Allan Melvin, best known for playing Corporal Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Hacker on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and Barney Hefner on All in the Family, died Thursday at the age of 84 from cancer.
Allan Melvin was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 18, 1923. His family moved to New York City while he was still a baby. Melvin graduated from Columbia University with a degree in journalism. After graduation he served in the U. S. Navy. Melvin's entry into show business was in the sound effects department in NBC Radio in 1944. He eventually moved onto acting radio soap operas, at the same time performing a nightclub act in which he did impressions of movie stars. The material for that act was written by his friend Richard Condon, later famous as the author of The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honour. With his nightclub act he won on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show in the late Forties.
It was while he was performing on Broadway as Reed in Stalag 17 in 1952 that he attracted the attention of Phil Silvers. When creator Nat Hiken and star Phil Silvers were casting their new sitcom You'll Never Get Rich, soon renamed The Phil Silvers Show (but better known as Sgt. Bilko), they remembered Melvin and cast him as Sgt. Bilko's right hand man Cpl. Henshaw. Running for four successful years and in syndication ever since, The Phil Silvers Show went on to be regarded as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
In the Sixties Melvin would play another notable role as a regular on a series, that of Sgt. Hacker on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.. He also guest starred several times on The Dick Van Dyke Show, most often as Rob Petrie's old Army buddy. He also guest starred on such shows as Route 66, McHale's Navy, Make Room for Daddy, and My Favourite Martian. He guest starred on The Andy Griffith Show eight times, each time as a different character.
In the Seventies Allan Melvin would be a regular on All in the Family and its continuation Archie Bunker's Place, playing Archie Bunker's best friend and neighbour Barney Hefner. He also had a recurring role on The Brady Bunch as Sam the Butcher. He guest starred on such shows as Love, American Style and Kung Fu.
With a gift for impressions, Melvin was always in demand for voice over work on many cartoons. He was the voice of Sgt. Snorkle on the series of Beetle Bailey cartoons made by United Features Syndicate in the early Sixties. He was also the voice of Magilla Gorilla and the voice of Drooper on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. He also did various voices over the years for shows ranging from The Flintstones to Smurfs to DuckTales.
While Melvin appeared in many TV shows over the years and did voice work on many animated cartoons, he only appeared in one movie--With Six You Get Eggroll, released in 1968.
There can be no doubt that Melvin was one of the most familiar faces on American television. His career spanned fifty years and he played roles on several classic sitcoms. Melvin was memorable for more than just his many appearances in television shows, however, as he was truly a gifted actor. On The Phil Silvers Show Cpl. Henshaw was an absolute pushover when it came to Sgt. Bilko, always going along with the sergeant's hair brained schemes. On Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Sgt. Hacker could be an outright bully, Sgt. Carter's none too honest rival. Barney on All in the Family/Archie Bunker's Place could probably best be described as a lovable schlump. Melvin could play characters ranging from loud and abrasive (Sgt. Hacker) to quiet and laid back (Barney) with equal aplomb. This is not to mention Melvin's amazing gift for voices, a gift he not only got to display in his work in cartoons but sometimes on The Phil Silvers Show as well. With the death of Allan Melvin, we have lost one of the truly great character actors in television.