This month we are looking back at a few of the game show celebrities from To Tell the Truth. These are four individuals who were stars in their own right before they did the game show circuit. Although I know the game shows were typically at the end of their illustrious careers, for better or worse, it is how most of us know these interesting personalities.
We are beginning the month with Orson Bean. Bean expressed the sentiment I was discussing above by saying that the was a “neocelebrity,” someone who is famous for being famous for his appearances on prime-time game shows. While I agree with this conclusion, part of what I want us to learn today is why he is a memorable star even without the game show fame.
Bean was born in 1928 in Vermont as Dallas Frederick Burrows. Silent Cal Coolidge was a first cousin twice removed. His father was one of the founding members of the ACLU and chief of police on the Harvard campus. When Bean was sixteen, his mother committed suicide, and he left home.
Bean attended the Rindge Technical School in Massachusetts, and after graduation, he joined the army and was sent to Japan. He spent some time at the HB Studio in New York, studying drama. After returning to the US, Bean began working as a stage musician before trying his hand at stand-up comedy in the early fifties.
Bean tells a fun story about how he came up with his stage name on The Tonight Show. When he was performing at a nightclub in Boston, the piano player would give him a different silly name to use every night. One night it was Orson Bean, and it went over great with the crowd.
In 1952 Bean started his radio career with an appearance on The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. When the show was renewed for 13 weeks, Bean was the full-time host.
In 1954 he was the house comedian at the Blue Angel Comedy Club in New York. Unfortunately, Bean was dating a girl who was a member of the Communist Party, and he was blacklisted as well. Ed Sullivan canceled his appearance on his show; he did later book him years later for five different episodes.
In 1956 Bean married Jacqueline de Sibour (stage name Rain Winslow). They had one child before divorcing in 1962.
In the fifties and sixties, Orson also was a regular on the Broadway stage. His first production was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter with Walter Matthau and Jayne Mansfield. He continued on Broadway shows throughout the sixties, getting a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for “Subways Are for Sleeping.”
It was also during this decade that Bean began appearing on television where he earned 84 acting credits. He started in the many drama and playhouse series that were on television in the fifties and sixties. He also had his fair share of sitcoms including The Phil Silvers Show, Love American Style, Will and Grace, Becker, Two and A Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and Modern Family. His dramatic appearances included The Twilight Zone, Ellery Queen, The Fall Guy, Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, and Seventh Heaven. During his career he was a regular cast member on Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, Normal Ohio, and Desperate Housewives.
In 1965 he tried marriage again to fashion designer and actress Carolyn Maxwell. They had three children before they divorced in 1981.
The same year he married Maxwell, he entered into another new relationship. He was one of the founding members of The Sons of the Desert, an international organization that was started to share information about the lives of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and to preserve their films.
In 1966 Bean founded the 15th Street School, a primary school in New York City. It was modeled on the Summerhill School in England.
He also showed up on the big screen for 23 movies, the two-best known being Innerspace in 1987 and Being John Malkovich in 1999.
In the 1970s, Bean moved his family to Australia to live in a commune with a hippie lifestyle. They later became bored and returned to the US where he resumed his career.
Orson was popular on the talk and variety shows. In addition to Ed Sullivan, he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, The Dick Cavett Show, The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and was on The Tonight Show more than 200 times.
Bean was a competitor on many game shows including I’ve Got a Secret, What’s My Line, Super Password, Tattletales, $10,000 Pyramid, and Match Game. He was best known for being a regular on To Tell the Truth. In addition to being in 317 episodes of To Tell the Truth with Peggy Cass, the two were also regulars on two other game shows: Keep Talking and Call My Bluff.
In 1993, Bean tried marriage again. He wed Alley Mills, best known as the mom on The Wonder Years. They were married until his death. The couple were members of the First Lutheran Church in LA and participated in the church’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Bean had a terrible death. In February of 2020 when he was 91, he was crossing Venice Boulevard when he was struck by a car. He fell down and a driver of another vehicle, distracted by people trying to tell him to slow down, hit him again before realizing what they were trying to tell him and that hit caused Bean’s death.
Certainly, game shows were only a small part of this celebrity’s career. However, I admit before I wrote this blog, I only knew him for his To Tell the Truth appearances. Now I have a much better appreciation for his long and successful career. I’m glad we are getting a chance to know some panelists from that show this month in more detail.