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Lyle Waggoner, the actor with the leading man looks who spent seven seasons on The Carol Burnett Show before portraying versions of Steve Trevor a generation apart on Wonder Woman, has died. He was 84.
Waggoner died Tuesday in Westlake, California, after a long illness, his son Jason told The Hollywood Reporter.
The hunky Kansas native famously screen-tested in 1965 to play the Caped Crusader on the 20th Century Fox-ABC series Batman, but the job, of course, went to Adam West. Later, he posed for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in June 1973.
Waggoner had been on an episode of Gunsmoke and in a couple of forgettable films when he was hired to serve as the announcer on CBS’ new The Carol Burnett Show, which went on the air on Sept. 11, 1967. (Producer Joe Hamilton, Burnett’s husband, was searching for a “Rock Hudson type.”)
Though it seems hard to believe now, Burnett “was afraid to talk to the audience when that show started; she didn’t want to have to talk directly to them on camera,” Bob Mackie, the costume designer on the iconic sketch-comedy show, revealed in a 2000 interview for the website The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. “So she had the big announcer person that she could play off of.”
That would be the 6-foot-3, dark-haired Waggoner, whom Mackie called “a big Ken doll.” He eventually was given more to do and played around in skits with Burnett, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence. Waggoner was usually there to play “the handsome guy,” someone for Burnett to drool over.
And “If you needed a mounted policeman from Canada,” writer Arnie Kogen said, “Lyle was your man.”
About a year after walking away from the show in 1974 — to be eventually replaced by frequent guest star Tim Conway — Waggoner landed the role of Major Steve Trevor on ABC’s Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter as the Amazon princess Diana.
When the series, then set in the 1940s, became too expense to produce, it was shifted into the present day and picked up by CBS. Now Waggoner was playing Steve Trevor Jr., head of a CIA-type crime-fighting agency whose dad had been killed. (You couldn’t tell that Diana, being an Amazon, had aged at all.)
“He was a real gung-ho kind of guy,” Waggoner said of Trevor in a 2011 interview. “Steve tried his best, but he always seemed to get himself into hot water. Of course, he pretty much had to because it was Wonder Woman’s job to rescue him. If there was a scene where he got the drop on the bad guys, sure enough, someone would end up slapping the gun out of his hand and turning the tables on him.”
Born on April 13, 1935, Kyle Wesley Waggoner was a wrestler and a high jumper at Kirkwood High School in Missouri. He briefly attended Washington University in St. Louis before enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving as a radio operator.
Back home, as he worked as a door-to-door salesman, customers kept telling him, “You should be an actor.” He appeared in a local production of Li’l Abner, came to California and got into “new talent” programs at MGM and then Fox, where Tom Selleck and James Brolin were also beginning their careers.
Waggoner hosted the syndicated quiz show It’s Your Bet in the 1970s and appeared as himself on a 1999 episode of That ’70s Show.
In 1979, he launched Star Waggons, which rented motor homes for actors, makeup artists, etc. to use on film and TV sets.
“When I was on Wonder Woman, [the producers] gave me a very nice motor home they had rented from some private owner in the Valley,” he said in a 2013 interview with Los Angeles magazine. “I said, ‘Well, if I had a motor home, would you rent it from me?’ I was always entrepreneurial-oriented, trying to find a business to get into. So I went out and bought a motor home and rented it to the production company for the three years that I was on that show.”
Three or four years in, Waggoner made a shift to trailers, since motor homes, with their engines and running gear, are more expensive to maintain. “I found a manufacturer and had a prototype of a makeup trailer built,” he recalled. “I put it out in the field and boy, they absolutely loved it. We started building trailers in 1988 and selling off the motor homes — I had about 90 — and eventually got rid of all of them.”
CNBC reported in February 2016 that Star Waggons had 800 trailers and posted annual revenue of $17 million. Waggoner said a year later that he supplied 30 trailers alone for ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
He married Sharon Kennedy in September 1960, and they had two sons, Beau and Jason.
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