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Orson Bean, the witty New Englander who starred on Broadway, was a longtime panelist on To Tell the Truth and played the dour owner of the general store on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, died Friday night after being hit by a car in Venice, California. He was 91.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office told THR that Bean died at 7:44 p.m. on the 700 block of Venice Boulevard. Police said that a pedestrian in his 90s was walking eastbound in the area of Venice and Shell Avenue minutes earlier when he was hit by a vehicle.
A second driver then struck him in what police say was the fatal collision, and both drivers remained on the scene, L.A. Police Department Capt. Brian Wendling told local TV stations.
Survivors include his wife, actress Alley Mills, best known for playing the mother Norma Arnold on The Wonder Years and the dutiful Pamela Douglas on The Bold & the Beautiful. The two also starred together in a play that opened in Venice in January 2018.
A second cousin of President Calvin Coolidge, Bean also was the father-in-law of Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative commentator.
Bean starred with Jayne Mansfield and Walter Matthau as a magazine writer who makes a deal with the devil in the original 1955 Broadway production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and he earned a Tony nomination for playing another writer in the 1962 risque musical comedy Subways Are for Sleeping.
The slender actor also starred on the memorable 1960 Twilight Zone episode “Mr. Bevis,” playing an eccentric loser who meets his guardian angel and has a chance to turn his life around.
Although his energies were usually directed toward comedies and musicals, Bean delivered a strong turn as an Army doctor testifying in court in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959). In Being John Malkovich (1999), he portrayed a 105-year-old man who had the power to get into another person’s body, and he was a Holocaust survivor in The Equalizer 2 (2018).
Starting in the early 1960s and throughout the ‘70s, Bean charmed TV viewers on To Tell the Truth, the game show from Goodson-Todman Productions that was hosted by Bud Collyer and then Garry Moore. Bean often shared the panel with Kitty Carlyle, Peggy Cass and, at other times, Bill Cullen or Tom Poston.
He also appeared on I’ve Got a Secret, Match Game, Password, What’s My Line and The $10,000 Pyramid.
For six seasons, Bean played the crotchety Loren Bray on 146 episodes of the 1993-98 CBS drama Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. He later portrayed Roy Bender, the love interest of Karen McCluskey (Kathryn Joosten), on ABC’s Desperate Housewives.
A frequent guest on The Tonight Show who often subbed for Jack Paar, Bean was on the program on Feb. 11, 1960, when the host — angry that NBC had censored one of his jokes the previous night — walked off the set in the middle of his monologue.
“He surprised everyone,” Bean recalled in a 2014 interview. “Hugh Downs was the sidekick and took over. Paar said he was never coming back. I kind of expected that I would replace Paar because I was a regular substitute. I stuck up for Paar. I had heard there was a suit who was really pissed off at me for badmouthing NBC, so I was taken out of the running.” (Paar returned to The Tonight Show about three weeks later.)
Bean’s career took a hit in the ‘50s when he was identified as a communist and blacklisted. He said he drew attention to himself because he was “horny for a communist girl, and she dragged me to a couple of meetings.”
Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burroughs in Burlington, Vermont, on July 22, 1928, as Coolidge was in the White House as the 30th president. When Bean was 16, his mother committed suicide.
He served in the U.S. Army, then embarked on a career in show business.
Bean did sleight-of-hand magic tricks and told jokes in two-bit nightclubs in places like Fall River, Massachusetts, and Albany, New York, before landing a two-year contract in the early 1950s to perform at the famed Blue Angel nightclub in New York. (That proved to be a huge career boost, and at one time, he was on a bill with Nichols & May, Harry Belafonte and Eartha Kitt.)
In a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he explained how he came upon his stage name.
“One night in a club in Boston, I tried the name Roger Duck. No laughs. The next night, I tried Orson Bean, putting together a pompous first name and a silly second name. I got laughs, so I decided to keep it,” he said.
“Orson Welles himself came into the Blue Angel one night, summoned me to his table. I sat down. He looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘You stole my name!’ And he meant it. Then he dismissed me with a wave of his hand.”
In 1954, Bean parlayed his act into hosting a summer-replacement series that emanated from the Blue Angel, and he won a Theatre World Award for his performance in the revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.
Bean was one of Ed Sullivan’s favorites and appeared on his variety show several times before he was blacklisted. However, actors tarred by the scandal were able to work on Broadway, and he rode things out thanks to his yearlong stint on Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
Bean later played the ineffectual Reverend Brim on the syndicated soap-opera satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and a spinoff, Forever Fernwood; voiced Bilbo Baggins on two animated telefilms in the ‘70s; and portrayed John Goodman’s father on the short-lived Fox series Normal, Ohio.
He also had guest stints on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Love Boat, The Fall Guy, The Facts of Life, Ellen, Ally McBeal, Will & Grace and Modern Family, and he was seen on the big screen in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955), Richard Donner’s Lola (1970), Forty Deuce (1982) and Innerspace (1987).
Bean wrote a quirky 1971 book, Me and the Orgone: The True Story of One Man’s Sexual Awakening, and a memoir, 1988’s Too Much Is Not Enough.
In 1964, Bean, actor Chuck McCann and others founded The Sons of the Desert, a group devoted to “the loving study of the persons and films” of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Bean also was married to actress Rain Winslow from 1956-62 and to fashion designer Carolyn Maxwell from 1965-79. He and Maxwell spent several years living in Australia. He married Mills in 1993.
His daughter Susannah, one of his four children, was married to Breitbart.
Sharareh Drury contributed to this report.
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