Dave Madden: Come On, Get Happy

A few words about the interesting career of comic actor Dave Madden (1931-2014). Today best known for one, perhaps two, particular roles, Madden’s career, like most, proves to be much more interesting after a little delving.

Canadian by birth, Madden spent his early childhood in Port Huron, Michigan and teenage years in Terre Haute, Indiana. Much like fellow midwesterners Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, Madden dabbled in magic as a kid, and worked it into a comedy act. He entertained in camp shows while serving in the Air Force in the mid-50s, then graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in communications.

Madden began his professional career as a comedian on the nightclub circuit. His trademark was to drink a glass of milk onstage rather than smoke a cigar. His body language was restless and awkward, and his material weak, but he himself had an appeal that was just right for comedy. He could be either deadpan or goofy. His midwestern drawl and rather intense, pale blue eyes were useful for dry verbal quips. He had a face that could glower. But he was also jug-eared and had a big shnozz plus worried looking eyebrows. When animated he could look silly. When perturbed, he came off like Daffy Duck.

So ultimately he would find his natural niche, which was in comic acting, as opposed to the stand-up stage, but he had to grope his way there. First there were stand-up guest shots on The Merv Griffin Show and The Ed Sullivan Show in 1962 and 1963. Then he was cast as a camp counselor on the sitcom Camp Runamuck (1965-66). In 1968 he was cast as a regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, where he fell back on a lot of his patented schtick. Then came what is probably his defining role, that of manager Rueben Kincaid on The Partridge Family (1970-1974), whose feuds with the tween bass player Danny (Danny Bonaduce) were an epic running theme. These were peak visibility years for Madden — you often saw him in TV commercials, or on shows like Love American Style. He also supplied by the voice of the Ram in the all-star animated classic Charlotte’s Web (1973).

In 1974 he did an episode of Happy Days where he met Ron Howard, who cast him in his first directorial effort, Eat My Dust (1976). From 1976 through 1985 he had a recurring role as Earl, one of the diner regulars on Alice, and this is probably the other role he is best known for. After the mid ’80s Madden only worked sporadically in television. His last role before the cameras was a 1996 episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. His last years as an actor were spent primarily on a Christian radio show called Adventures in Odyssey, with which he was involved through 2008.