A Schell of a Guy

Fame will not be controlled. And thus it is that Ronnie Schell (b. 1931) ought to be best remembered for his own sitcom Good Morning World (1967), which after all was a starring vehicle for himself, but also provided the public’s first glimpse of Goldie Hawn, a full year before Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Schell played an AM radio DJ on the show — one has to wonder if the title of Good Morning, Vietnam was a riff on it. At any rate, Good Morning World only lasted one season. Thus Schell is much better remembered for his supporting roles on several popular long-lasting sitcoms that went into syndication: he played Gomer Pyle’s best friend Duke on Gomer Pyle USMC (1964-69) and Ann Marie’s manager on That Girl (1966-1970). At least, that’s where I know him from!

Schell started out as a stand-up comic, getting his first experience emceeing variety shows in the air force. He then attended San Francisco State University and performed at SF clubs like the hungry i and The Purple Onion. A booking as the opening act for The Kingston Trio raised his profile. One of his first TV appearances was a contestant on You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx! Then came The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, etc , leading to that high profile sitcom work. After Gomer Pyle and That Girl went off the air, he got roles in the Disney movies The Strongest Man in the World (1975), Gus (1975), The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and The Cat from Outer Space (1978), and then mainstream fare like Love at First Bite (1979), How to Beat the High Cost of Living (1980) and The Devil and Max Devlin (1981). He had a recurring role on the night time soap Santa Barbara (1985-89), and made dozens of guest appearances on popular sitcoms over the decades, but mostly has done tons of voiceover work in animated cartoons. He’s nearing 90 as this is being written, and still working.

To learn more about show business, 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.