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William Schallert, an amazingly busy “everyman” character actor for nearly seven decades who had trouble on television with Tribbles, Dobie Gillis and those identical two-of-a-kind cousins played by Patty Duke, has died. He was 93.
Schallert, who has nearly 400 credits on IMDb stretching from 1947 to 2014, died Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, his son Edwin said.
Schallert in 2004 made the list of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads (he placed No. 39) for playing the constantly bedeviled Martin Lane — the warm-hearted father of reckless teenager Patty Lane (Duke) and the uncle of her level-headed twin cousin Cathy (also Duke) — on The Patty Duke Show, which aired from 1963-66 on ABC.
On CBS’ hip sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which ran from 1959-63, Schallert recurred as Leander Pomfritt, an English teacher often flummoxed by two students in particular: Dobie (Dwayne Hickman) and his beatnik buddy Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver). (Herbert Anderson was the first choice for the role of Pomfritt, but he chose to play the dad on Dennis the Menace.)
But for all his work — Schallert also played small-town Mississippi mayor Webb Schubert in the Oscar-winning best picture In the Heat of the Night (1967) — the actor often said that the character for which he was most recognized was Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs Nilz Baris. He’s the guy who discovered the batch of furry grain-devouring aliens in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the classic December 1967 episode of NBC’s Star Trek.
“The trouble we had with Tribbles was [to] keep your straight face. It was just a lot of fun,” he said in an interview for a Trek DVD set.
The genial Los Angeles native starred in 1956 in the very first installment of the famed live CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, directed by John Frankenheimer, and played Admiral Hargrade, the brittle founder of CONTROL, on Get Smart; the librarian Mr. Bloomgarden on Leave It to Beaver; the fathers of Wendie Malick on Dream On and a grown-up Gidget (Caryn Richman) on The New Gidget; Agent Frank Harper on The Wild, Wild West (stepping in for Ross Martin, sidelined after a heart attack); and Mayor Norris on True Blood.
“In 1959, I probably set an individual record. I worked 57 times in [that] year; that’s more than once a week!” he told the Archive of American Television in a 2012 interview. He noted there were 105 TV series in production in L.A. that year, many doing 39 episodes a season (and no reruns ever aired).
“The variety of television parts available is fantastic,” he told The Milwaukee Journal in 1960. “In the past year, for instance, I have appeared as an old, feuding hillbilly; a vicious prosecuting attorney; an intelligent psychiatrist; a submarine commander; a blind ex-tennis player; a priest; a bartender; a hard-bitten Civil War major; an acidulous high-school teacher; a Bowery bum; and now [a police lieutenant.]”
Oh, and later he was the voice of Milton the Toaster, the long-running spokesman in commercials for Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.
Schallert served as SAG president from 1979-81, and during his tenure (which saw the actors go on strike for 94 days, with pay TV an issue for the first time), he founded the Committee for Performers With Disabilities. (Duke was SAG president after her TV dad was.)
In 1993, Schallert received the Ralph Morgan Award for service to the guild.
Schallert was born on July 6, 1922. His father was Edwin Schallert, who was a reviewer, columnist and drama editor of the Los Angeles Times for about 40 years, and his mother, Elza, did publicity work for Sid Grauman, had her own radio show and wrote for movie fan magazines. His parents’ connections got him into birthday parties for child star Shirley Temple on the Fox lot.
Schallert enrolled in UCLA aiming to be a composer but left to serve as an Army fighter pilot during World War II. He returned to college and graduated in 1946, then studied theater for a year in England after he received a Fulbright scholarship. Back in L.A., he joined The Circle Theatre, an intimate group that performed in the round in a former drugstore.
Charlie Chaplin’s children Charles Chaplin Jr. and Sydney Chaplin were among the Circle actors, and their father directed Schallert and June Havoc in a 1948 production of Somerset Maugham’s Rain. He did about 25 plays during the next three or four years.
When he was starting out, “being an actor meant you were like Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor, and I didn’t look like that,” Schallert told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “I didn’t understand how important good character actors were.”
Schallert got paid $75 a day for three days’ work for his movie debut in The Foxes of Harrow (1947) and played a gas station attendant in Mighty Joe Young (1949). He received his first significant screen time as Dr. Mears opposite Margaret Field, the mother of actress Sally Field, in Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Man From Planet X (1951).
Roles in other science-fiction films like Them! (1954), Gog (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) followed, as did work in Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) — though his scene was left on the cutting room floor — The High and the Mighty (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), Roger Corman’s Gunslinger (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Pillow Talk (1959).
The dependable Schallert played Walter Matthau’s mild-mannered deputy (his favorite role) in the Kirk Douglas starrer Lonely Are the Brave (1962), a down-and-out ex-racer opposite Elvis Presley in Speedway (1968), a professor in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and a sheriff in Charley Varrick (1973) with his pal Matthau.
Later, he appeared in The Jerk (1979), and director Joe Dante cast him in such films as Gremlins (1984), Innerspace (1987) and Matinee (1993).
Schallert was poised to be a leading man when he signed on to play a cartoonist whose creation comes to life in ABC’s Philbert, a pilot created by famed animator Friz Freleng. But the show never made it on the air.
On The Patty Duke Show, “Patty and I really bonded because I had four sons and she had no father,” he said in a 2009 interview. “Her father had left the family when she was a little girl. He died while we were shooting the show. She came in one day and said, ‘I heard today that my daddy died,’ but there was no real effect because she hardly knew him.”
Schallert was a guest star on such TV series as The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Father Knows Best, The Twilight Zone, Peter Gunn, Perry Mason, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Maude, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Desperate Housewives and How I Met Your Mother.
And he had recurring roles on Philip Marlowe, The Waltons, Norman Lear’s The Nancy Walker Show, The Nancy Drew Mysteries (as the lawyer father of the amateur sleuth played by Pamela Sue Martin), The Duck Factory (as Jim Carrey’s dad) and The Torkelsons as an elderly boarder who lives on Martin Lane (get it?).
Schallert performed in numerous miniseries, including 1979’s Blind Ambition (as Richard Nixon adviser Herbert Kalmbach), 1986’s North and South, Book II (as Robert E. Lee), 1988-89’s War and Remembrance, 2008’s Recount and 2011’s Bag of Bones, recruited by Stephen King.
He kept working despite suffering from peripheral neuropathy, which required him to wear braces on his legs.
Schallert married actress Leah Waggner, whom he met while at The Circle Theatre, in 1949. She died last year. In addition to Edwin, his survivors include other sons Joseph, Mark and Brendan and seven grandchildren.
Asked in the TV Archive interview what advice he would give to aspiring actors, Schallert said: “Just make sure you need to act. It’s not enough to like it, it’s not enough to want it. It’s got to satisfy a real need in you. Because otherwise you won’t be able to tolerate the bullshit, which you’ll inevitably find.”
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