Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #6: Remembering Gale Gordon

Today we salute a man without whom many of the funniest folks on TV would have been a lot less funny.  The wonderfully talented character actor Gale Gordon (born Feb. 20, 1906) passed away on this date in 1995 at the age of 89.  Gordon had been working in show business (beginning in radio drama) since his early twenties and by his late twenties he was the highest paid actor on the air, making his mark on such iconic series as Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Jungle Jim and others.  His comedic expertise was unleashed when he became a recurring character on the immensely popular Fibber McGee and Molly program, and he later went on to create the role of Mr. Conklin in the original radio version of Our Miss Brooks.

Gordon followed Our Miss Brooks to TV when it debuted in 1952, but previous to that migration he co-starred on the radio comedy program My Favorite Wife starring a popular redheaded actress named Lucille Ball.  They became fast friends and favorite colleagues, a relationship that would yield comic gold several years later. In addition to his four years on Our Miss Brooks, Gale Gordon became the go-to guy when movie or TV producers looked for a seasoned pro who provided solid comic back-up under any circumstances.  His credits are too numerous to detail here, but Gordon remained busy on big screens in movies such as Visit to a Small Planet and on TV series like Make Room for Daddy, Pete and Gladys, and The Donna Reed Show, to name but a few.  Gordon was actually the first choice to play Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy but he was starring in Our Miss Brooks and could not accept the role. Gordon also appeared in the feature film version of Our Miss Brooks in 1956.

Boomer kids will remember Gale Gordon on Dennis the Menace as the second Mr. Wilson when he stepped in to replace actor Joseph Kearns -- playing his brother -- after Kearns passed away.  Gordon joined the show in 1962 and stayed with it until its cancellation in the Spring of 1963.  At that point Gordon was free to join his old friend Lucille Ball in the second season of The Lucy Show which had premiered in the Fall of 1962.  The character of Theodore J. Mooney, Lucy's boss at the bank, was tailor-made for Gordon and he and Ball played off each other like clockwork.  In addition to his trademark vocal delivery, Gale Gordon was also an adept physical comedian whose blend of skills became an integral part of the weekly hilarity of The Lucy Show.

The Lucy Show ended in Spring of 1968 when Desilu Studios broke up, but Lucille Ball continued in series TV with ostensibly a different show (but essentially a clone) called Here's Lucy which started in Fall of 1968.  Gale Gordon joined the cast as Lucy's boss and brother-in-law, co-starring with Lucy and her two real-life children Lucie and Desi Jr. for six seasons, ending in 1974.  When Lucille Ball once again was lured back to network TV in 1986 for the short-lived Life with Lucy, Gale Gordon came out of near-retirement to assist his longtime colleague with her last TV series which lasted only half a season. The legendary Lucille Ball passed away on April 26, 1989.

The multi-talented Gale Gordon died after a long life on his beloved ranch in Borrego Springs, California on June 30, 1995, leaving behind his wife Virginia who had been with him for almost 60 years.  Be sure to check out the extensive The Gale Gordon Archive available at this link by clicking here. There are lots of The Lucy Show episodes available right now on YouTube, as well as many other examples of Gale Gordon's tremendous talent.  His contributions to TV comedy will never be forgotten.

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