Sunday, May 15, 2016

10 Wonderful William Schallert Moments: a Comfort TV Tribute

The recent passing of William Schallert is a poignant reminder that our living links to the original classic TV era have dwindled down to a precious few. 

The Internet Movie Database lists 375 acting credits for Mr. Schallert, the preponderance of which were for television. His first TV appearance was in the 1951 anthology series Family Theater; his final bow came 63 years later, as an elevator operator on Two Broke Girls.

In between he appeared on more Comfort TV shows than any actor. That is a testimony to talent, certainly, but also to versatility and professionalism, and a work ethic once viewed as conventional that now seems almost heroic. For those of us who treasure this time in the medium’s history, he was always a welcome presence in any role.

Here are ten memorable moments from a stellar career.  

“Do You Trust Your Daughter?”
The Patty Duke Show
William Schallert’s most prominent Comfort TV role was Martin Lane, editor of the New York Chronicle and father to precocious Patty Lane.

The Patty Duke Show aired for three seasons, and next to Duke’s virtuosity in a dual role, one of its greatest joys is the loving relationship between Patty and her “Poppo.” “Do You Trust Your Daughter?” opens a rift between them that reminds us how great comedy shows could also produce potent dramatic moments. When Martin realizes he had mistakenly accused Patty of lying, he expresses his mea culpa through an oddly beautiful 19th century song called “Keemo-Kimo.” Schallert’s tender performance and Duke’s emotional reaction makes for one of those scenes that justify the love we share for television classics. 

Goodbye, Mr. Pomfritt, Hello, Mr. Chips”
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
Schallert appeared in 24 Dobie Gillis episodes as teacher Leander Pomfritt, who tenders his resignation in this season-two show, admitting he cannot support his family on a teacher’s salary (some things never change). Dobie and Maynard host a testimonial dinner in his honor, and invite as many of his former students as they can find. Of course Maynard fails to mail the invitations, but the event still rekindles Pomfritt’s calling to the classroom.

“A Word a Day”
The Dick Van Dyke Show
William Schallert received the second biggest front door laugh in the history of this series (the first belongs to Greg Morris in “That’s My Boy??”).  In “A Word a Day,” a distressed Rob and Laura are concerned over their son Ritchie’s sudden use of profanity, and wonder where he is picking up such language. Suspicion falls on a new boy in the neighborhood. Rob invites the boy’s parents over to see what kind of people would allow their kid to corrupt a nice neighborhood. When he opens the front door there’s William Schallert – played Reverend Kirk.

 “A Man Called Smart, Part Two”
Get Smart
This classic three-part story introduced Schallert as 91 year-old Admiral Hargrade, the original leader of CONTROL. As a clumsy, addled senior in the style of Arte Johnson’s Tyrone Horneigh character on Laugh-In, this was broader comedy that Schallert usually tackled. But as always he settles right into the tone of the show and creates another memorable character, whose hobbies include “chess, and burying old buddies.” 

“The Lady Plays Her Hand”
Bat Masterson
We should have at least one of Schallert’s western credits on this list, as he appeared on many of the best shows from the genre’s heyday (Wanted: Dead of Alive, Lawman, Maverick, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke). Here, he plays George Winston, an eastern gambler who breaks the bank at Bat’s casino – though Masterson suspects Winston’s “system” had some inside help.

“The Trouble with Tribbles”
Star Trek
One of the series’ most popular episodes features William Schallert as a bureaucrat ready to haul Captain Kirk before a Board of Inquiry after a grain shipment is devoured by the Tribbles invading the Enterprise. Schallert played a lot of these button-down company men, but rarely amidst such bizarre circumstances. 

“Quiet Sam”
The Andy Griffith Show
Could someone actually be growing marijuana in Sheriff Andy’s town? That’s what Deputy Barney Fife believes as he investigates Sam Becker (Schallert), a newly arrived farmer who prefers to keep to himself. Given his body of work it is probable Schallert played a pothead at some point, but the reasons for his character’s reticence here have nothing to do with trying to mellow out Mayberry.

“Samantha’s Curious Cravings”
There were several mentions of Samantha’s obstetrician, Dr. Anton, during her pregnancy with Tabitha, but the character was never seen. We finally meet him before Adam is born, giving William Schallert yet another classic TV credit. This is one of the better late-season episodes of the series, as Anton finds himself at odds with Sam’s other family physician, Dr. Bombay. 

“Fathers and Sons”
Room 222
Having played so many warm and caring dads, it can be disturbing at first to see Schallert as Dr. Charles Garrett, a belligerent, conservative father yelling at his impressionable son, who is drawn to the more progressive outlook of history teacher Pete Dixon. Garrett tries to get Dixon fired, but ultimately takes a more encouraging approach to the generation gap issue.  

“The Red Woodloe Story”
The Partridge Family
While attending church, the Partridges are surprised to hear a performance from Red Woodloe (Schallert), a once-promising folk singer who disappeared from the spotlight decades earlier. They urge him to attempt a comeback, but Red has issues with commitment…and stage fright. If you liked Schallert’s singing on The Patty Duke Show, you’ll enjoy a lot more of it here. 

For those interested in even more of William Schallert’s work, here are ten additional credits that are also worth a look:

“Lucy and the Little League”
The Lucy Show

“The Case of the Sulky Girl”
Perry Mason

“All Mothers Worry”
The Donna Reed Show

“The Clones”
Land of the Giants

“Keep the Faith, Baby”
The Mod Squad

“The Night of Winged Terror, Parts 1 & 2”
The Wild, Wild West

“The Travelling Man”
The Waltons

“The Mystery of Pirate’s Cove"
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries

Police Story

“Family Ties”
St. Elsewhere

Godspeed, Mr. Schallert. While many of us are still mourning the loss of Patty Duke, it does help to know that she was there to welcome her Poppo home. 


  1. A lovely tribute to a wonderful actor who created a huge and important career through always excellent work in all genres. Maybe he's the example of a perfect character actor...? Of course I fell in love with him as Poppo and he was one of the best TV dads of all time, Such a presence for all of us who love TV. Thanks for the great choices for viewing among all the choices in his truly amazing credit list.

  2. William Schallert played Roger Wainwright, father of Julia Wainwright (Nancy Lee Grahn), on "Santa Barbara." He also did TV spots for Globe Life, one of which had him bring up his vintage Ford Mustang. May he rest in peace.

  3. Loved him as Carson Drew on the Hardy boys Nancy Drew Mysteries 77-78.

  4. Terrific piece, David. By pure luck, we watched "The Lady Plays Her Hand" on Bat Masterson last Thursday - what are the odds? Not just a reliable actor, but he always cast such a warm presence. Which makes his appearance on "The Trouble With Tribbles" even funnier.

  5. Here's to the great William Schallert. What a wonderful actor he was.

    BTW, the actress who played the reverend's wife, Mrs. Kirk, in that Dick Van Dyke episode was the real-life Mrs. Schallert, Leah Waggner. She passed away last year at the age of 88.

  6. This was an awesome tribute to one of the great TV (and film) supporting actors. So glad you included the “A Man Called Smart" episode from GET SMART. He was hilarious in that one!

  7. I appreciate all of the comments. Mr. Schallert certainly left a remarkable legacy behind, that will endure as long as people care about quality television.

  8. In addition to his superb acting—he didn’t appear to be acting. Regardless of the role he made it appear so relaxed and real!—he sang and played the guitar like he performed regularly. He had amazing vocal range in the songs he performed on the Partridge Family and sure didn’t look like he was pretending when he accompanied himself on the folk songs. It seemed clear the guitar was a close friend he played often. Just the way he held it was so natural and comfortable. If that was just acting it shows just how good he was!