Parley Baer (1914-2002) [Comanche Territory (1950); Last of the Dogmen (1995)] was born Parley Edward Baer in Salt Lake City, Utah and became a hefty balding character actor of mostly comedy hijinks who, during his six-decade career, proved a durable, hot-headed foil for TV's top sitcom stars such as Lucille Ball, Ozzie Nelson and on The Andy Griffith Show as Mayor Roy Stoner replacing Dick Elliott (Mayor Pike) who died in December of the second season. Earlier he had played "Chester" on the Gunsmoke radio series which ran from 1952 to 1961 (Dennis Weaver played the Chester role in the Gunsmoke TV series). Baer was the voice of Ernie Keebler on the Keebler cookies commercials. Served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific theater in World War II, earning seven battle stars and a presidential citation. Attained rank of captain.
Conrad Bain (1923- ) [A Lovely Way to Die (1968); Postcards from the Edge (1990)] was born Conrad Stafford Bain in Lethbridge, Alberta. He is a Canadian-American television actor, best known for his tv roles of Dr. Arthur Harmon in Maude (1972-1978) and Phillip Drummond in Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1986). He enjoyed typically Canadian sports growing up (ice hockey, speed skating), but picked up an interest in acting while in high school, electing to train at Alberta's Banff School of Fine Arts after graduating. He subsequently joined the Canadian Army during World War II, then proceeded to pick up from where he left off following his discharge and study at New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Marrying Monica Marjorie Sloane, an artist, in 1945, the actor became a naturalized U.S. citizen the following year. The couple went on to have three children.
Martin Balsam (1914-1996) was an American character actor. He studied dramatics at the New School in New York City and then served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1947 he was selected by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg to be a player in the Actors' Studio television program and went on to appear in a number of television plays in the 1950s and returned frequently to television as a guest star on numerous dramas. Balsam appeared in such film as On the Waterfront (1954); as Juror #1 in 12 Angry Men (1957); Psycho (1960); as the police chief in Cape Fear (1962); Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961); Seven Days in May (1964); Catch-22 (1970); and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). In 1967 he won a Tony Award for his appearance in the 1967 Broadway production of You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running.
Tony Bennett (1926- ) [The Oscar (1966); Christmas Dream (2000, TV)] was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in the Astoria section of Queens in New York City. His father was a grocer and his mother a seamstress. By age 10 the young Benedetto was already singing, performing at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. He attended New York's High School of Industrial Arts where he studied music and painting (an interest he would always return to as an adult), but dropped out at age 16 to help support his family. He then set his sights on a professional singing career. This was interrupted when Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army in 1944 during World War II. He served in a combat position in the 63rd Infantry Division in France and Germany, until some remarks he made against racial segregation led to his being reassigned. Subsequently he sang with the Army military band and studied music at Heidelberg University.
John Beradino (1917-1996) [The Kid from Cleveland (1949); Seven Thieves (1960)] was born in Los Angeles. He was a major league baseball player from 1939 to 1953, except for three years of military service in WW II (1942-1945). He played second base and shortstop for the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Pittsburgh Pirates. His team, the Indians, won the World Series in 1948. After injuring his leg in 1953, he retired from baseball and returned to acting. He had appeared in his first film in 1948, The Winner's Circle. After appearing in more than a dozen B-movies, as well as the espionage series I Led Three Lives (1953-1956), he was offered the role of Dr. Steve Hardy on the soap opera General Hospital. He played the role from the show's inception in 1963 until his death.
Tommy Bond (1926-2005) was born Thomas Ross Bond in Dallas, Texas, and is forever etched in our minds as the bully with the protruding lip who gave beloved Alfalfa plenty of angst in the "Our Gang" serial shorts. He was actually a gentle, benign soul off the set. He was discovered by a Hal Roach talent scout at the age of five simply walking hand-in-hand down a Dallas street with his mother. Asked to interview in Hollywood, Tommy made the exhausting Depression-era trek by car with his grandmother and was not disappointed. Tommy served in the Army during World War II and found "B" feature work with Man from Frisco (1944), which was one of his best roles, The Beautiful Cheat (1945) and Big Town Scandal (1948), among others. Another highlight of his career was playing cub reporter Jimmy Olson in the Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) cliffhangers that starred Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill.
Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012) [Marty (1955); Bad Day At Black Rock (1955); The Dirty Dozen (1967)]. Joined the United States Navy in 1935 after high school. He was discharged in 1941, but re-enlisted when the U.S. entered WW II and served until 1945 reaching the rank of Gunner's Mate 1st Class. His military decorations include the American Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, and the World War II Victory Medal. In 2004, Borgnine received the honorary rank of Chief Petty Officer from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Terry D. Scott -- the U.S. Navy's highest ranking enlisted sailor at the time -- for Borgnine's support of the Navy and Navy families worldwide. Borgnine died July 8, 2012, of renal failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Tom Bosley (1927-2010) [The World of Henry Orient (1964); Divorce American Style (1967)] is an American actor. Bosley was born in Chicago, Illinois and during World War II he served in the U.S. Navy. While attending DePaul University in Chicago in 1947, he made his stage debut in Our Town with the Canterbury Players at the Fine Arts Theatre. His breakthrough stage part was as New York's Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the long-running Broadway musical Fiorello! (1959) for which he won a Tony Award. He is best known as Ritchie Cunningham's father, Howard, in the long running sitcom "Happy Days" (1974-1984) and he also portrayed the titular Father Frank Dowling on the TV mystery series, "Father Dowling Mysteries" (1989-1991).
Neville Brand (1920-1992) joined the US Army in 1939, meaning to make a career in the military. According to official military records, Brand was the recipient of the Silver Star for gallantry in combat. His other awards and decorations are the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European/ African/ Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three Battle Stars, one Overseas Service Bar, one Service Stripe, and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. It was while he was in the Army that he made his acting debut, in Army training films, and this experience apparently changed the direction of his life. Once a civilian again, he used his GI Bill education assistance to study drama with the American Theater Wing and then appeared in several Broadway plays. His first movie was D.O.A. (1950). Among his earliest films was the Oscar-winning Stalag 17 (1953). His heavy features and gravelly voice made Brand a natural tough guy. He played Al Capone in The George Raft Story (1961), The Scarface Mob (1959 TV), and TV's The Untouchables (1959). Among his other memorable roles are the sympathetic guard in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and the representative of rioting convicts in Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954).
Walter Brennan (1894-1974) [The Long, Long Trail (1929); Sergeant York (1941); Smoke in the Wind (1975)]. In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films and the only actor to date to win three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying engineering. While in school he became interested in acting and performed in school plays. Brennan enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 22 to serve in World War I. He served in an artillery unit and although he got through the war without being wounded, his exposure to poison gas ruined his vocal chords, leaving him with the high-pitched voice texture that made him a natural for old man roles while still in his thirties. He was too old to serve in World War II.
Charles Bronson (1921-2003) [The Great Escape (1963); Death Wish (1974)]. Joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 and served as an aircraft gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam. He also served on Tinian and Saipan. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.
Mel Brooks (1926- ) [Comedian, actor, producer and director, i.e, Blazing Saddles (1974)] served in the U.S. Army in WW II as a combat engineer and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. His main job was to deactivate land mines.
Robert Brubaker (1916-2010) [The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955); The Bus Is Coming (1971)] is the son of George Brubaker and descendant of Jonas Sparks, a friend of frontiersman Daniel Boone. Born in Robinson, IL, Brubaker was acting in NYC when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The show quickly closed and he returned to Hollywood in early 1942 where he subsequently volunteered for the US Army Air Force and became a pilot. He was an instructor and then an aircraft commander in B-24's. His group was selected to go overseas twice but never got past San Francisco before orders were canceled. He ended the war at Gowen Field in Boise, ID, and was discharged in Dec., 1945. He returned to Hollywood, but not for long. In 1949 he was recalled to active duty for the Berlin Airlift and flew 130 missions. Back home, he was greeted by Gen. Curtis LeMay, Commanding General of the Strategic Air Command, who promptly drafted him and his bomber experience for SAC. As a B-29 pilot for his second Air Force tour he was assigned to the Korean War for 9 months and flew nearly 100 missions over North Korea. After Korea and his release from SAC, he returned to Hollywood and his movie career.
Raymond Burr (1917-1993) [Sleep, My Love (1948); Rear Window (1954)] was born Raymond William Stacy Burr in New Westminster, British Columbia. Burr spent most of his early life travelling. While still young, his father moved his family to China, while the elder Burr worked as a trade agent. When the family returned to Canada, Raymond's parents divorced; his mother then took him to Vallejo, California, where she raised him with the aid of his grandparents. As he got older, Burr began to take jobs to support his mother, younger sister and younger brother. He took jobs as a ranch hand in Roswell, New Mexico; as a deputy sheriff; a photo salesman; and even as a singer in night clubs. In World War II, Burr served in the Navy. When in Okinawa, he was shot in the stomach and sent home. Soon after Burr made his film debut in San Quentin (1946). From there, he went on to act in more than 90 films before landing the role of defense attorney, Perry Mason, in the series of the same name (1957-1966). Then, in 1993, in a battle with cancer dating back to his days on Perry Mason, he died at his ranch home.
Richard Burton (1925-1984) [The Longest Day (1962); Where Eagles Dare (1968)] was born Richard Jenkins, the son of a Welsh coal miner. He received a scholarship to Oxford University to study acting and made his first stage appearance in the early 1940s. During World War II, he was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford in 1944 to take the "University Short Course" for six months as a Royal Air Force cadet. He served until 1947.
Red Buttons (1919-2006) [Sayonara (1957); The Longest Day (1962) ] went to work in burlesque in 1939 and in 1941 Jose Ferrer asked Buttons to appear in Vicki, Buttons' first Broadway show. In 1942, Buttons appeared in Wine, Women and Song, the last burlesque show in New York City. In 1943, while serving in the Army Air Corp., Buttons was chosen for a role in Moss Hart's Broadway show Winged Victory and then in the motion picture of the same name for Darryl Zanuck with George Cukor directing. During World War II, Buttons joined Mickey Rooney in France and entertained the troops all through the European Theater of Operations.
...more next week...