Orson Bean, a frequently popular guest of game shows and talk shows alike from the 1960s to the 1970s, and who still regularly acted in sitcoms and commercials into his 90s, died suddenly Friday night after being hit by cars in Venice, Calif. Bean was 91.
Born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22, 1928, in Burlington, Vermont, he was a distant cousin of President Calvin Coolidge who nevertheless grew up with his immediate family during the Great Depression.
He took up magic and stand-up comedy following military service in World War II, and eventually came upon the stage name Orson Bean while serving as the house comic at The Blue Angel in New York City during the 1950s. “I tried Orson Bean, putting together a pompous first name and a silly second name,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014. “I got laughs, so I decided to keep it. Orson Welles himself came into the Blue Angel one night, summoned me to his table. I sat down. He looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘You stole my name!’ And he meant it. Then he dismissed me with a wave of his hand.”
Bean got blacklisted briefly during the 1950s, but eventually found work again by the 1960s, becoming a popular fixture on game shows from To Tell the Truth, Password, Super Password, Match Game and others, as well as a frequent guest on The Tonight Show for both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.
He starred in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, and also received a Tony nomination in 1962 for his supporting role in the production, “Subways Are for Sleeping.”
Over the decades, Bean kept working, kept booking gigs. He voiced Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in the 1977 and 1980 animated adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. He appeared on soap operas, dramas and sitcoms.
He moved to Venice, Calif., in 1984, and married three times over the years, finally settling down in 1993 with the actress Alley Mills (who co-starred on The Wonder Years, and met Bean while portraying his love interest on an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman).
You can see below Bean’s memorable role on the big screen in Being John Malkovich.
And even into his 80s and 90s, sitcoms came calling for guest-starring roles in Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, Hot In Cleveland, Modern Family, Teachers, Superstore, and into this year on Grace and Frankie.
Even in 2016, he put on a full one-man show, full of jokes.
Rest in Peace, Orson. He will be missed.