Archive for McHale’s Navy

Bob Hastings: From Christmasland to Character Man

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2017 by travsd

Well, here’s a wonderful surprise: familiar character actor Bob Hastings (1925-2014) had an old school show biz background as a kiddie performer.

First: you recognize him, right? The first place I can be sure I saw him was in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He has a small but memorable and highly visible part as the master of ceremonies of the New Year’s Party — he’s the guy who leads the count-down to midnight.

But he also played Lt. Carpenter on McHale’s Navy (1962-1966), which I watched in re-runs as a kid.

And he was also Kelsey the bartender, a recurring role, on All in the Family (1971-1976). These were pretty much his peak visibility years. He was also in several films during these years, like Disney’s The Boatniks (1970) and the Don Knotts movies The Love God (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971).

So I totally know who that guy is!  But then he turns up in a 1938 Vitaphone musical short called Toyland Casino as 13 year old Bobby Hastings in rustic highland clothes and sings “In the Gloaming”!

Hastings had started out on NBC children’s radio program Coast to Coast on a Bus with such fellow stars as Ann Blyth, Walter Tetley, and Jackie Kelk. After bomber service in World War II, he returned to radio, and perhaps his greatest stardom in the part of Archie in the radio version of Archie comics, which ran from 1945 to 1953.

Publicity still: Hastings as Archie

One of his first recurring tv roles was on Sgt. Bilko, establishing a recurring theme in his career: his characters were frequently in uniform. After the 1980s, most of his acting gigs were voice-overs for animated cartoon series. For example he voiced Batman’s Commissioner Gordon in the 1990s:

Bob Hastings passed away just a couple of years ago! Today is his birthday.

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Stars of Vaudeville #237: Carl Ballantine

Posted in Comedy, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Sit Coms, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2010. 

When I was about four or five years old, my dad brought us to a company picnic that featured a funny magician and puppeteer to entertain the children. For some reason, I’ve always carried around a vague impression in the back of my head that the performer was Carl Ballantine. But it can’t have been, can it? A familiar face from TV working a company picnic at a factory in Southeastern Connecticut? On the other hand, Henny Youngman was never above taking a bar mitzvah date, over his entire career. A paycheck is a paycheck. Nem di gelt.

At any rate, Ballantine (born this day in 1922) came along a little too late for vaudeville proper, although his comedy magic act would have been perfect for it (just as it was perfect for the television variety which eventually showcased it). He started out doing serious magic in his native Chicago, but soon found that he got laughs by screwing up the tricks.

Coincidentally, Ballantine's birthday is the same as Blackstone. This poster is totally a parody of Blackstone's trademark posters (courtesy the little devil).

Coincidentally, Ballantine’s birthday is the same as Blackstone’s. This poster is totally a parody of Blackstone’s trademark posters (courtesy the little devil).

Ballantine’s main live bookings were in nightclubs and presentation houses, before he began getting booked on tv’s top variety shows. His appeal lies in his brashness, the way he brusquely, cheerfully moves past every flub to the next trick, which will inevitably fail as well. There is something about this concept (which ranks with the great comic strips and the plays of the absurdists) that I think deserved a better pinnacle than Ballantine ever achieved. The modern industry can be a chilly, stupid brute, an unaccommodating  bureaucracy that may rank with the military in its famous ineptitude at matching the right person to the right job. Hence, Ballantine’s greatest success in terms of recognition, came for playing the part of “Gruber” on the sit-com Mchale’s Navy (1962-66), a fairly anonymous role that really anyone might have played. And he had a large number of guest shots on other sit-coms and tv dramas. He continued performing until 1977, and passed away in 2009.

Here is the great man in the prime of his hilarity. How do we know he is a comedy magician? Because it would take an actual magician to animate Peter Graves:

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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