Billy Sands: Post-Burlesque Second Banana

Brief tribute to character actor Billy Sands (1911-1984). Comedy kingpins loved to have Sands around, but he could also hold his own in heavy drama.

Sands started out as a stage actor, appearing in the Broadway plays I’ll Take the High Road (1943) and Rugged Path (1946). He was the right physical type to be a second banana in burlesque (on the small side, with a high, raspy voice) which made him perfect as a regular  on Sgt. Bilko (1955-59) with Phil Silvers (although I haven’t turned up any references to him in burlesque). Sands played Private Dino Papparelli. From here he went to the very similar part of “Tinker Bell” on McHale’s Navy (1962-66). Then he was in several Don Knotts movies: The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Love God? (1969), and How to Frame a Figg (1971). He was a regular on Sheldon Leonard’s short-lived 1975 sitcom Big Eddie.

Most of the time Sands guest starred on TV, so frequently and so memorably he became a highly recognizable figure: he was in five episodes of All in the Family; five of The Odd Couple, four of Car 54, Where Are You?, three of Here’s Lucy, two each of Love American Style, Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour, Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, Laverne and Shirley, and The Jeffersons, as well as two Bob Hope specials, and single appearances on Happy Days, Maude, Baretta, Alice,  etc etc.

And movies! He’s in the John Astin western comedy Evil Roy Slade (1972), Bob Einstein’s Another Nice Mess (1972), the weird sex movie The Harrad Experiment (1973) with Tippi Hedren, Rocky (1976), Raid on Entebbe (1976), Gene Wilder’s The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), and Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety (1978).

His last gig was a recurring role (“Harry”) on Webster (1983-84).