Honoring National West Virginia Day with Don Knotts

As we continue with our National State Day Celebrations, this week finds us in West Virginia. Who else can we pick but Don Knotts?

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Born in 1924 in Morgantown, WV, Don Knotts was the youngest of four boys. Don had a rough youth. His parents were farmers and his mother was 40 when he was born. His father suffered from mental illness, and Don’s birth led to a nervous breakdown. His father died when he was 13 and his mother made her living running a boarding house after that. At an early age, Don began performing as a ventriloquist and comedian at church and school functions.

After graduation, Knotts began college but then enlisted in the army, serving during WWII from 1943-1946. He toured the Pacific Islands entertaining the GIs as a comedian. In 1948 he graduated from West Virginia University with a major in education, a member of the honor society.

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Before graduating, Knotts married Kathryn Metz. They would remain married until 1964 when they divorced. After college, the couple moved to New York to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

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Steve Allen, Knotts, and Louis Nye–Photo: ebay.com

Believe it or not, his first role was in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, and he would become part of the cast from 1953-1955. In 1956, he got his big break on the Steve Allen Show, playing a nervous man. He stayed with the show until 1959. The Tonight Show relocated to Hollywood with Jack Paar as host in 1959, and Don went with him. However, during his time on the show, he had a role in the play “No Time for Sergeants” and then in the film version with Andy Griffith.

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In 1960 Andy Griffith was putting together his own sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show, and he offered Knotts the role of Barney Fife, deputy. During his time as Barney, Knotts received five Emmy awards (three during his first five years).

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The Museum of Broadcast Communications sums up Barney’s character perfectly:

“Self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong, Barney dreamed of the day he could use the one bullet Andy had issued to him, though he did fire his gun on a few occasions. He always fired his pistol accidentally while still in his holster or in the ceiling of the court house, at which point he would sadly hand his pistol to Andy. This is why Barney kept his one very shiny bullet in his shirt pocket. In episode #196, Andy gave Barney more bullets so that he would have a loaded gun to go after a bad guy that Barney unintentionally helped escape. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas that he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn’t have survived anywhere else. Don Knotts played the comic and pathetic sides of the character with equal aplomb.”

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Mayberry Family: Knotts, Ron Howard, Griffith, Frances Bauvier–
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Originally, Don was supposed to be the straight man to Andy’s character, but Griffith quickly realized the reverse would make the show more successful. Andy always said he wanted to be done after five years. During that fifth year, Knotts began to search for his next job. He signed a five-film contract with Universal Studios. Then, Andy decided not to quit after season five, but since Knotts was already committed, he left the show in 1965.

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Knotts with Betty Lynn–Photo: mesquitelocalnews.com

From everything I’ve read, it seems like the cast of TAGS got along very well. Although Frances Bavier seemed to take things more personally than others, the actors seemed to enjoy working together. Betty Lynn who played Barney’s girlfriend Thelma Lou described Knotts as “a very quiet man. Very sweet. Nothing like Barney Fife.” Mark Evanier, a television writer, called him “the most beloved person in all of show business.”

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Knotts family-viewable films were very popular including It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Incredible Mr. Limpet; The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; The Reluctant Astronaut; The Shakiest Gun in the West; The Love God?; and How to Frame a Figg.

One of my favorite roles of Don’s was as the shoe salesman in the Doris Day-James Garner movie, Move Over Darling.

He also returned to Mayberry for several episodes. (Two of his Emmys came from these guest spots.)

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Doris Day and Knotts–
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Knotts also kept busy on other television shows including appearances on The Bill Cosby Show, Here’s Lucy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and That Seventies Show.

Also, during these years, Knotts tried marriage again wedding Loralee Czuchna in 1974. The couple called it quits in 1983.

He received his second starring role in 1979 as Mr. Furley on Three’s Company. Knotts replaced Stanley and Helen Roper (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley) who left for their own spin-off show.

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Suzanne Somers and Knotts–
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He became the new landlord for the trio upstairs. He would stay with the show until it ended in 1984, racking up 115 episodes. I will admit that I did not enjoy the show, and I felt Knott’s performance was over the top and too stereotyped; I felt that way about the other characters also.

Don and Andy remained close friends throughout their lives. When Andy returned to television as Matlock, Knotts also received a role on the show as Les Calhoun, Matlock’s neighbor from 1988-1992.

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Knotts and Griffith in later years–
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Don suffered from macular degeneration, and eventually it caused him to become virtually blind. In 2002 Don married a third time when Frances Yarborough became his wife.

Knotts died in 2006 from pulmonary and respiratory complications from pneumonia related to lung cancer.

Off screen, Knotts seemed to be a very funny guy. His daughter Karen said, “Here’s the thing about my dad. He had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural.”

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He told his daughter his high school years were some of his happiest. His home town loved him too, and a statue honoring him was unveiled in 2006 in front of the Metropolitan Theatre. The statue was designed by local artist Jamie Lester, another West Virginia native.

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Don Knotts had a spectacular career. As a young man, he got a job in a chicken factory and spent his days pulling feathers off dead chickens because he was told he had no future in the acting profession. It would have been hard for him to imagine at the time the legacy of performances he would leave—television shows and movies that generations of fans would watch. More than sixty years after Barney Fife put that bullet in his pocket for the first time, viewers continue to watch and love the Mayberry residents as they go about life in their small town. And the fact that the place where he first learned about life cared enough to fundraise and build a memorial to honor him says a lot. Thank you Don Knotts for showing us the importance of humor and following your dreams!


The Actor Who Always “Dressed” Up: Jamie Farr

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Jamie Farr was born Jameel Joseph Farah on July 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. His mother was a seamstress and his father a grocer. They attended the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest.

He graduated from Woodward High School with honors and was named most outstanding student. In addition to writing and acting in two variety shows, he was a member of the Drama Society, class president for three years, feature editor of the school newspaper, president of the radio class, manager of the football and basketball teams and a member of the varsity tennis team.

Before becoming a successful actor, he worked for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk, and at a chinchilla ranch.

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After graduation he attended the Pasadena Playhouse where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. He was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California, he served for two years, with service in Japan and Korea. The dog tags he wore on M*A*S*H were his own. (Alan Alda also served as a gunnery officer in Korea.)

In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and with future costar William Christopher in With Six You Get Eggroll. He would also appear in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II.

 

In the late 1960s, he became a regular on the Red Skelton Show. He appeared in a variety of shows in the 1960s including Hazel, My Three Sons, Donna Reed, The Dick Van Dyke ShowI Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Flying Nun, and Family Affair. Farr received roles in several commercials as well, including an ad for Wonder Bread where he says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business.”

 

During this decade, he also married Joy Ann Richards. They are still married and have two children.

He continued his television acting career through the 1970s appearing on a variety of shows including Room 222, Love American Style, Toma, Emergency, Barnaby Jones, and The Love Boat.

 

Image: Loretta Swit And Alan Alda William Christopher In 'M*A*S*H'

In October of 1972, he was hired to appear on one episode of M*A*S*H as Corporal Klinger. He wore women’s clothing, hoping to be discharged from the Army for a Section 8 discharge. He was asked back for the second season to appear in 12 episodes and became a regular cast member in the fourth season. When Radar left the show, and Klinger took over as Company Clerk, he stopped being fashionable and returned to uniforms. He said he did not want his kids to be made fun of because of his cross dressing. He was a resourceful and kind soldier. His character on the show was also from Toledo, and he often mentioned one of Farr’s favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs and talked about his love for the Toledo Mud Hens. (In 2017, he was inducted into the Mud Hens Hall of Fame.  A bobble head was given to the first 2000 fans to the game that night.) He continued with M*A*S*H until 1983 when it left the air.

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Along with Harry Morgan and William Christopher, he appeared in After M*A*S*H for two years. The show never got the fan base the original show had and was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

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The cast of both M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H were very close. On the death of Harry Morgan, Farr commented, “Harry was very special to all of us cast members. Not only was he a wonderful performer that made such a difference … he was a dear friend to every cast member. He was absolutely a pixie, a gremlin as mischievous as all get out. You couldn’t be around Harry for very long without wanting to embrace him and I think our Lord will feel the same way.”

 

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He also commented on William Christopher’s passing: “We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, With Six You Get Egg Roll. We were both cast in the tv series M*A*S*H at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and, in my opinion, probably the most under rated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high-pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis, and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.”

 

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Like many celebrities who were typecast in a specific role, Farr realized there were advantages and disadvantages to his fame. He said that “the benefits from stardom as Klinger outweigh any setbacks. It’s a double-edged sword. What makes you famous is what interferes with getting other roles. But there are things that never would have happened without M*A*S*H. There certainly would be no Jamie Farr Kroger Golf Classic.”

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Farr has always been generous with his hometown. The golf classic he discussed above is now the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tournament has raised more than $6 million dollars for local children’s charities.

The city has shown its love for Farr as well. The park in Toledo where Farr used to hang out when he was younger was renamed “Jamie Farr Park” in his honor on July 5, 1998. About the park, he said, “I wanted to be an actor, a famous actor, and I wanted my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to be proud of me.” Farr spoke to about four hundred admirers and was quoted in the New York Post: “Jamie Farr Park is certainly a highlight of my life and career.”

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Farr also made a gift of his scripts to the University of Toledo. The scripts were from movies and television, including M*A*S*H, After M*A*S*H, The Blackboard Jungle, With Six You Get Eggroll, No Time for Sergeants, Who’s Minding the Mint, among others. He also donated call sheets with each script. Call sheets list the personnel and equipment needed for each day of productions, the scenes being filmed, shooting schedules, and the scenes to be filmed.

Farr has also appeared in plays during the second half of his career. In the 1990s, Farr  played the role of Nathan Detroit in a Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television.

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In 1996–97 Farr went on a national tour with “The Odd Couple,” playing Oscar Madison, playing opposite his old friend William Christopher in the role of Felix Ungar.

Most recently he was in the national touring production of “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” a one-man show about longtime entertainer George Burns.

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Farr has also tackled being an author. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Just Farr Fun. With his wife, he also wrote a children’s book, Hababy’s Christmas Eve, a Christmas book where the story is told from the view point of the animals.

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Jamie Farr has had a successful and fun career. He has been a movie star, a television celebrity, an author, and a Broadway performer. He was not bitter about his role as Klinger but accepted the benefits that came with it and made the most of it. He has also been generous, raising money and publicizing Toledo. He truly sounds like a very nice man. It was fun to learn more about his life.

July is the Perfect Time for Berry Picking

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Ken Berry was born in Moline, IL in 1933. After watching a group perform when he was 13, he decided he wanted to be a dancer. He loved Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies, especially Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, and On the Town. At 16, he traveled with the Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program, performing in small towns for 15 months.

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He went into the army at Fort Bragg and was in the artillery. He was then moved to an entertainment division under Leonard Nimoy. During his second year, he won the All-Army Talent competition which allowed him to appear on Ed Sullivan in 1948. Nimoy encouraged him to move to Los Angeles where he made some connections for Berry. Both 20th Century Fox and Universal offered him jobs and he accepted the Universal contract.  In 1956, he opened for Abbott and Costello for their stage act. In 1957, Berry enrolled in Falcon Studios to study acting. He worked at the Cabaret Theater, making $11 per week. The same year he won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Show.

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In 1958, he received an opportunity to join the Billy Barnes Revue. While in the Billy Barnes Revue, Berry met Jackie Joseph, and they married in 1960. His work in the BBR led to several lucrative connections. Lucille Ball saw him and offered him a job with Desilu Studios for $50 per week. Carol Burnett also watched a performance and had him on her variety show. (In 1972, she would offer him the co-starring role with her in Once Upon a Mattress, a television movie.)

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The first Desilu show he had a regular role on was the Ann Sothern Show. On the air from 1958-1961, Ann played Katy O’Connor who worked at a New York hotel. Originally, Mr. Macauley (Ernest Truex) was her boss, but he was berated by his controlling wife (Reta Shaw). Katy’s best friend from her previous show Private Secretary, which aired from 1953-1957, was Ann Tyrrell as Vi.  In this show, her name is Olive. The format wasn’t working, so Mr. Macauley the hotel owner, was transferred to Calcutta and James Devrey (Don Porter also from Private Secretary) took over.  Ratings improved, and the show was renewed for another season. During this season, Louis Nye was introduced as a funny dentist in the hotel who dates and marries Olive, and Berry played bellboy Woody Hamilton, replacing Jack Mullaney.  Most of the episodes revolve around the staff and guests of the hotel. As in Private Secretary, there is a lingering romance between Mr. Devrey and Katy throughout the run of the show. The ratings fell drastically in 1961 after the show was moved to Thursdays, and the network cancelled it.

In 1961, Berry obtained a job with Dr. Kildare, appearing in 25 episodes as Dr. John Kapish. Richard Chamberlin starred in the series about a doctor working in an urban hospital under his mentor Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Raymond Massey). In the third season, Dr. Kildare was promoted to resident and the series centered on his patients. The show aired until 1966, but Berry left the show in 1964. This was one of the shows that paved the way for Marcus Welby, MD and the medical dramas today including ER and Gray’s Anatomy.

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He also appeared on several shows in the early 1960s: The Jim Backus Show, Hennesey, Ensign O’Toole, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hazel, and No Time for Sergeants, among others.

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In 1965, he was offered the lead in F-Troop. The show was set during the Civil War.  Berry played Will Parmenter.  At a critical moment during the Battle of Appomattox, Will gets credit for the defeat.  He is a private and was sent to get his commanding officer’s laundry. He was sneezing continuously, but the men thought he was saying “Charge,” so they did.  They won a decisive battle, and Will was promoted for his quick decision-making skills and bravery. He was then promoted to Fort Courage.

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The cast had a crazy bunch of characters. The NCOs at the fort, Sergeant O’Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch) are always scheming to raise money. The Hekawis tribe, with Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) worked on shady business deals with them. Although the officers manipulate Will, they are also protective of him. Melody Patterson plays Jane Thrift, Will’s girlfriend, who is always pressuring him to propose. The show relied on a lot of puns, slapstick, and running gags.

When F-Troop was cancelled two years later, Berry headlined the cast of Mayberry RFD as widower Sam Jones because Andy Griffith was leaving the show. Since Andy and Helen had married and moved away, Aunt Bee became Sam’s housekeeper. Sam and his son were introduced in Griffith’s final season when Sam is elected to the town council. Arlene Golonka plays Millie, Sam’s love interest. The show was rated as high as 4th and only as low as 15th, so it continued to pull in good ratings, but in 1971, the show was cancelled in the general “rural house cleaning” that the network performed getting rid of any shows such as Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, etc.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, he was on 14 shows including The Danny Thomas Show, The Lucy Show, Love American Style, The Brady Bunch, and The Love Boat.

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The network developed a show Ken Berry WOW, a variety show that lasted five episodes that Berry was not wowed with. In 1973, Sherwood Schwartz wrote a pilot for a Brady Bunch spinoff called Kelly’s Kids. The concept of the show was that Berry adopts three boys, one white, one African American, and one Asian. No network showed an interest in the show.

One of the most unusual jobs he had occurred in 1976.  An album called “Ken Berry RFD,” where he sang, backed by a full orchestra, was released. He and Joseph divorced that same year. Joseph later remarried and continued to have a long and full career.  She appeared on a variety of sitcoms including Designing Women, Full House, Newhart, Love American Style, Petticoat Junction, That Girl, Hogan’s Heroes, McHale’s Navy, F-Troop, and the Andy Griffith Show. She also had a productive movie career, including Gremlins, The Cheyenne Social Club, With Six You Get Eggroll, Who’s Minding the Mint, and Little Shop of Horrors.

Taking a break from television, Ken went on the road, performing in stock shows around the country.  He also played Caesar’s Palace between Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke.

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He returned to television to join the cast of Mama’s Family with Vickie Lawrence. The show derived from a skit on the Carol Burnett Show which led to a TV movie called Eunice. It featured the Harper family and their neighbors and friends. The matriarch is Thelma Harper (Lawrence) who speaks her mind freely. She is hot tempered and sarcastic, but she loves her family as she berates them. And they typically deserve a berating. They move back in with her and are happy to have her clean and cook for them as well.

For the first season and part of the second, the show was on NBC. Thelma lives with her spinster sister Fran (Rue McClanahan) who is a journalist. After Thelma’s daughter-in-law leaves her family, they move in with Thelma. Her son Vint began a relationship with Thelma’s next-door neighbor Naomi Oates (Dorothy Lyman). Her children from the Burnett sketch, Ellen (Betty White) and Eunice (Burnett), along with hubby Ed (Harvey Korman) are seen during this time.

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The show was cancelled after two years and went into syndication.  The reruns were so popular, 100 new episodes were ordered. A new set had to be constructed and some cast adjustments were made as well. Lawrence, Berry and Lyman were the only original characters on this new version. Since White and McClanahan were now starring on The Golden Girls, and Burnette and Korman chose not to return, a new character was created. Mitchel (Allan Kayser) was Eunice’s son who was always getting into trouble. Another addition was Beverly Archer who played Iola Boylen, Thelma’s neighbor and best friend.

Once Mama’s Family was cancelled the second time, Berry traveled around the country, appearing in “The Music Man”, “Gene Kelly’s Salute to Broadway”, and “I Do I Do” with Loretta Swit. He also went back to television for brief appearances on several shows including CHiPs, Fantasy Island, Gimme a Break, Small Wonder, Golden Girls, The New Batman, and Maggie Winters.

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Berry also appeared in six movies including Two for Seesaw (1962), The Lively Set (1964), Hello Down There (1969), Herbie Rides Again (1974), Guardian of the Wilderness (1976), and The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

Guardian of the Wilderness was based on the life of Galen Clark who convinced Abraham Lincoln to make Yosemite Park the first public land grant. It covers a series of unusual adventures Clark had as he battled lumber companies to save wilderness land.  One of my favorite quintessential 1960s movies was Hello Down There.  Tony Randall and Janet Leigh star.  Randall is an architect who creates an underwater home.  To prove a family could live there, he cajoles his family to moving there for the summer.  His kids are in a band so they force him to take the entire band or no one.  Charlotte Rae is their housekeeper. Berry plays a rare role for him as the bad guy.

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Early in his career, Ken appeared in a variety of commercials. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, he was the spokesman for Kinney Shoes.

He appeared in two game shows, Hollywood Squares and Tattletales.  He also starred as himself on a variety of shows including Art Linkletter, Joey Bishop, Leslie Uggams, Jim Nabors, Julie Andrews, Sonny and Cher, Dean Martin, Laugh In, and Mike Douglas.

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Berry retired in 1999. Berry loves cars and was an avid motorcyclist and camper.

Although Berry was never in a hugely successful series, he had a long and full career that any actor would be proud of.  Hopefully his well-deserved retirement has been fun and full of memories.

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