R.I.P. William Schallert


Just a few words of posthumous praise for character actor William Schallert , who passed away this week at the age of 93. If you know this blog at all it won’t surprise you to learn I had already been planning a post on him; now it has suddenly if sadly grown more topical.

He is best known to the general public for playing Patty Duke’s dad/uncle on The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966). But I didn’t discover that show until my late teens or twenties (it wasn’t available in my area in reruns until the advent of cable in the 1980s). But that’s okay — Schallert was everywhere ELSE to be seen on television. Look at his IMDB page. He was on practically every show that ever was from the 1960s until his death. So where I first saw him I can’t rightly say, though I DO know which performance I first marked and noted him in with definite clearness, because I probably saw it about ten times: the Trouble with Tribles episode of Star Trek (pictured above). He was still acting as of two years ago, although the most recent performance of his I’ve seen was a 1996 episode of E.R. 

Schallert, with his dour intelligence, thin lips, and capacious forehead was ideal for playing scientists and uptight functionaries…when those two kinds of characters overlapped (as they often did) it scored a kind of bull’s eye. For example, in Edgar Ulmer’s sci-fi The Man from Planet X (1951) he plays the villain part, a man far too greedy and eager to get close to an alien from outer space. This was one of his few decent (large sized) roles this early in his career. For most of the 1950s he was a bit player. Well known movies he appears in fleetingly include Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), the remake of The Jazz Singer (1952), Them! (1954), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Written in the Wind (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind (1957), and The Beat Generation (1959).

In 1953 he appeared in a sketch with Mae West on The Red Skelton Hour, which was cut by the censors!

By the 60s, almost all of his work was in television, but he did work in a few movies, including the western Will Penny (1967), the Elvis musical Speedway (1968) and Disney’s Kurt Russell comedy The Strongest Man in the World (1975).

His tv daughter/niece Patty Duke passed away two months ago, leaving me to wonder: is there a laugh track in heaven? All I know is, there better be a laugh track in MY heaven because, as every one knows, dead silence in the wake of punch lines is existential HELL.

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