Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ralph Waite and Richard Bull Pass On

Ralph Waite

Ralph Waite, best known for playing John Walton on the TV show The Waltons, died on 13 February 2014 at the age of 85.
Ralph Waite was born on  22 June 1928 in White Plains, New York. He served in the United States Marines Corps from 1946 to 1948. Afterwards he attended Bucknell University, from which he graduated with a bachelors degree. He then attended  the New School in New York City as a post-graduate before enrolling in the Yale University Divinity School. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and even served as the pastor of a church for a year. Deciding that being a church pastor was not for him, Mr. Waite then took a position as an editor at Harper & Row. He then decided to try acting. 

Ralph Waite made his debut on Broadway in 1964 in the play Marathon .33. In the Sixties he went on to appear on Broadway in such productions as Blues for Mister Charlie, Traveller Without Luggage, Slapstick Tragedy, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, and The Watering Place. He made his television debut in an episode of Hawk in 1966 and during the decade went onto appear on the shows N.Y.P.D. and Bonanza. He made his film debut in Cool Hand Luke (1967). In the Sixties he also appeared in such films as A Lovely Way to Die (1968), Last Summer (1969), and Five Easy Pieces (1970). 

It was in 1972 that  Ralph Waite first appeared in his best known role, John Walton on The Waltons, The show came out of the 1971 television film The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, which had a slightly different cast (Andrew Duggan played John Walton in it).  Based on Earl Hamner Jr.'s novel The Homecoming, the television movie proved quite successful and led to the television series The Waltons. On the show Ralph Waite played John Walton, the father of seven children in Virginia during the Great Depression. The show proved to be the surprise hit of the 1972-1973 season and ultimately ran for 9 seasons. After it ended its run a number of reunion movies were made. On television during the Seventies Ralph Waite guest starred on the show Nichols and appeared in the mini-series Roots. He appeared in the films The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), The Sporting Club (1971), Lawman (1971), The Grissom Gang (1971), Chato's Land (1972), Hot Summer Week (1972), The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972), Trouble Man (1972), Kid Blue (1973), The Stone Killer (1973), and On the Nickel (1980). In 1975 Mr. Waite founded the Los Angeles Actors Theatre. He produced and directed plays there, as well as acted in them.

In the Eighties Ralph Waite starred in the short lived television series The Mississippi. He guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote and Shannon's Deal and also appeared in several television films (including reunion movies of The Waltons). He narrated the film The River Pirates (1988) and appeared in the film Desperate Hours (1990). He also appeared on Broadway in a revival of The Father.
 In the Nineties Mr. Waite starred in the television show Murder One. He guest starred on the shows Orleans, Time Trax and The Outer Limits. He appeared in the films The Bodyguard (1992), Cliffhanger (1993), Sioux City (1994), and Timequest (2000). He provided the voice of Shadow in Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco (1996). He appeared on Broadway in An American Daughter

In the Naughts Ralph Waite starred as Reverend Norman Balthus in the television show Carnivale  He played the recurring role of Leroy J. Gibbs' father, Jackson Gibbs, on NCIS and the recurring role of Booth's grandfather Hank Booth on Bones. He appeared in the role of Father Matt on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. He guest starred on The Practice, Cold Case, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Grey's Anatomy. He appeared in the films Sunshine State (2002), Silver City (2004), Letters to God (2010), 25 Hill (2011), and Gabe the Cupid Dog (2012).

Ralph Waite did so well in the role of John Walton and The Waltons ran so long that many forget that Ralph Waite performed many other roles over the years. Some of these roles could be dramatically from the Waltons' patriarch. A prime example of this was his role as Slater, the third mate on the slaver ship in Roots. Slater was a wholly repugnant human being, who had no objection to hurting the slaves aboard the ship. Despite being utterly unlike his best known role (and himself in real life), Mr. Waite was utterly convincing in the role. Indeed, he nominated for an Emmy for his performance. On Murder One he played ruthless billionaire Malcolm Dietrich, a man as corrupt as John Walton was honest and kind. Ralph Waite also gave impressive performances in the various films in which he appeared, even when the parts were small (as they were in Cool Hand Luke and Five Easy Pieces). One of the best roles in his career was that of bounty hunter Jim McKay in The Magnificent Seven Ride.

Of course, Ralph Waite may be best remembered for playing paternal figures such as John Walton. Even then there was a variety in the sorts of fathers he played. It is quite possible that Mr. Waite's most famous role besides John Walton is that of Jackson Gibbs on NCIS. While John Walton and Jackson Gibbs had a good deal in common, they were also different in many ways. Quite unlike John Walton, Jackson Gibbs was in an unhappy marriage (both his wife and he had affairs all throughout). Furthermore, he and his son Leroy would be estranged for a good number of years (to the point that Leroy once claimed his father was dead). Mr. Waite shined in both roles, despite the fact that they were in many ways quite different. While there can be little doubt that Ralph Waite will be remembered as John Walton, his career consisted of so much more.

Richard Bull

Richard Bull, who played Doc on the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Nels Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, died on 3 February 2014 at the age of 89. 

Richard Bull was born on 26 June 1924 in Zion, Illinois. He spent a portion of his childhood in Chicago. It was while he was in high school that he studied drama at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. During World War II Mr. Bull served in the United States Army Air Forces.  After the war he returned home to Chicago. It was there that he married fellow actor Barbara Collentine. The two of them eventually migrated to California to pursue their acting careers.

Richard Bull made his television debut in an episode of the TV show Medic in 1956. In the late Fifties he appeared on such shows as The Man Called X, Panic!Perry Mason, Highway Patrol, Men into Space, and Shotgun Slade. He appeared in such films as Full of Life (1956), Fear Strikes Out (1957), Operation Mad Ball (1957), The True Story of Lynn Stuart (1958), and But Not for Me (1959). 

In the Sixties Richard Bull played the recurring role of Doc on the television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He was a frequent guest star on television, appearing on such shows as The Virginian, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Bill Dana Show, The Richard Boone Show, Ben Casey, Slattery's People, The Fugitive, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, I Spy, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Ironside.  He appeared in the films Then There Were Three (1961), Della (1964), The Satan Bug (1965), In Like Flint (1967), Hour of the Gun (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), The Secret Life of an American Wife (1968), The Stalking Moon (1968), and Moonfire (1970).

In the Seventies Richard Bull played the recurring role of Judge Thatcher on the short lived TV series Nichols. It was in 1974 that he was cast in the regular role of storekeeper Nels Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run. He guest starred on such shows as Marcus Welby M.D., The F.B.I., Mission: Impossible, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Mannix, and Barnaby Jones. He appeared in the films The Andromeda Strain (1971), Man and Boy (1971), High Plains Drifter (1973), Executive Action (1973), Breezy (1973), The Parallax View (1974), and A Different Story (1978). 

From the Eighties to the Naughts Mr. Bull appeared on such shows as Sara, Knot's Landing, Amazing Stories, It's Garry Shandling's Show, Highway to Heaven, Designing Women, Paradise, and Boss. He appeared in the films A Day in a Life (2000), Sugar (2008), Witless Protection (2008), and Osso Bucco (2008). 

While I can't say I am a fan of Little House on the Prairie as an adult, I have to admit that Richard Bull consistently delivered a good performance in the role of Nels. Indeed, he was always my favourite character. And while he is best known as Nels Oleson, he played many other roles as well. In fact, he generally played roles quite unlike the henpecked Nels: authority figures such as attorneys, judges, military officers, and, most often, doctors. Indeed, his second most famous role may well have been Doc on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The fact that Richard Bull could be convincing as Nels Oleson, Doc, and the many authority figures he played over the years showed that he was a very versatile actor.


chimes said...

Nice post. Thanks. Note, though, that John Waite did not play John Walton in "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story." The pilot contained different actors for the father, mother, and grandfather than would appear in the series. Andrew Duggan played John Walton. Ralph Waite, though, would memorably define the role in the series.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thank you for reminding me! I have it corrected now. :-)