Monday, May 9, 2016

The Late Great William Schallert

Television viewers might not recognise William Schallert's name, but they would certainly recognise his face. It was not a simple case that he played teacher Leander Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis or Patty Lane's father Martin on The Patty Duke Show or even the crochety Admiral Hargarde on Get Smart. He also guest starred on numerous TV shows and appeared in several movies throughout his long career. He appeared on such TV shows as Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, Bewitched, Star Trek, The Partridge Family, and Magnum P.I. among many, many others. He appeared in such films as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Matinee (1993) among many others. William Schallert was not only one of the most prolific actors of his generation, but one of the best as well. Sadly, Mr. Schallert died yesterday, May 8 2016, at the age of 93.

William Schallert was born in Los Angeles on July 6 1922. His father was Edwin Francis Schallert, long-time drama critic and drama editor for The Los Angeles Times. His mother, Elza Emily Schallert (née Baumgarten), was a journalist and radio host. He enrolled in the University of California, Los Angles with the aim of becoming a composer, but he left school to serve as a fighter pilot in the United States Army during World War II. Following the war he returned to college where he studied theatre. While still a student he co-founded the Circle Theatre with Sydney Chaplin and several other students. In 1952 he won a Fulbright scholarship and went to England where he studied repertory theatre. He also served as a guest lecturer at Oxford University.

William Schallert made his film debut in Doctor Jim in 1947. In the late Forties he appeared in the films The Foxes of Harrow (1947), Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Reckless Moment (1949), Perfect Strangers (1950), and Lonely Heart Bandits (1950).

William Schallert was a very busy actor in the Fifties. In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2012 he said, "In 1959, I probably set an individual record. I worked 57 times in [that] year; that’s more than once a week!" He made his television debut on an episode of Fireside Theatre in 1951. He had regular or recurring roles on several TV shows during the decade. On the sitcom Hey, Jeannie! he played flight engineer Herbert. On The Adventures of Jim Bowie he played newspaperman Justinian Tebbs. He appeared as Major Karl Richmond on Steve Canyon and Lt. Manny Harris on Philip Marlowe. He began playing one of his best known roles in 1959 when he was cast as teacher Leander Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis. Mr. Pomfritt was known for his deadpan humour and often referred to his students as  "my young barbarians" or "my young unemployables" or something similar. Despite this he often served as a source of wisdom for protagonists Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebbs. When Dobie graduated high school, Mr. Pomfritt continued to appear on the show, taking a job at the junior college Dobie attended. William Schallert ultimately appeared on Dobie Gillis until its third season.

In addition to appearing in recurring roles on TV shows in the Fifties, William Schallert also made numerous guest appearances on series throughout the decade. In fact, in many cases he would make multiple guest appearances on the same show, playing a different character every time. He appeared on several of the anthology shows of the era, including Fireside Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Science Fiction Theatre, Four Star Theatre, Studio 57, Lux Video Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Goodyear Theatre, Climax!, The Loretta Young Show, One Step Beyond, and The Twilight Zone. When Westerns overtook the small screen he appeared on a large number of them, including Sugarfoot, Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, Maverick, Jefferson Drum, Wichita Town, Wanted Dead or Alive, Lawman, and Wagon Train. He also appeared frequently on shows in other genres, from sitcoms to science fiction, including Space Patrol, It's a Great Life, Blondie, Whirlybirds, Zorro, Leave It to Beaver, The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna, Meet McGraw, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Men into Space, Sea Hunt, and The Detectives.

Amazingly enough given the sheer hours of television in which he appeared during the Fifties, William Schallert also appeared in several movies during the decade. His first role of any significance in a film was in the B movie The Man from Planet X (1951) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. His best known role during the decade may have been the hotel clerk in Pillow Talk (1959). He also appeared in such films as The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), Captive Women (1952), Flat Top (1952), Sword of Venus (1953), Gog (1954), Them (1954),  Hell's Horizon (1955), The Lone Ranger (1956), Gunslinger (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Girl in the Kremlin (1957),  Cry Terror! (1958), Some Came Running (1958), and The Beat Generation (1959).

Like the Fifties, the Sixties would be a very busy decade for William Schallert. He continued to appear as Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis in the early part of the decade.  In 1962 he appeared in the pilot Archie (based on the classic comic book feature of the same name) as the title character's father. It failed to sell. From 1963 to 1964 he played Patty's father Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show. Amazingly enough, on The Patty Duke Show he also played two other Lane relatives in various episodes: Kenneth Lane and Uncle Jed. In 1964 he appeared in the television pilot  Philbert (the single episode's official title was "Three's a Crowd"), which combined animation and live action. William Schallert played cartoonist Griff M., whose cartoon character Philbert (voiced by Trustin Howard) comes to life. ABC rejected Philbert  because as a weekly TV series it would have been too expensive, but it was released to theatres as a short subject. . From 1967 to 1970 he had the recurring role of the doddering Admiral Hargarde on Get Smart.

Despite appearing regularly on three different TV series in the Sixties (not to mention appearing in movies), William Schallert also made a  number of guest appearances during the decade. He played a reserved new farmer in the Andy Griffith Show episode "Quiet Sam", an Army major dealing with German POWs on Combat!,  and the Federation Undersecretary of Agriculture in the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles". He also guest starred on such shows as The Untouchables, The RiflemanThriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, Lassie, 77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun--Will Travel, Rawhide, The Lucy Show, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, The Guns of Will Sonnett, The Carol Burnett Show, The Wild Wild West, Mod Squad, Bewitched, Room 222, Marcus Welby M.D., and Hawaii Five-O.

In the Sixties he also appeared in several movies. His best known film role may have been in In the Heat of the Night (1967), in which he played Mayor Schubert of Sparta, Mississippi. He also played Judge Herman Spicer in the Western Hour of the Gun (1967), Professor Quigley in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), and CIA  Director Grauber in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). He also appeared in the films Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Paradise Alley (1962), Shotgun Wedding (1963), Will Penny (1967), Speedway (1968), an Sam Whiskey (1968).

William Schallert continued to be very prolific in the Seventies. He played the recurring role of Borden on the short-lived show The Man and the City. On The Nancy Walker Show he played the regular role of network executive Teddy Futterman. He played Nancy Drew's father Carson Drew on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. He provided various voices on the Saturday morning cartoon Dinky Dog and played Mayor Hawkins on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo. In addition to his various recurring or regular roles on TV shows throughout the decade, Mr. Schallert also guest starred on several shows, including The Partridge Family; The D.A.; The F.B.I.; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Kung Fu; Ironside; Gunsmoke; Love, American Style; The Six Million Dollar Man; Barnaby Jones; Ellery Queen; Maude; One Day at a Time; Archie Bunker's Place; Little House on the Prairie; Lou Grant; and yet others. He appeared in the films Charley Varrick (1973), Peege (1973), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), The Jerk (1979), and Hangar 18 (1980).

In the Eighties William Schallert played the recurring role of Stanley Perkins on The Waltons. He played General Robert E. Lee in the mini-series North and South, Book II. He was a regular on the TV show The New Gidget, playing Gidget's father Russ Lawrence. He played Harry Hopkins in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He guest starred on such TV shows as Lou Grant, Magnum P.I., Matt Houston, The Duck Factory, The Paper Chase, Hotel, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, The Twilight Zone, Simon & Simon, Highway to Heaven, Matlock, A Year in the Life, The New Leave It to Beaver, Midnight Caller, Quantum Leap, Murphy Brown, In the Heat of the Night, and Santa Barbara. He reprised his role as Leander Pomfritt in the TV reunion movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. He appeared in the films Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), Teachers (1984), and Innerspace (1987).

In the Nineties William Schallert played the regular role of the title family's boarder on The Torkelsons. He provided a guest voice on the sitcom Dinosaurs and guest starred on such shows as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Coach, The Good Life, Melrose Place, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Roseanne, Dream On, ER, and Family Law. He reprised his role as Martin Lane in the TV reunion movie The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights. He appeared in the films House Party 2 (1991), Matinee (1993), and Beethoven's 2nd (1993).

In the Naughts William Schallert guest starred on such shows as The Zeta Project, Close to Home, My Name is Earl, How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives, According to Jim, Medium, and True Blood. He appeared in the film Sweetzer (2007). In the Teens he played villain Max Devore in the mini-series Bag of Bones. He guest starred on True Blood and 2 Broke Girls.

William Schallert also did many voice-overs for commercials over the years and was the voice of Milton the Toaster in commercials for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts in the Seventies. Mr. Schallert could also play guitar and piano.

William Schallert was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1979 to 1981. He led the union during its long strike of 1980, which included a boycott of that year's Emmy Awards. While he was president of SAG he founded the Committee for Performers with Disabilities. Since 1977 he served as a Trusttee of the Motion Picture and Television Fund and since 1983 as a Trustee of the SAG Pension and Health Plans. His co-star from The Patty Duke Show, Patty Duke, would later serve as president of SAG.

William Schallert had to have been one of the most prolific television actors of  all time. His IMDB credits number a staggering 375 credits. The number of individual shows on which he guest starred was phenomenal, and there are several instances in which he guest starred on a particular show multiple times. On Gunsmoke alone he guest starred seven times throughout its run. He was the only actor who guest starred in the original version of The Twilight Zone, 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie, and the Eighties reboot of The Twilight Zone. Not only was William Schallert prolific, but he had a remarkably long career. Like Sir Christopher Lee, Mickey Rooney, Norman Lloyd, and a few others, he never actually retired. His first film appearance was in 1947. His final appearance was on 2 Broke Girls in 2014. Indeed, he was so prolific and his career was so long that I cannot even remember where I first saw William Schallert. I think it might have been Dobie Gillis or The Patty Duke Show, but I suspect it was more likely one of his myriad guest appearances.

Of course, I have to suspect William Schallert was so prolific because he was very much in demand throughout the years. And he was so much in demand throughout the years because he was just so versatile. Mr. Schallert may be best known as Mr. Pomfritt on Dobie Gillis, Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show,and the Admiral on Get Smart, but he played a wide variety of parts throughout his career. He had a humorous turn as hillbilly Eben Hakes in the first episode of Gunsmoke on which he guest starred, "Twelfth Night".  He played a fidgety drummer who might or might not have committed murder in the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "The Long Night". In the Partridge Family episode "The Red Woodlore Story" he played the unassuming folk singer of the title. While best known for playing nice guys, William Schallert played his share of bad guys. In another episode of Gunsmoke, "Albert", he played the leader of a group of outlaws. In the mini-series Bag of Bones he played the basest of villains, Max Devore.

Even  the regular and recurring roles he played on TV series varied a good deal. On Dobie Gillis Leander Pomfritt was erudite and possessed of a dry wit, but was nonetheless devoted to his students. On Get Smart, on which he was almost unrecognisable, Admiral Hargarde was doddering and very nearly senile. On The Nancy Walker Show he played an ambitious television executive with something of a resemblance to legendary programmer Fred Silverman. While some actors are generally typecast in one specific sort of role, William Schallert could and did play anything. He could be a villainous outlaw one week and an innocent hotel clerk the next.

Not only was William Schallert both prolific and talented, but he appeared to also have been a very nice man. I have known people who have interviewed him over the years and they all say the same thing. William Schallert was a total gentleman. A search on the internet will reveal a number of people who met or interacted with Mr. Schallert who will also say the same thing. While William Schallert was capable of playing anything, even the vilest of villains, it would seem in real life he was closest to Leander Pomfritt or Martin Lane, a man who truly cared about his fellow human beings. Ultimately William Schallert was not just a talented actor, but a truly fine human being as well.

1 comment:

Hal Horn said...

In addition to many others, he guest starred on the final episode of MAVERICK's landmark second season, "The Strange Journey of Jenny Hill", and he was the Mayor of Orly on SHERIFF LOBO. Just a part of so many wonderful projects over the years, and you were always glad to see him.