Denver Pyle: Oil Was Just His Side Business

This month we are getting up close and personal with some of our favorite television stars. Today we are getting to know one of the most prolific actors to appear on classic television: Denver Pyle. Denver amassed acting credits for 263 different television series and movies during a fifty-year career.

Photo: Facebook.com

Denver was born Denver Dell Pyle in 1920 in Colorado, but not in Denver, in Bethune. His father was a farmer. His brother Willis became an animator who worked at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and UPA. Also, an interesting note is that Ernie Pyle, the famous journalist and war correspondent, was his cousin.

Photo: reddit.com

After his high school graduation, Pyle enrolled at Colorado State University but dropped out to pursue a show business career. He was a drummer for a band and then bounced around in different jobs including working in the oil fields, working shrimp boats in Texas, and as an NBC page. When WWII began, he joined the Merchant Marine. He was injured in the battle of Guadalcanal and received a medical discharge. Following his stint in the war, Pyle worked as a riveter at a Los Angeles aircraft plant. While there, he was spotted by a talent scout in an amateur theater production. Pyle decided he wanted a career in the entertainment business and trained under Maria Ouspenskaya and Michael Chekhov.

His first movie roles occurred in 1947 in The Guilt of Janet Ames and Devil Ship. He would continue polishing his film career for the next fifty years, with his last big-screen feature being Maverick in 1994.

When he was filming The Alamo with John Wayne in 1960, Wayne realized Pyle had an eye for photography. He made arrangements with the PR office to hire Pyle as the official set photographer for the film.

Photo: ladylavinia’s1932blog.wordpress.com

He received his first television role in 1951 in The Cisco Kid. He gravitated toward westerns and in the fifties would appear in many of them including Roy Rogers, Gunsmoke, The Range Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, Annie Oakley, The Gene Autry Show, The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, and The Tales of West Fargo.

In 1955, Pyle married Marilee Carpenter. They had two children and divorced in 1970.

The sixties still provided many roles in westerns (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, and Death Valley Days among others), but he also began appearing on dramas and sitcoms: to name a few, Route 66, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Gomer Pyle USMC.

On Dick Van Dyke Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In many of these shows, he returned nine or ten times to guest star in episodes. During the run of Perry Mason, Pyle would play a victim, a defendant, and a murderer on the show.

He received the first recurring roles of his career during this era on sitcoms. On Tammy, he played Grandpa Tarleton in 1965-66, and from 1963-66, he portrayed Briscoe Darling on The Andy Griffith Show. He only appeared in Mayberry six times but left a lasting impression on fans.

After playing Briscoe, Pyle invested in oil, buying oil wells thought to be near the end of their production. In the eighties, technology allowed the wells to produce more oil; Pyle made much more from oil than he did acting. However, he continued his career because he said, “I look at it this way, acting provides the cash flow I need for oil speculation, and besides that, I like acting. It’s fun.”

Doris Day Show Photo: thrillingdaysofyesteryear.com

His career did not slow down too much throughout the seventies and eighties. In the seventies, you could watch him in The Waltons, Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, and Barnaby Jones. The eighties featured him in The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Dallas, and LA Law.

During this time, he also received three other regular cast roles. From 1968-1970, he played Doris Day’s father in The Doris Day Show. From 1977-78. He was Mad Jack in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, and in 1979-85, he took on Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazard. In fact, his last acting credit was for a made-for-tv movie where he once again portrayed Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion! in 1997.

Dukes of Hazzard Photo: twitter.com

In 1991, Pyle married a second time. He wed Tippie Johnston and they remained married until his death. The couple did a lot of fundraising for charity including Special Olympics and Denver Pyle’s Children’s Charities. In addition, Pyle sponsored Uncle Jesse’s Fishing Tournament in Texas. For the ten years, he ran it, it raised more than $160,000 to support children’s needs.

In 1997, Pyle died on Christmas from lung cancer.

If you watch reruns from any decade of classic television, you will be very familiar with Denver Pyle. Although he was part of the cast in five very popular shows, it would have been fun to see him get the starring role in a show. It’s amazing to realize how many shows he was a part of. Considering he was in the television business for forty years and for almost fifteen of those years, he was busy being part of the cast of a weekly show, that left 25 years to amass 250 other series that he found time to appear on; that is almost one a month for 25 years—very impressive.

Shelly Fabares: A Life Spent in the Entertainment Industry

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Michele Ann Marie (Shelly) Fabares was born in 1944 in California.  She began acting at 3 and at age 10 she appeared in her first television show. Her aunt was the actress Nanette Fabray who also began acting as a child, and then went on to musical theater.

During the 1950s, Shelly appeared in several television shows including Annie Oakley, The Loretta Young Show, and the Twilight Zone, in addition to 8 others. She was part of the cast of Annette in 1958, playing Moselle Corey.  The star of the show was Annette Funicello.  She is an orphan who grew up in the country and now lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle, not fitting into the snobby community. The show was cancelled after 19 episodes. Annette was a life-long friend of Shelly’s. They met in seventh grade, and Shelly was at her bedside when she passed away from multiple sclerosis in 2013.

Later that year she was offered the part of Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show. The show was on the air seven years. Shelly left the show in 1963 to pursue a film career but stayed close to the cast, especially Donna Reed who was a second mother to her. Paul Petersen and Fabares both described how amazing Donna Reed and Carl Betz were during their time on the show.  Realizing how tough the industry can be for young kids, they protected them and loved them as second parents. Both Shelly and Petersen pursued their music interests on the Donna Reed Show. In 1962, she recorded “Johnny Angel” which went to number 1 on the Billboard 100.

Shelly appeared in 13 films in the 1950s and 1960s, including three with Elvis Presley—Girl Happy in 1965, Spinout in 1966, and Clambake in 1967. She also appeared on television on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Daniel Boone, Lancer, and Bracken’s World. Shelly married Lou Adler in 1964.

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Her acting career continued to skyrocket in the 1970s.  She appeared as Joy Piccolo in Brian’s Song in 1971. She appeared in 26 television shows, three of them regular series. The Brian Keith Show was on the air from 1972-74. Keith was Dr. Sean Jamison and Shelly played his daughter, Dr. Ann Jamison.  The two of them ran a free pediatric clinic in Hawaii financed by a wealthy patron. Sticking with the medical theme, she joined the cast of The Practice in 1976-77 working with Danny Thomas. She played Jenny Bedford, the daughter of Dr. Jules Bedford. At the end of the decade she tried another sitcom, Highcliff Manor, which only lasted 6 episodes. I don’t remember this sitcom, but it seems an odd one: the manor, owned by Fabares’ character, Helen Blacke, was home to the Blacke Foundation, a research institute staffed by an eclectic group of eccentric characters. It sounds a bit like Scorpion, maybe just a couple decades’ too early.

She continued working on television in the 1980s, appearing on Fantasy Island, Mork and Mindy, Matt Houston, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Murder She Wrote.  She joined the cast of One Day at a Time, playing Francine Webster between 1978-1984. She also made the movie Hot Pursuit in 1987. The description of the movie is that young Danny is following his rich girlfriend’s family to the Caribbean. But suddenly he simply must take a chemistry test and cannot go with them. After they have left, he gets a leave from his professor and takes a plane to find them. But he is not quite sure where they are, and meets smugglers, crazy captains, and murderers. Fabares’ marriage to Lou Adler legally ended in 1980, although they had been separated since 1966. In 1984, she married M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell.

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Entering her 5th decade of acting, she made her last film, Love or Money in 1990. She continued her television work appearing in A Whole New Ballgame and the Justice League.  She also had a regular gig providing the voice for Martha Kent in Superman from 1996-99. In addition to the Donna Reed Show, the show that Fabares is best known for was Coach which ran throughout most of the 90s, from 1989-1997. As Christine Armstrong, she is the girlfriend, and later, wife of Coach Hayden Fox, played by Craig T. Nelson.  The show revolves around the football team that Fox coaches.  He lives for sports while Christine is not the least interested.  This causes a bit of friction and miscommunication in their relationship.

Fabares had a long and full career.  While her career kept her busy, she had to deal with several major life situations:

DONNA REED;SHELLEY FABARES

Donna Reed, her second mother, passed away in 1986 from pancreatic cancer.  Shelly adored Donna, and Donna’s final words were to make sure Shelly’s birthday gift was wrapped and delivered.

At the same time Reed was dying, Fabares’ mother was suffering from Alzheimers.

In 2000, Shelly needed a liver transplant because she had autoimmune hepatitis.

She had to deal with the death of her life-long friend Annette Funicello in 2013.

Few actors can begin acting as a child, transition into teen parts, transition into movie roles, and then continue acting as an adult in sitcom series, but she did that beautifully. Hopefully she and hubby Mike Farrell continue to enjoy a long and well-deserved retirement.

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