We are winding down our blog series, “What A Character.” If you watched television between 1959 and 1989, you will definitely recognize this week’s character actor: Allan Melvin.
Melvin was born in 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri, but he always said he grew up in New York City where his parents moved to not long after his birth. After high school, he attended Columbia University, studying journalism before joining the US Navy in WWII.
He married Amalia Sestero in 1944 and they were together for his entire life and had two children. Amalia was also an actress and Melvin met her when he attended an actor’s group that she helped start.
After being discharged from the Navy, Allan worked in the sound effects department of NBC Radio. He also had a nightclub act. He was on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show which he won. His first television role was that of Corporal Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show. Melvin’s wife remembered that time fondly: “I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work. They were so relaxed.”
After the show ended, Melvin was often typecast as a military character or the abrasive, but happy-go-lucky guy. Even when he was not a recurring character, he often had multiple appearances on a series.
Allan and Amalia moved their family to California, hoping for more television roles in the early sixties.
Throughout the sixties, Melvin was kept busy with television work, appearing on The Danny Thomas Show, The Bill Dana Show, Perry Mason, Lost in Space, Love American Style, and The Andy Griffith Show. He had two recurring roles: Art Miller on The Joey Bishop Show and Sol Pomerantz on the Dick Van Dyke Show.
He was often cast as the tough guy on The Andy Griffith Show, with eight appearances in all. Melvin discussed his time on the show and said “I always enjoyed doing the show. We had a lot of fun doing it, and they were a great bunch.”
From 1965-1969 you could find him on Gomer Pyle USMC as Sergeant Charlie Hacker.
As early as 1963, Melvin was doing voice work on The Flintstones. His animation work would continue throughout his career and after about 1974, cartoon voices were his only gigs. One of his best-known roles is Magilla Gorilla.
I’m not sure why, but Melvin only appeared in one movie, although it was a good one. He was the desk sergeant at the end of the Doris Day-Brian Keith film, With Six You Get Eggroll. A couple of Andy Griffith writers wrote the screenplay, and Howard Morris, known as Ernest T Bass, directed the film.
In the 1970s he was cast in his two most memorable roles.
He was Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend on The Brady Bunch. Sam owned a butcher shop and was an avid bowler. In a later movie, we learned that he finally made an honest woman of Alice. Ann B Davis said “Allan Melvin, neat guy, very tall. He was just a nice, open, big guy, and it was fun to play with him.”
He was also neighbor and friend of Archie Bunker as Barney Hefner on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Allan said it was a good experience and everyone’s input was welcome. Jason Wingreen, who played Harry the bartender on the show talked about Melvin in anther wordpress blog, classictvhistory (https://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/tag/allan-melvin/). When asked if he was the same in person as he was in character, Wingreen said, “He was more intelligent than that. Allan wrote little poems, little couplets of sorts, and they were very funny. Like limericks, but not quite limericks. Some of them were very intelligent and very, very funny. Never published. Allan and I became very close friends.”
Melvin also did a lot of commercial work. You could see him pitching products from Sugar Frosted Flakes to Remington razors to Liquid Plumr. He was the plumber for Liquid Plumr for fifteen years.
In 2008, Melvin died from cancer.
Melvin certainly had a career to be proud of. One thing I never learned was when he decided that acting was the career he wanted. He became one of the most beloved and most-recognized character actors in the sixties and seventies–definitely a character worth celebrating.
6 thoughts on “Allan Melvin: What a Character!”
Sounds like he had a good, long career. I’m sure there are pros and cons but I wonder how actors feel about being typecast in a certain role. It probably gives a leg up when those roles come open but it probably can hinder them when it comes to other roles. Also, I’d like being able to hone in on certain traits that a character has but I wonder if it gets a little old playing the same style of character.
I think it would be great to be a character actor though. You get paid well but can walk through the grocery store knowing a bunch of people are trying to remember if you look familiar because you work at the bank or from somewhere else and you get the variety of not being on just one show.
Yeah, Melvin was everywhere it seemed. The perfect blue-collar character. And his voice is so distinctive.
Have you profiled, or will you profile, Dabbs Greer and Whit Bissell? Two of my favorites. Bissell did as many movies as television shows.
Whit Bissell is not on my list. I’m sure I’d recognize him but the name does not ring any bells. I’ll look into him. Which shows are your favorites of his?
My favorite TV show that he was in (his part was small) is the episode “Nightmare” from The Outer Limits. Favorite movie, again in a small part, is Hud. But he’s been in hundreds of things, a lot of Westerns and cheap horror movies. He usually plays a concerned scholarly type. Dabbs Greer, on the other hand, seemed to always play a slow-witted, country bumpkin character. I actually saw a Perry Mason episode where the two were together, and it was the highlight of my week (just kidding).
I did look him up—he was on everything. Greer was on my list but I will add Whit to it. He has like 350 credits—pretty amazing. Thanks for mentioning him.
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