Wednesday, November 4, 2009

R.I.P, Carl Ballantine

From Mark Evanier comes the sobering news that actor/comedian Carl Ballantine has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 92. Born Meyer Kessler in Chicago on September 17, 1917, he would achieve prominence in show business circles as the inept “The Amazing Ballantine” (also known as “Ballantine the Great”); a magician who played it strictly for laughs. (Ballantine actually had serious intentions when he first got into the business of legerdemain, but decided to pursue a career in comedy when he realized he didn’t have what it took to compete with his peers.)

When not practicing feats of magic, Ballantine made a name for himself as an actor on some of television’s best-remembered comedy programs; among his appearances: Car 54, Where are You?, That Girl, The Monkees, Laredo, Mayberry R.F.D., I Dream of Jeannie, The Partridge Family, Alice, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo and Night Court. He also popped up in bit parts in films like Speedway (1968), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The World's Greatest Lover (1977), The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) and Just You and Me, Kid (1979). In addition to all this, he provided voices on cartoon series like Garfield and Friends and Freakazoid!

But his television immortality has probably been cemented thanks to his role as torpedo man Lester Gruber, one of the many hucksters and swindlers who served under the command of Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine) on the classic WW2 sitcom McHale’s Navy. The series remains popular today thanks to its rerun exposure on RTV (the Atlanta affiliate runs it at 11:30am weekdays) and Hulu, and all four seasons of the show are available on DVD from Shout! Factory. Ballantine reprised his role of Gruber in the 1964 movie version of the TV series but did not appear in the 1965 follow-up, McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force.

R.I.P, Carl. Thanks for making me laugh.

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hobbyfan said...

Thanks for the info, Ivan. Carl Ballantine was one of the unsung heroes of "McHale's Navy", IMPO.

I'm not sure how many of the core cast are still with us. I can only think of three: Ernest Borgnine, Tim Conway, & Bob Hastings. Not sure about the rest, though I do know that Carl has joined Joe Flynn at the Motor Pool of the Heavens.

Andrew Leal said...

I always enjoyed Ballantine's distinctive face and voice, even before I knew his name (when he'd pop up unbilled or randomly, like in Boy Did I Get a Wrong Number). The Christmas episode of Car 54 was especially neat, since Carl got to do his magic act (while in character as Toody's brother-in-law Al).

That Freakazoid episode is great, a Gargoyles spoof called Lawn Gnomes, with a fine voice cast: Carl Ballantine, Rose Marie, Clive Revill, the late Roscoe Lee Browne, and Larry Gelman!

Anonymous said...

I remember Carl decrying the idiocy of movie casting directors who could only concieve of him playing roles where he "throws things".I'm glad the TV people were more broad-minded!