Monday, December 3, 2018

The Late Great Ken Berry

Actor, dancer, and singer Ken Berry plays a large role in many of my childhood memories. Like many I first saw him in the Western spoof F Troop, which ran only two seasons but would be repeated in syndication to this day. I also saw him in the continuation of The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. A little later I would see him in a short lived variety show, The Ken Berry "Wow" Show, where he got to display his song and dance talents. He was also a frequent guest on The Carol Burnett Show. Whether as Captain Wilton Parmenter or a song and dance man, I have been a fan of Ken Berry nearly my entire life. Sadly, Ken Berry died on December 1 1985 at the age of 85.

Ken Berry was born on November 3 1933 in Moline, Illinois. He decided he wanted to be a dancer and singer when he saw dancers at a carnival when he was 12 years old. He was a fan of movie musicals starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Young Mr. Berry took tap dance lessons and at age 16 he joined the Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program.With the program he toured for 15 months, not only visiting several towns in the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Europe.

After graduating from high school, Ken Berry enlisted in the United States Army. He was initially assigned to the artillery, but after appearing on Arlene Francis's TV show on ABC, Soldier Parade, he was transferred to Special Services. There he served under Sergeant Leonard Nimoy (later best known as Spock on Star Trek), who encouraged him to pursue a career in entertainment. In 1956 he opened for Abbott & Costello's stage act in Las Vegas. In 1957 he joined Ken Murray's Las Vegas show, The Ken Murray Blackouts. He made his debut on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue in 1959. He also appeared on Broadway in 1961 in The Billy Barnes People.

While still in the military Ken Berry made his television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, in addition to a few other television appearances. He made his television debut as a civilian on The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams in 1959. The following years he would make guest appearances on Harrigan and Son and Hot Off the Wire. He had the recurring role of Woody on The Ann Sothern Show that same year.

The Sixties would prove to be a very busy time for Ken Berry. He had the recurring role of Lt. Melton on Ensign O'Toole and from 1961 to 1964 he played the recurring role of Dr. John Kapish on Dr. Kildare. It was in 1965 that he played his first lead role in a TV show. Mr. Berry played Captain Wilton Parmenter, the accident prone cavalry commander on the Western spoof F Troop. The show proved very popular, but ended its run after only two years because some individuals at Warner Bros. thought the show was too expensive. It would prove to be a perennial favourite as a rerun in syndication ever since. Ken Berry followed the success of F Troop with Mayberry R.F.D., which was essentially The Andy Griffith Show without Andy Griffith. It ran three seasons and was still high rated when it was cancelled as part of the Rural Purge.

In the Sixties Ken Berry also guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, Hennesey, The Gertrude Berg Show, General Electric Theatre, Alcoa Premiere, Mr. Novak, Burke's Law, Combat!, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Rogues, Hazel, No Time for Sergeants, Rawhide, 12 O'Clock High, The Lucy Show, and The Andy Griffith Show. He made his first guest appearance on The Carol Burnett Show in 1968 and guest starred frequently on the show for the rest of its run. He also guest starred on such variety and talk shows as The Garry Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Woody Woodbury ShowThe Ed Sullivan Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Engelbert Humperdinck Show, The Art Linkletter Show, Laugh In, The Andy Williams Show, and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He also appeared on various game shows. Mr. Berry had uncredited roles in the movies Two for the Seesaw (1962) and The Lively Set (1964), and appeared in the film Hello Down There (1969).

In the Seventies Ken Berry had his own, short lived variety show, The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show. He guest starred on the shows Love American Style, The Brady BunchMedical Centre, Ellery Queen, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Apple Pie, The Love Boat, Little House on the Prairie, CHiPs, and Fantasy Island. He continued to appear frequently on The Carol Burnett Show. He guest starred on such variety shows as The Julie Andrews Hour, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, NBC Follies, The Dean Martin Show, and The Sonny Comedy Revue. He also appeared on such games shows as Hollywood Squares and Tattletales. He appeared in several TV movies, including Li'l Abner, The Reluctant Heroes, and Letters from Three Lovers. He appeared in the feature films Herbie Rides Again (1973), Guardian of the Wilderness (1976), and The Cat from Outer Space (1978).

In the Eighties Ken Berry played Vinton Harper, Mama's good natured but none too bright son, on Mama's Family. The series had evolved out of Carol Burnett's recurring sketches "The Family" on The Carol Burnett Show. The show ran on NBC from 1983 to 1984 and then in first run syndication from 1986 to 1990. He guest starred on the shows Fantasy Island, Gimme a Break, and Small Wonder. In the Nineties he guest starred on The Golden Girls and Maggie Winters. He was a guest voice on The New Batman Adventures.

Ken Berry also toured with productions of Sugar, The Music Man, and I Do! I Do!.

Ken Berry had regular, semi-regular, or recurring roles on seven different shows, including lead roles in F Troop and Mayberry R.F.D. and as host of The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show. If Ken Berry was so much in demand on television, it was because he was so very talented. Mr. Berry was an incredible comic talent. A trained dancer, he had a gift for physical comedy, which was often put to good use on F Troop. What is more his comic talents weren't merely limited to the sitcoms or movies in which he appeared. Mr. Berry was incredible in the many sketches in which he appeared on The Carol Burnett Show. Of course, Ken Berry was also an incredible song and dance man. His talents were most visible on his various guest appearances on variety shows and his short-lived variety show The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show, as well as commercials for Kinney Shoes in the Seventies and Eighties. It was classic movie musicals that had made Ken Berry want to be a singer and dancer, and I think it is safe to say that had he been born in an earlier time he would have been a star of movie musicals. While Ken Berry will always be remembered for his roles in F Troop, Mayberry R.F.D., and Mama's Family, he did so much more.

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