“To your FBI you look for national security, and to your Equitable Society for financial security—those two great institutions are dedicated to the protection of you, your home and your country!” So intoned the announcer at the end of many a broadcast of This is Your FBI—a man born on this date 114 years ago in St. Paul, Minnesota…and a man who never dreamed he’d one day play straight man to one of show business’ best-known straight men…or to a talking horse, for that matter.
From 1948 to 1853, Larry Keating shilled for the Equitable Life Assurance Company on the only radio program about the FBI that received the tacit endorsement from the Head Fed himself, J. Edgar Hoover. Announcing was a good career for Larry, having worked for NBC since the 1940s (but moving to the American Broadcasting Company for FBI) but he also dabbled in acting, becoming a recognizable character player in films like Whirlpool (1949), Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), Mister 880 (1950), Right Cross (1950), Francis Goes to the Races (1951—foreshadowing that whole talking animal thing), When Worlds Collide (1951), Come Fill the Cup (1951), Monkey Business (1952), Above and Beyond (1952) and A Lion Is in the Streets (1953). One of his best film showcases is as the millionaire tycoon who takes a shine to Thelma Ritter’s Ellen McNulty in the underrated screwball comedy The Mating Season (1951).
But television is where Keating really made his mark; he was tabbed by George Burns in 1953 to play the part of the Burns’ next-door neighbor Harry Morton (after Hal March, John Brown and Fred Clark had all taken a whack at it) on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and Larry’s playing up of Harry’s oversized ego (with vocabulary to match) was the perfect counterpoint to wife Blanche’s (Bea Benaderet) withering sarcasm. (Keating also played Morton on The George Burns Show, a short-lived sitcom that followed Burns and Allen’s departure after eight seasons on CBS.) When Burns invested in a sitcom about a chatty equine named Mister Ed, Keating won a role on that show, too—playing a Harry Morton-like neighbor named Roger Addison (his wife, Kay Addison, was played by Edna Skinner). But Keating’s untimely demise from leukemia on August 26, 1963 resulted in Ed and his master, Wilbur Post, getting new neighbors in Gordon and Winnie Kirkwood (Leon Ames, Florence MacMichael)…and the show just wasn’t the same after that. Happy natal anniversary to a fine character actor who to this day can still make me laugh.