On the Brothers Shea: Who Played Linus, the Whiz Kid, and Much More

I am just the right age to be starstruck by three child stars of a family named Shea who enjoyed high recognition in the late 1960s and early ’70s.  Today is the birthday of the middle brother and the one I knew about first, but it’s worth it to talk about all three, for they are all notable. The brothers were all born in Los Angeles.

Christopher Shea (1958-2010) was the oldest. Christopher’s first credit (age 7) was one of his best known — he was the original voice of Linus in Peanuts TV specials, including A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1963); A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965);  Charlie Brown’s All Stars (1966); It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966); You’re in Love, Charlie Brown (1967); and He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968). In live action television he played the part of Joey (the Brandon de Wilde part) in the tv series version of Shane (1966), and he had a recurring role on The Odd Couple as Philip, the obnoxious neighbor boy in 1971 (above). One of his first credits was in the That Girl Christmas episode (1966), and you can also see him in episodes of Bonanza, Green Acres, My World and Welcome to It, Here Come the Brides, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. And he played the title character in Disney’s TV movie The Boy Who Stole the Elephant (1970). Shea also appeared in the movies Firecreek (1968) with Jimmy Stewart, Angel in My Pocket (1969) with Andy Griffith and Jerry Van Dyke, and The Love God? (1969) with Don Knotts. His last credit was a 1971 TV movie called A Little Game. 

Eric Shea (b. 1960) had a prominent role in the first movie I ever saw in a cinema The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Whenever I saw him in anything as a kid I took immediate notice. His voice also sounds eerily (if logically) similar to those of his brothers, so I was apt to mix them up. All the Shea brothers specialized in playing brainy boys. Eric’s Robin Shelby in The Poseidon Adventure wasn’t just disobedient and potty-mouthed, but was made to spout tongue-twisting, absurd dialogue like, “That’s shaft alley! Nowhere is the ship’s steel hull thinner!” and this one, which also sounded to me like an intertitle from a silent melodrama,”The hot steam’s blocking our escape!”

The other major place for kids to worship Eric Shea was in a series of TV movies by Disney about the adventures of a boy named Alvin, a.k.a. “The Whiz Kid”. These included Alvin the Magnificent (1973), The Whiz Kid and the Mystery at Riverton (1974), and The Whiz Kid and the Carnival Caper (1976). He was also a regular on the shows Anna and the King (1972) and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (1976-77), and had recurring parts on Batman (1966), and Emergency! (1974). He had a memorable guest shot on The Brady Bunch as a boy who has a crush on Cindy. You could also see him on Gunsmoke, Here Come the Brides, The Flying Nun, Room 222, Adam-12, Little House on the Prairie and others. And you can see him in the films Yours Mine and Ours (1968) and Smile (1975). His last credit was in Dan Curtis’s Every Day Was the Fourth of July (1978). Of the three brothers, he retired at the oldest age — 18.

Stephen Shea (b. 1961) is the least well known, but still significant. He was only on camera once in a professional capacity, in an Adam-12 episode. His main claim to fame is taking over the voice of Linus in Peanuts specials and movies after Christopher retired. That’s him doing Linus in Play it Again, Charlie Brown (1971); Snoopy, Come Home (1972); You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972); There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973); A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973); It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974); It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974); and Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975).