Dick Wilson, Prolific Character Actor

As we wind up “They Call Me Wilson,” I think I’ve saved the best for last.  If you watched television between 1956 and 1989 you will be very familiar with this entertainer.  He had a prolific career and appeared on so many amazing television programs.

Photo: bewitchedwiki.cm

Dick Wilson was born Riccardo DiGuglielmo in 1916 in Lancashire, England. That same year, the family moved to Ontario, Canada. Not much is known about his early life, but at age 15 he began working as an announcer at CHML, a local radio station. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design where he studied sculpture. He became a comedic acrobatic dancer and performed in vaudeville for two decades. He followed his parents’ footsteps; his father was a minstrel vaudeville performer, and his mother was a singer.

He served in the Royal Canadian Airforce during WWII. In 1954 he moved to California and became an American citizen. He received his first television role in 1956 and would continue to receive offers until he retired 35 years later.

In 1957, he married Meg Brown and they would be married until his death from natural causes in 2007.

The first role he was offered was in 1956 on a Man Called X. This was an interesting show about agent Ken Thurston (Barry Sullivan) who went by the code name X. He took on dangerous cases in exotic locations all over the world for the Intelligence Bureau.

Not surprisingly many of the shows he was on in the fifties were westerns, since they dominated the air waves in that decade. He can be seen on The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Wagon Train, The Texan, Cimarron City, and Tales of West Fargo. He also appeared on dramas including I Led Three Lives, Official Detective, Jane Wyman Presents, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Not for Hire, and The Untouchables.

Jack Arnold's The Tattered Dress (1957) "When I spill a drink on the  carpet, my butler cleans up after me." "When you spill blood, your lawyer  is expected to do the same." "

It was also during this decade he received his first big screen role. He appeared as a jury foreman in The Tattered Dress, a mystery in 1957. He would go on to get credits in 23 additional movies including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), both with Don Knotts, and Caprice (1967) with Doris Day and Richard Harris.

During the 1960s, we saw him everywhere; he appeared on 63 different shows and often appeared on the same show as different characters. He continued his western appearances on shows including Maverick, The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Death Valley Days, and The Virginian.

Photo: theriflemanepisodeguide.com

We also see in him dramatic roles on M Squad, The Law and Mr. Jones, Perry Mason, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone, and The Fugitive.

Sitcoms definitely kept him employed. In the early sixties, he can be seen in Bachelor Father, The Bob Cummings Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Jack Benny Show, and Hazel. The mid sixties found him on The Bob Hope Show, My Favorite Martian, Gomer Pyle, Donna Reed, Gidget, The Monkees, My Mother the Car, and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. As the sixties wound down, he kept busy on My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Flying Nun, The Carol Burnett Show, That Girl, Get Smart, Mayberry RFD, I Dream of Jeannie, Room 222, and The Bill Cosby Show.

Dick Wilson Pictures | People | Sunshine Factory | Monkees Fan Site
Wilson with The Monkees Photo: thesunshinefactory.com

From 1963-1966, Wilson was offered his second permanent role for a television series. He appeared as Dino Barroni on McHale’s Navy.

Three of his most successful roles began in the mid sixties and continued for much longer. Wilson appeared on Bewitched for the first time in 1965. However, he would be featured on that show 18 times before 1972 as eighteen different characters. This means he was on the show more than regular cast members Paul Lynde, Maurice Evans, and Alice Ghostley. He often received the role of the “local drunk” on various sitcoms, but he abstained from alcohol for his entire life.

BEWITCHED ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY DICK YORK DICK WILSON 1967 ABC TV PHOTO  NEGATIVE | eBay
With Dick York and Elizabeth Montgomery Photo: ebay.com

In 1966 he began appearing on Hogan’s Heroes and he would show up in 8 episodes between then and 1971.

Don't Forget to Write (1966)
Photo: imdb.com

However, his most prolific role of his career began in 1965 when he took on the role of Mr. Whipple for Charmin commercials. It wasn’t a bad gig. He worked 12-16 days a year and made $300,000 for that time. It was not easy work though. Dick described his work in a 1983 interview: Commercials are “the hardest thing to do in the entire acting realm. You’ve got 24 seconds to introduce yourself, introduce the product, say something nice about it and get off gracefully.” He also liked to relay that the first commercial series was made in the appropriately named Flushing, New York.

Photo: pinterest.com

His tagline in the commercials was “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” although we would often find Whipple squeezing the product when he thought no one was looking.  In appreciation for his work, Proctor and Gamble provided him with a free life-time supply of Charmin toilet paper.

In all, he appeared in 504 commercials between 1965-1989 and again from 1999-2000. In the late 80s he retired due to health concerns. He had two strokes and brain surgery. The company did bring him back in 1999 for a year as Mr. Whipple.

Even after he became Mr. Whipple, he received work in television. During the seventies, he would choose roles on Nanny and the Professor, Marcus Welby, Love American Style, McMillian and Wife, The Doris Day Show, The Paul Lynde Show, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, Alice, and The Rockford Files among others.

His career declined in the eighties, but he still managed to tackle several roles and could be seen on Quincy, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, Small and Frye, and Square One Television. His last role was in 1989 on Small Wonder, a show about a robot who lives with a family and is portrayed as a child to the community.

All in all, he had a pretty amazing and full career.  He was able to appear in a variety of genres and, even after being so well known as a drunk or as Mr. Whipple, he was not typecast as a specific character. Two of his three children followed in his footsteps, son Stuart as a stuntman and daughter Melanie Wilson as an actress, who was best known for her 102 appearances on Perfect Strangers and several roles on Step by Step.

Hoho the Clown (1967)
On Bewitched Photo: imdb.com

Like Charles Lane, Dick Wilson is one of my favorite character actors. He provided thousands of hours of entertainment for us. It’s worth watching some classic television episodes just to see if you can spot him. Thank you Mr. Wilson for providing so much joy for so many years.

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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Photo: amazon.com

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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Photo: pinterest.com

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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Andy Griffith and Knotts-Photo: tvseriesfinales.com

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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Photo: bobshideout.com

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–
Photo: tvtropes.com

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–
Photo: pinterest.com

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–
Photo: history garage.com

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–
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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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Photo: directexpose.com

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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Photo: guardianlv.com

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!


Charles Lane: What a Character!

My blog theme for this month is “What a Character!” I am looking at the careers of four successful and hard-working actors. With 372 acting credits, perhaps there was no more prolific character actor than the beloved Charles Lane. He perfected the grumpy sourpuss always ready and gleeful to make life more complicated for others. His bio on imdb.com captures his type perfectly as the “scrawny, scowling, beady-eyed, beak-nosed killjoy who usually could be found peering disdainfully over a pair of specs, brought out many a comic moment simply by dampening the spirit of his nemesis.”

Photo: pinterest.com

However, despite that, we always knew there was more to him, and that his real persona was being covered up by his crotchety outward characteristics. His character Herman Bedloe on Petticoat Junction portrayed this dual-personality perfectly. Bedloe was always trying to shut down the train, but we knew he actually liked the Bradley family, and occasionally you would get a glimpse of the lonely and soft-hearted side of him.

He was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. His family survived the 1906 earthquake. His father was an insurance executive, and Charles would follow in his footsteps for his first career.

Photo: newsfromme.com
The Music Man

A friend, actor Irving Pichel, convinced Lane to try his hand at acting, and Lane joined the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. His first movie was City Girl in 1930, and his last was Acting on Impulse in 1993. During those six decades he had a successful career in both television and Hollywood. In 1933, Lane became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In that year alone he made 23 films. There was an anecdote told about Lane that it was not uncommon for him to go to a movie, see himself on screen, and be surprised because he completely forgot he had been in the film. Starting out at $35 a day, by 1947 he was earning $750 a week.

His longest-running role was husband. In 1931 he married Ruth Covell; the couple had two children and were married until her death in 2002.

Photo: pinterest.com
It’s a Wonderful Life

Perhaps most people recognize Lane from his role of rent collector for Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra signed Lane to roles in ten of his movies. Lane was a corrupt attorney in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), an IRS agent in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), a newsman in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Blink Moran in State of the Union (1948). Among his most-cherished possessions was a letter from Capra where he wrote “Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.” Other popular films he was in include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and The Music Man.

Photo: blogspot.com
You Can’t Take It with You

During World War II, Lane joined the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, his television career took off. His first role was on Burns and Allen in 1951. During the 1950s, he appeared in more than 30 shows including Topper, The Thin Man, Perry Mason, and The Ann Sothern Show. He was often seen on Lucille Ball shows. He and Lucy had become friends when they both worked for RKO, and he had a great respect for Desi Arnaz’s acting ability.

Photo: imdb2freeforums.net
I Love Lucy

During this decade he was cast on the show Dear Phoebe in 1954. Peter Lawford starred in the show as a former college professor who writes an advice column under the name Miss Phoebe Goodheart. Meanwhile, his romantic interest is Mickey Riley portrayed by Marcia Henderson, the paper’s sports writer. Lane took on the role of Mr. Fosdick, their boss.

Photo: blogspot.com
The Andy Griffith Show

The 1960s found him on almost every popular show of that decade. Tuning in to your favorite series, you would spy Lane on Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, Mister Ed, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Get Smart, The Bing Crosby Show, The Man from UNCLE, The Donna Reed Show, Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Wild, Wild West, among many others.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Gomer Pyle USMC

Lane had recurring roles on five shows during the 1960s. On Dennis the Menace, he was the pharmacist Mr. Finch. He also could be seen on his friend’s series, The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl, a local banker. The Phyllis Diller Show had a cast that should have made it a hit and from 1966-67, Lane played Maxwell. Although many characters appeared on both The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, Lane had two different roles on the two series. He appeared in 24 episodes of Petticoat Junction between 1963-1968 as Homer Bedloe, a railroad executive who is always trying to find a reason to shut down the Cannonball. On the Beverly Hillbillies, he portrayed Foster Phinney.

Photo: filmstarfacts.com
Petticoat Junction

Lane continued with both his movie and television appearances throughout the 1970s, taking roles on The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple, Family, Rhoda, Chico and the Man, and he continued his television appearances into the 1980s and 1990s with shows that included Mork and Mindy, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, and Dark Shadows.

Photo: pinterest.com
Bewitched

The decade of the seventies would find him cast in two additional series, Karen and Soap. Karen debuted in 1975, starring Karen Valentine as Karen Angelo. Karen works for an advocate group for the common American citizen, Open America, founded by Dale Busch, who was played by Lane. On Soap, Charles took on the role of Judge Petrillo who presided over Jessica Tate’s murder trial; however, because of Jessica’s husband, the judge lost $40,000 in a bad investment.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Soap

Charles Lane was honored in 2005 when he turned 100. SAG proclaimed January 30 “Charles Lane Day,” and TV Land honored him in March for his long career. After receiving his award, he let it be known “in case anyone’s interested, I’m still available!”

Photo: allmovie.com
TV Lands Award March 2005

Despite his being typecast in cranky roles, friends and family described him as funny, kind, and warm-hearted. Lane’s one vice was smoking. In 1990 he was rushed to the hospital when he was having problems breathing. When the doctor asked if he smoked, Lane informed him he had kicked the habit . . . 45 minutes earlier. He never smoked again and he lived another 12 years, dying peacefully in 2007.

Photo: blogspot.com
Homer Bedloe

Although it’s tough on actors to be typecast so early in their career, it’s a double-edged sword, because it also provides a lot of opportunities for roles. Lane was an enigma; while he always convinced us that he was just as mean as could be, we also knew if someone would give him a chance, he could be reformed like Scrooge; he just needed the opportunity. It always makes me smile to come across Charles Lane in a move or television episode. It’s like seeing an old friend, or perhaps the neighbor who yelled at you to get off his yard. However, if you looked closely, you would see him watching and wanting to be part of the action. As you watch your favorite older classic shows, keep an eye open for him.