Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Godspeed Orson Bean

Orson Bean, the veteran actor who was a long-time panellist on To the Truth and a regular on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Desperate Housewives, was killed Friday, February 7 2020, after being hit by two cars in Venice, Los Angeles. He was 91 years old.

Orson Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22 1928 in Burlington, Vermont. His father, a Harvard College campus police officer, was a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. His mother committed suicide when he was 16, after which he left home. He enlisted in the United States Army. Following his service, he worked as a stage magician and then shifted to stand-up comedy. He eventually moved to Manhattan and played at the nightclub the Blue Angel for  half a year.

Orson Bean made his television debut in an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1952. He hosted the variety series The Blue Angel. In the Fifties he guest starred on the TV shows Broadway Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Best of Broadway, The Elgin Hour, Omnibus, Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, The Phil Silvers Show, The Millionaire, The Twilight Zone, and Play of the Week. Mr. Bean was also a guest on many talk shows and variety shows in the Fifties, including Strike It Rich, I've Got a Secret, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Vic Damone Show, The Ben Hecht Show, and Tonight Starring Jack Paar. He made his film debut in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955). He appeared in the film Anatomy of a Murder (1959). He made his Broadway in Men of Distinction in 1953. In the Fifties he appeared on Broadway in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and Nature's Way.

It was in 1963 that Orson Bean joined the panel of the game show To Tell the Truth. He remained with the show until its network run ended in 1968. He would also be a regular panellist on the Seventies revival of the show and the Nineties revival. He was both a frequent guest and guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared on such game shows and variety shows as What's My Line?, The Joey Bishop Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Match Game, The Dean Martin Show, and The David Frost Show. He guest starred on The DuPont Show Starring June Allyson; Naked City; The United States Steel Hour; Vacation Playhouse; Love, American Style; and NET Playhouse. He appeared on Broadway in Subways Are for Sleeping, Never Too Late, I Was Dancing, The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd, and Illya Darling. He appeared in the movie Twinky (1970).  In 1964, along with author John McCabe, cartoonist Al Kilgore, TV personality Chuck McCann, and John Municino, Orson Bean co-founded the Sons of the Desert, the fraternal organisation dedicated to Laurel & Hardy.

In the Seventies Orson Bean was a panellist on Tattletales and Match Game. He continued to appear frequently on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He appeared on such game shows and talk shows as The David Frost Show, The Mike Douglas Show, Dinah!, Break the Bank, The $10,000 Pyramid, and The Alan Thicke Show. He guest starred on the shows The Wide World of Mystery, Ellery Queen, Forever Fernwood, and The Love Boat. He was the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the TV movie The Hobbit and the voices of Frodo and Bilbo in the TV movie The Return of the King.

In the Eighties Orson Bean continued to appear frequently on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He appeared on the game shows Body Language and Classic Concentration. He appeared on the PBS show Reading Rainbow. He guest starred on One Life to Live; The Fall Guy; The Facts of Life; Murder, She Wrote; and Monsters. He was a guest voice on Tiny Toon Adventures. He appeared in the movies Forty Deuce (1982), Smart Alec (1986), Innerspace (1987), and Instant Karma (1990).

In the Nineties, Orson Bean was a regular on the shows Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Normal, Ohio. He guest starred on the shows California, Diagnosis Murder, Ellen, Thanks, Ally McBeal, The King of Queens, Family Law, Will & Grace, and Manhattan, AZ. He appeared in the movies One of Those Nights (1997), Being John Malkovich (1999), and Unbowed (1999).

In the Naughts he had a recurring role on the TV show Desperate Housewives. He guest starred on Becker, 7th Heaven, Cold Case, Two and a Half Men, Commander in Chief, The Closer, The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, Women's Murder Club, How I Met Your Mother, Safe Harbour, and The Sarah Silverman Program. He appeared in the movies Burning Down the House (2001), Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002), Myron's Movie (2004), Soccer Dog: European Cup (2004), Yesterday's Dreams (2005), Alien Autoposy (2006), The Lather Effect (2006), The Novice (2006), Game of Life (2007), Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe (2007), and Ashley's Ashes (2010).

In the Teens Mr. Bean guest starred on Hot in Cleveland, Mistresses, Modern Family, The Bold and the Beautiful, Another Period, The Guest Book, Teachers, Superstore, and Gracie and Frankie. He appeared in the movies Wake Up, America! (2016) and The Equalizer 2 (2018).

Orson Bean called himself a "neo-celebrity," someone famous simply for being famous. I believe that was far from the truth, as I suspect he was famous for his enormous talent instead. He certainly played a wide variety of roles throughout his career: a psychiatrist in Anatomy of a Murder; the bumbler of the title in the Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Bevis;" a murder suspect crazy about plants in the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of the Chinese Dog." and a retired steak salesman on Desperate Housewives. As great as Orson Bean was in his acting roles, however, he may be best remembered a a panellist on To Tell the Truth and other games shows, as well as a guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was an incredible raconteur with a quick wit and a great sense of humour. No one could tell a story better than Orson Bean. Droll and a bit off the wall, Orson Bean wasn't simply a character actor. He was a real character himself. 

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