Most nights, I go downstairs to workout…maybe it’s more of an opportunity to unwind. But I get on my elliptical bike and ride for about 35 minutes. Since I’m stationary, there’s not much scenery to take in, so I have a TV in front of me to watch while I ride. My choice of programming? Old TV shows on DVD.
For Christmas a couple of years ago, my daughter gave me the complete “Wanted: Dead or Alive” series on DVD, an old western from the late 1950’s starring a very young Steve McQueen. It took me awhile, but I watched all 96 episodes. Now I’m entrenched in season 5 of the classic “Andy Griffith Show”, one of my all-time favorites. At the end of every show that I watch, I love to watch the credits to see if I recognize any famous names that may have been landing TV roles on their way to stardom. Most nights, the names are random, nobody I’ve heard of.
I always wonder about those people…the kind of actors that made a career out of performing in TV shows, hoping to get a break that never came. Last night’s Andy Griffith episode featured a guy named Arthur Bantanides, who played the role of an escaped convict. He did a pretty good job, but it was hardly memorable. So when I got upstairs, I got online and tried to learn what I could about Arthur Bantanides.
According to Internet Movie Database, he was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1922, and died in Los Angeles in 2000. His last role was in one of the Police Academy movies in 1987. The IMDB entry also included just about every television show produced throughout the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s: Star Trek, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, McCloud, Wonder Woman, Happy Days…you name it, Arthur Bantanides was in it, at least for one episode. From what I could tell, he never had a starring role, and never won an Emmy or Academy Award. One would think that Arthur spent three decades just waiting for the phone to ring and travelling to auditions.
There are a ton of people like Arthur Bantanides, some who are a little more recognizable…names like Alan Melvin, who also did a ton of TV shows, but is probably best remembered as Sam the butcher, Alice’s boyfriend on the Brady Bunch. And let’s not forget Jesse White, whose film and TV roles eventually landed him the gig as the lonely Maytag repairman from 1968 to 1989, a job that reportedly earned him several hundred thousand dollars a year.
Some of these TV actors eventually return to the stage, in travelling productions or in dinner theatres. When they come to a town like Bloomington-Normal, they always stop at the local radio station for an interview, and that’s where I met quite a few of them: Ken Berry from F-Troop and Mayberry RFD, Robert Reed and Barry Williams from the Brady Bunch, Don Most, who portrayed Ralph Malph in Happy Days, and Bernie Kopell, most famous as Doc from The Love Boat.
Most of these actors knew who they were and where they had been, and seemed ok with it. But I have to say that my most memorable meeting was Larry Linville, the guy that everyone loved to hate…Frank Burns from M*A*S*H*. I met him twice, once when he was lecturing at colleges across the country, and again when he was doing dinner theatre. Although it hadn’t been that long since he had left M*A*S*H*, he seemed to have aged quite a bit, with thinning white hair and a large waistline. He talked like he was still pretty active in Hollywood and was a great name dropper (in one sitting, he referred to his friends “Marty” Sheen and “Bobby” Duvall). And he smoked…a lot.
I have to admit, I felt kind of bad for him. He still trying to talk the talk and walk the walk, although he was forever type-cast as Frank Burns. He died a short time after our second meeting, in 2000 at the age of 60. His entry on IMDB is much like that of Arthur Bantanides, one TV role after another.
For anyone who has ever wanted to make it in Hollywood, keep this in mind…for every George Clooney, there are probably a hundred Larry Linvilles.