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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

If you read through posts on this site it will quickly become obvious that I love character actors and actresses. As of late, I’ve taken to recording birthdays of thespians, musicians, comedians, etc. to salute here on this site, on my Sinatra and Company Facebook page, and on my weekly radio show. Today is a jackpot day with AT LEAST five wonderful character actors who were all born on this day.

PAUL FIX: Paul Fix is one of those guys whose face is more familiar than his name. In fact, with the possible exception of just one of the March 13th celebrants, this is true for all of the actors we’ll salute today. Fix became a fixture (pardon the pun) in Western films and TV shows starting back in the earliest days of talking films. His IMDB list well over 300 credits! And while IMDB may not always be the most reliable source, it usually errs on the side of not having all of an actor’s credits as opposed to listing more than the actor deserves. Fix was probably best known for his role of Marshall Micah Torrance on the series The Rifleman, (1958-1963) with Chuck Connors. According to IMDB, he was also a friend of John Wayne’s which seems likely since he appeared in well over 15 films with the Duke. It’s undeniable that he always seemed to show up in the wild west as a man of respect – judge, doctor, or sheriff. However, as you look through his incredible list of credits you’ll note that he also crops up in films that are far from the old west, particularly in the first half of his career: After the Thin Man (1936), Black Friday (1940), The Ghost Breakers (1940), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), and The Bad Seed (1956). Still don’t know who he is? You will once you see his face. Paul Fix was born March 13, 1901.

 

FRANK WILCOX: Next up for our birthday salute is Frank Wilcox. He is another character actor with an amazing list of credits numbering in the 300s! Like Fix, Wilcox was known for primarily respectable characters like judges, doctors, bankers, and big businessmen. However, he could also play the occasional bad guy, usually one who was a shyster of sorts or perhaps just a little unethical. Wilcox was also adept at comedy. He made numerous appearances on both The Jack Benny Program (1954-1963) and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1953-1957). For Baby-Boomers like myself, he’s probably best remembered as Mr. Brewster from The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1966). He played a rather sophisticated oil man who indulged the Clampetts as best he could because Jed had a hell of a lot of oil! I haven’t seen a Beverly Hillbillies episode in quite a while but I seem to remember that Jed’s sister played by Bea Benaderet (aka Betty Rubble) always “had a thing” for Mr. Brewster. Like Fix, Wilcox had a long film career before becoming a staple on television. He appeared in such films as They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Across the Pacific (1942), Cass Timberlane (1947), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also showed up over a half dozen times as a judge on Perry Mason (1957 – 1966). Frank Wilcox was born on March 13, 1907.

 

PAUL STEWART: This may be my favorite of the actors celebrating March 13th birthdays. Paul Stewart had a long and distinguished career. He began on radio as a member of Orson Welles Mercury Theater Players and was involved in the famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast. He made his featured film debut in Citizen Kane (1941). He went on to a long career in films and television usually playing a dark, sinister character of some sort or another. More often than not, he portrayed gangsters or members of a crime syndicate. He was a prolific artist with a deep, mysterious voice that no doubt explains his success on radio. In researching this little tribute, I learned that in the 1950s and 1960s, Stewart tried his hand at directing. He worked as a director on  episodes of M Squad, Michael Shayne, and Checkmate. He even helmed an episode of The Twilight Zone, “Little Girl Lost” (S3, Ep.26). I recently caught Stewart on an episode of Perry Mason. When I tend to think of Paul Stewart, I think of a Rockford Files episode from 1977 entitled “Irving the Explainer.” Rockford Files was a favorite show of mine as a kid so perhaps that explains why I think of that role first when I think of Stewart. As I remember it, the character was multi-dimensional – he was a good guy who’d done some bad things. I can tell you this – very little, if anything, Paul Stewart ever did on radio, films or TV was anything but top-notch. Paul Stewart was born on March 13, 1908.

 

PETER BRECK: I have two words for Peter Breck – “Nick Barkley.” Hands down, if you recognize Peter Breck, you recognize him as Barbara Stanwyck’s #2 son, Nick Barkley, on the popular series Big Valley (1965-1969). He also appeared in a long-forgotten frontier series called Black Saddle (1959-1960). The series was cancelled after two seasons but it got him a contract at Warner Brothers which led to his appearance in a number of TV series shot at the studio during the 1960s including Maverick starring James Garner. Breck turned up throughout the series as the legendary Doc Holiday. Again, in reading about Breck today I learned that he grew up in my hometown of Rochester, New York and attended John Marshall High School. Peter Breck was born on March 13, 1929.

 

LESLIE PARRISH: Ms. Parrish is the only one of our celebrants who is still with us. She turns 82 today. She was a familiar presence on TV during the 1960s with roles in such popular shows as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and The Wild, Wild West. She may have logged fewer appearances in feature films than television but the roles she landed were memorable. She was Daisy Mae in the 1959 feature L’il Abner and she co-starred with Vic Morrow and fellow March 13th birthday pal Peter Breck in Portrait of a Mobster, (1961). However, her most important film may have been The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where she played ill-fated Senator Jordan’s (played by John McGiver) daughter Jocelyn. She was also married for 20 years to Richard Bach, author of the ’70s bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Leslie Parrish was born on March 13, 1935.

Happy Birthday to all the above thespians. I thank them for lifetimes full of entertainment!

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