended its radio run in 1950. During the show’s run, in 1948, he was elected to his first of two terms as president of the AFRA New York Local. In the spring of 1953, during Bunces’ AFTRA national presidency, Ethel and Albert was revived as a television series and ran until the summer of 1956.