Friday, May 6, 2016

Abel Fernandez Passes On

Abel Fernandez, who played William Youngfellow on the classic TV series The Untouchables, died on May 3 at the age of 85. The cause was lung cancer.

Abel Fernandez was born in Los Angeles, California on July 14 1930. His mother was a Yaqui Indian and his father was Mexican. He attended  Belmont High School. At age 16 he enlisted in the United States Army. He served as a paratrooper in the Airborne 11th. He took up boxing while in the military and won the title of Asiatic Forces middleweight champion.

Mr. Fernandez boxed professionally following his service. He won the Los Angeles Golden Gloves tournament. He was a runner up in the National Golden Gloves tournament in Chicago. He boxed professionally until 1953. It was in August of that year that he told the Associated Press, "I don't think I'd be much good as a fighter anymore. I got to the point where I hated to hit guys. I was afraid I'd hurt them. I sent three boys to the hospital and spent most of my time visiting them. Fighters shouldn't care who they hit or how or where."

Abel Fernandez found a second career as an actor. He made his film debut in 1953 in Second Chance, fittingly enough playing a boxer. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Alaska Seas (1954). Rose Marie (1954), Many Rivers to Cross (1955), Devil Goddess (1955), Fort Yuma (1956), and The Harder They Fall (1956). He made his television debut on an episode of Stories of the Century. He guest starred on such shows as The Joe Palooka Story, Cavalcade of America, The Ford Television Theatre, Cheyenne, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Disneyland, Have Gun--Will Travel, 77 Sunset Strip, Zane Gray Theatre, The Restless Gun, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza.

Abel Fernandez was a regular on the television adaptation of the popular comic strip Steve Canyon. He played Airman Abel Featherstone on the show. Steve Canyon lasted only one season. It was in 1959 that Mr. Fernandez made what may have been the most significant guest appearance of his career. He guest starred on the two-part Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episode "The Untouchables", which was based on former Treasury agent Elliot Ness's memoir of the same name. Abel Fernandez played  William "Bill" Youngfellow, who was based on the real life member of the Untouchables,  William Jennings Gardner. Like both Abel Fernandez and William Jennings Gardner, Bill Youngfellow was Native American. This made the character one of the earliest Native American characters to appear in a drama set in a time and place other than the Old West. Besides Robert Stack as Elliot Ness, Abel Fernandez as Bill Youngfellow was the only member of the cast from the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episode "The Untouchables" to appear on the regular series The Untouchables. Mr. Fernandez remained with the show for its entire run.

In the Sixties Abel Fernandez guest starred on such shows as The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Iron Horse, The Time Tunnel, Hondo, Lassie, Batman, The Virginian, The Big Valley, Daniel Boone, and Marcus Welby M.D. He appeared in the films. He appeared in the films La edad de la violencia (1964), Rio Conchos (1964), Apache Uprising (1965), The Appaloosa (1966), Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966), Madigan (1968), and Topaz (1969).

Abel Fernandez was absent from the screen in the Seventies, but guest starred on the shows Lou Grant and The Fall Guy as well as the film Quicksilver in the Eighties. In the Nineties he appeared in the film Buster's Bedroom (1991). In the Naughts he guest starred on the show Mujer, casos de la vida real.

Abel Fernandez occupies an important place in American television history. Bill Youngfellow was one of the earliest Native American characters to regularly appear in a television series set in the 20th Century. Prior to The Untouchables the vast majority of Native American characters appeared in Westerns. What is more, unlike most Native American characters on television at the time, Bill Youngfellow was not a stereotype. In appearing in a setting other than the Old West and in not being portrayed as a stereotype, Bill Youngfellow was then very different from most Native American character on television in the Fifties and Sixties.

Of course, Abel Fernandez played many other roles in his career. As an actual Native American he was often cast as American Indians in both Western TV shows and movies. Early in his career he played boxers several times. That having been said, he played many other roles in films. He was Kindley in Pork Chop Hill (1959), Private Geronimo in Target Zero (1959), and Detective Rodriguez in Madigan (1968). While the roles in which he appeared in films were often small, Abel Fernandez always gave a good performance.

No comments: