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Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Stars By Stanley McFarland

   I get only one channel clearly where I live.  It's the rerun channel.  I'm living in the world of Perry Mason, Andy Griffith, Gilligan, Jed Clampett and Little Joe Cartwright.  It's a predictable little place.  There's only so much that Perry, Andy, Gilligan, Jed, and Little Joe can do that they haven't done scores of times before.  That's why Guest stars are so important.  Guest stars bring a new look, an new voice, or a new act to a show that otherwise would be routine.
   Here are a few of my favorites.
The Look
Jack Elam
I don't know if Elam ever would have made it in movies and television if he'd been able to look straight ahead.  He was good at looking mean, and looking dumb - so good that that he appeared in over 70 movies and 40 TV shows.  I wonder if he saw himself the way we saw him.
Royal Dano
   Dano had little more range than Elam as an actor, but worked nearly as much.  His weather-beaten face said Old West far better than any dialog might.  He also made a good crazy man or preacher.  How a fella from New York City became a western staple is a mystery.  All I know is that when he was on the screen, I couldn't look away.
Julie Newmar
   Speaking of not being able to look away, Julie Newmar taught every boy of my generation about the joys of...  Well, Batman became less about Biff, Boom, Bam, KaPow, in the episodes with Catwoman.  She did other guest shots on other programs, playing other characters, but they slip my mind.
The Voice
Sterling Holloway
   History may best remember him as the frequent voice of Winnie the Pooh, or the Cheshire Car in Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but I've always enjoyed his other work more.  His impossibly lanky frame, and voice that sounded like a tin can playing a violin defined quirky by the standards of the fifties and early sixties.
Mel Blanc
   Blanc was first and foremost a voice actor - perhaps the greatest ever, creating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, as well as Barney Rubble and hundreds of other characters in animation.  He also showed up in live-action TV at times.  I admit that my fascination was seeing a real face attached to that incredible voice.
Edward Everett Horton
   My favorite voice in entertainment history, Horton created the roll Roaring Chicken in the first season of F Troop.  After a contract dispute he adapted the role to Chief Screaming Chicken for Batman.  I will always remember him as the narrator for Rocky and Bullwinkle's brilliant Fractured Fairy Tales.
The Act
Cleavon Little
   I'll never understand why Little's career fizzled after his brilliant Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, but at least we got him in guest roles through the seventies and eighties.
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
   Maybe I'm cheating by lumping two in one entry, but with Flatt and Scruggs, you couldn't have one without the other.  They had less acting talent combined than one of Lester's guitar picks, but who cares!  I loved to hear them play!
The Darlin's
   I might as well cheat big time by lumping 6 in one entry.  While it's true that Denver Pyle made numerous solo guest appearances, he was never as entertaining as when he was accompanied by Charlene and the boys.  Flatt and Scruggs and the Darlin's comprised my entire exposure to Blue Grass music until the Coen Brothers further enlightened me many years later.  And speaking of the Darlin's, you can't forget...
Howard Morris
   It's hard to figure that Ernest T. Bass only made 5 appearances on the Andy Griffith show.  He stands out to me as the most unforgettable guest portrayal in television history.  Morris was an accomplished Shakespearean actor that played many more serious roles.  Do you remember any of them?  Neither do I.
The Total Package
Abe Vigoda
   Vigoda brought the distinctive look, voice and act to scores of TV shows until his death in...  Well, actually he's still alive as I write this.  Of course it's hard to tell with Vigoda.  People Magazine said he was dead in 1982.  Letterman once had him blow on a mirror to prove he was alive.  Vigoda and Betty White are the only two actors I'm aware of that have been continuously active in television since its beginning in the late forties.
Walter Brennan
   People forget that Brennan won three best supporting actor Oscars for his work in movies.  In spite of that he was never above doing TV guest shots.  His bright eyes, craggy face, sauntering limp, and energetic banter brought vim to any script.  He even sang - badly - and somehow made us love it.
Ed Wynn
   For my money, the greatest total package in the history of television, Wynn began the TV portion of his career by creating the first Emmy-award winning variety show - The Ed Wynn Show.  Already elderly, Wynn tired of the weekly grind and shifted gears to guest shots including serious drama.  The Vaudevillian proved so adept that he won an Oscar for his role in The Diary of Anne Frank.  I will always remember him as the Mad Hatter, and the incredible Uncle Albert in the I Love To Laugh scene from Mary Poppins, but his TV guest work was also impressive.  He even made Hoss Cartwright fly.

Let's finish the post with a bit from Andy and the Darlin's.