The career of Johnny Haymer (Haymer Lionel Fileg, 1920-1989) is kind of small fry but I do like the arc of it. Though he might be best remembered as Sgt. Zale on M*A*S*H (1974-79), it was his stunt casting as a hack comic in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) which provides the better clue to Haymer’s background. For nightclubs were indeed his sandbox.
Originally from St. Louis, Haymer graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree of communications in the early ’40s, and went on the stand-up stage. His crucial break came in 1956 when he was cast in the Broadway show New Faces of 1956 with Billie Hayes and Maggie Smith. This led directly to spots on The Jackie Gleason Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Paar Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Arthur Murray Party, and The Mike Douglas Show.
He also began to get guest shots as an actor on such shows as Stanley (with fellow nightclub comic Buddy Hackett), Honey West, The Dick Van Dyke Show, He and She, The Wild Wild West, My Three Sons, Get Smart, Star Trek, Love American Style, The Doris Day Show, The Mod Squad, Adam-12, The Rookies, S.W.A.T., The Streets of San Francisco, Mork and MIndy, Eight is Enough, Three’s Company, The Jeffersons, and The Golden Girls. In addition to the recurring role on M*A*S*H, he was a regular on Wayland Flowers’ sitcom Madame’s Place (1982). In his later years he did a lot of cartoon voiceover work for such shows as Alvin and the Chipmunks and Transformers.
His roles in films were generally fewer and smaller. You can see him in The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968), Evel Knievel (1971), The Four Deuces (1975), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), American Hot Wax (1978), and And Justice for All (1979). A 1989 episode of Life Goes On was his final credit before cancer took at age 69.
To learn more about show business history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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