Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Allan Melvin (1923 - 2008)

The versatile voice is silent, the immediately recognizable face is gone - - but of course his work will be with us for a long time to come.

I just heard about the passing of voice/character actor Allan Melvin.
It occurred a couple of weeks back; he was 84.

For a long time Melvin was one of those great working actors who seemed to show up everywhere - - well, providing that 'everywhere' means on TV.

The sound of his voice in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons was varied but distinctive.
'Magilla Gorilla' was one of his few 'starring' voice roles - - more often than not his versatility made him perfect to cover any number of one-off incidental characters.

Flipping around the TV dial, he'd show up in regular 'second banana' or supporting roles, but it was always amusing to see him do return appearances on sitcoms as different characters.

He could be on Andy Griffith's show as an FBI man one week, be back a different week as a criminal, appear on The Dick Van Dyke show as an old army buddy, and then be hawking 'Liquid Plumr' in the TV ads you saw during the same shows in syndicated reruns.

- See Allan Melvin's credits at IMDb

Following a stretch in the US Navy during WWII, Allan Melvin worked in sound effects at NBC radio, had a nightclub act, and was a winning entrant on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts radio program.

His acting debut on Broadway was in the original stage production of 'Stalag 17', which began its run in 1951.

It was this appearance that won him his
co-starring role as Sgt. Bilko's crony, Cpl. Henshaw on 'The Phil Silvers Show' in 1955.

(Corporal Barbella, Bilko's other right-hand man, played by Harvey Lembeck, was also 'drafted' from the Broadway cast of 'Stalag 17'.)

Melvin remained busy on TV for many years after that (though he only had one film appearance in his entire career).

Many guest appearances on various shows in the 1960's and '70's followed, as well as the regular and semi-regular gigs...
Sgt. Carter's rival, Sgt. Hacker on 'Gomer Pyle'...

Sam the butcher on 'The Brady Bunch'...

Archie's drinking buddy Barney Hefner on both 'All In The Family' and it's wretched '80's
spin-off, 'Archie Bunker's Place'...

... and concurrent with much of the
on-camera appearances was his voice-over work, most notably with Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters.
(Melvin was the announcer's voice on
'The Banana Splits' show, as well as the voice of Drooper!)

By the mid-1980's he was doing voice work exclusively, and had retired from show business altogether by the mid-1990's.

See also:
- Allan Melvin's obituary from
The Los Angeles Times

- A rememberance posted at Mark Evanier's News From Me. (scroll down the page)

Below: From YouTube, a Bilko Show TV clip featuring Cpl. Henshaw displaying his talent for voice impressions. ⬇

I dug through some old kiddie records and found some cuts from an oddly repackaged box set of Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters telling children's stories.

I've posted a couple of tracks from that 1970's collection below, both of them featuring Allan Melvin performing nearly all of the vocal parts.

The original albums had appeared in the 1960's, with familiar characters telling slightly warped or updated versions of fairy tales and such. This '70's collection seems to have remixed and retooled some of those recordings in an occasionally awkward (or cheap) manner.

An interesting note is the role of Yogi Bear being played on the record by *Melvin*, rather than by the customary Daws Butler.

Was Daws not available that day? Some contractual thing? Who knows.
It's interesting how close Melvin comes in his mimicry, all in the midst of rattling off other characters.

Likewise, it sounds to me like the briefly heard voice of Ogee on the Magilla cut may perhaps be voiced by Janet Waldo ('Judy Jetson') rather than Jean Vander Pyl ('Wilma Flintstone'), as heard in the cartoons.

I can't quite identify the slightly disturbing rendition of Boo-Boo Bear heard here, but they get an 'A' for the effort of catching the qualities if not the sound.

It also sounds like whoever was assembling the stock underscore music cues and sound effects was either having a bit of fun or late for lunch. (I won't comment on Yogi's mention of a 'one-eyed giant'.)

From the LP set
'Fred Flintstone Presents All-Time Favorite Children's Stories and Songs'
(196?, reissued by Columbia Special Products, 1977),
Listen to Allan Melvin performing:

Magilla Gorilla tells the story of Alice In Wonderland

(click for audio)

Yogi Bear tells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk

(click for audio)

(It looks like soundfiles of the original '60's versions of both the Magilla and Yogi tracks may be available at the Children's Records & More blog, which is where I found the cover scans.)


Larry said...

I'm amazed that an actor with a face as ubiquitous as his only made a single film!

Lex10 said...

He hassled the SHIT out of Howard Sprague and Barney Fife!

Kenn said...

All of these iconic actors from my childhhod are dying. I'm getting OLD!

erik hogstrom said...

I can't believe I missed this news. Sam the Butcher?!?!
Gosh. He will be missed. He seemed to be in *EVERYTHING* on TV when I was a kid.

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