"A Bilko show could be funny 50 years from now, funny is funny. It's as simple as that." Allan Melvin
Allan John Melvin was born in Kansas City, Missouri on 18 February 1923. His proud parents were Marie and Richard Melvin.
His father, worked as a film salesman for Fox Film Association.
As a kid, Allan had a man he worshipped, his Uncle Arthur. He was a salesman, usually decked out in spats, straw hat and wax-like moustache. Arthur would revel in telling young Allan tales of the outside world - dressing them up in his own inimitable way. Allan would run about for his Uncle’s whiskey to put him in the right story-telling mood.
Later Allan would say this about his beloved Uncle: "I thought if I could grow up and be just like Uncle Arthur I would be a happy man. But I found something better – ensemble comedy. And I found it through association. You’re supposed to push in this field. I got lucky, I met the right people."
Allan upped sticks and moved to New York with his family when he was in his early teens. Later they would move again this time to New Jersey. From a very early age, Allan enjoyed using his voice in amusing ways and making funny faces.
His forays into show business were put on hold to see how he liked college. He attended Columbia University, but after a few years he decided that this wasn't for him.
During World War II, he served in the United States Navy........helping to build DE's at the Port Newark Shipyard in New Jersey. From here he then went on to sell wire recorders. For a while he became an usher. He learned to do voices and he practiced doing impressions of all kinds of people and things.
Some College acting friends, Frank Campanella, Thomas McDermott and a young actress called Amalia Sestero had started a theatrical group, The Unicorn Players........... Frank invited Allan to one of their meetings.................the die was cast...Allan and Amalia started dating, fell in love and in March of 1944, they wed in New York City.
15th October 1946: Allan's now outstanding voice impressions got him noticed in other areas ...........leading to him winning Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts radio show. This was a variety show which ran on CBS from the year Allan won, 1946 until 1958. The concept for the show was that Godfrey had several "talent scouts" who brought their discoveries onto the programme to showcase their talents. The winner of each show was determined by a meter which judged the audience's applause.
From this triumph, Allan got a spot on the Godfrey radio show for a week or two. This led to the entertainment industry calling for Allan's services. He did sound effects for NBC for a while -- things like when a guy opens and shuts a door etc. He had made a good friend in the British comedian, Peter Donald who helped him get a good feel of the business. Mr Donald became instrumental in opening doors for Allan. He was still a freshman att NBC when he got the call to work on Chaplain Jim (originally a World War II morale boosting show) with John Lund as the man of the cloth. All the effects for the programme were recorded by the sound department on a sunday morning and usually just a skeleton crew was involved as the show was very light in sound.
But one time when Allan went in he picked up the script to find it loaded with effects......shells firing, airplanes zooming in, the works. In a panic, Allan thought he'd never complete the enormous tasks that were left for him alone to perform. He hooked the studio turntables up and got all the records spotted but just as the show was going on air, in his nervousness, he hit the music stand and the script flew all over the floor. The director saw what was happening - he rushed in and saw how much of a tizz Allan was in. He said, "Watch me" - then he proceeded to gesticulate with his hands. He did a machine gun and then he went ''whoooooo' with his hands. Then Allan, who by now had finally recovered a bit of composure, did a bomb and flew with the planes. The director did the whole number with Allan trying to keep pace with him because he couldn't recover the pages. It all worked out okay, although Mr Melvin was like a dishrag after this escapade!!
He then got a job on ABC radio that was better paid than his effects work. This was when he had a lot of fun, playing a villainous killer called Rat, in many of the shows featuring Tennessee Jed.
Here, Johnny Thomas starred as Tennessee Jed Sloan, a singing and yodeling agent of President Grant. In this rooting-tooting serial set in the old American Wild-West.
Tennessee Jed Dalton Tells The Rat To Kill Tennessee
Allan really enjoyed the radio scene, but when he met Richard Condon, of Manchurian Candidate fame, his career kind of turned around.
Richard and Allan became great friends, he wrote a nightclub stand-up act for Allan. Then, Richard arranged an audition for Allan with Barney Josephson the owner of the Cafe Society in New York. Barney liked what he heard and saw and gave Allan a three month contract on the same bill as NellieLutcher and Rose Murphy.
He was billed as The Man With a Thousand Voices. Richard Condon, also penned an early children’s record for Allan to incorporate into his act. After this Allan took the act to other nightclubs around town
It was his nightclub act that led the producers of Stalag 17 to offer him the role of Reed in their new Broadway show. Here they tweaked the part as to get maximum use of Allan’s background and act.
8th May 1951: After months of rehearsals Stalag 17 opened at the 48th Street Theatre, New York.
Curiously, Harvey Lembeck, another character actor, was also appearing in this stage drama as Harry Shapiro...... a few years later Harvey and Allan would team up again to play Sergeant Bilko's henchmen, Rocco Barbella and Steve Henshaw.
While a prison camp was a grim setting for a comedy, Stalag 17 spared no effort in exploring the humour that may have lurked in both language and the actions of captured American GIs during World War II.
The play was like reliving two and a half hours of life in a German prisoner-of-war camp. The humour and drama was shocking……just as it was in real life. The drama was so well presented that it made it hard to believe that the entire cast wasn’t flown direct from Colditz or some other German prison camp. Every situation, not matter how miserable, produced its funny and morale-boosting side. This is what made America so great during the war…..always able to laugh when their spirits should have been broken.
Allan earned commendations, from the highest critics, for his performances as Reed, the typical American GI, who was always entertaining the rest of the gang with his impersonations, amusing all.
The stage drama ran for 472 performances playing to record audiences up until 21st June 1952. Director José Ferrer won the 1952 Tony Award® for Best Director. For the next year or so, Allan and the New York Company, would go on a national tour with the play. As well as some newcomers, many of the featured players of the Broadway show continued their roles. These included John Ericson, George Tobias, Laurence Hugo, Lothar Rewalt, Edward Platt, Jerry Jarrett, Robert Lansing, William Pierson, Robinson Stone, Otto Simanek, Victor Sordan, Richard Cleary, Edward Stroll, Glenn Dicus, Jess Cain, Michael Everett, Jason Robards, Edwin Strome, Vincent Donahue, and Curt Lowens. Allan’s great pal, Richard Condon, was the associate producer.
Allan with co-stars, George Tobias and Richard Cleary
Allan then returned to New York City to continue his radio and comedy club work, and then he began appearing on some Television shows.
1954-55: First up was a spot on a soap opera...........the show in question was Valiant Lady. This was the dramatic story of Helen Emerson, a fortyish matron who was widowed in the series first season, and her subsequent attempts to raise her three children.
Allan said this about his role on the show: "I didn't do much Live TV. I did just a soap opera called Valiant Lady for about a year. It was a lot of hard work. You had to go home and learn all that stuff every day, because there were no teleprompters. It was a lot of dialogue every day. Larry Webber and I were airline pilots and he had the main thrust one day and then I had it the next, so it got a little confusing at times, and we would inter-relate, I guess you could say. But you'd manage to get through, It's just that you would go far afield of the script occasionally.
And they primarily were interested in getting off on time. (That) was the main goal of the producer and director, and regardless of what you said, if you wound it up and got back on track by thetime it was 28 minutes 30 seconds, they'd come out and say, "Great show, wonderful!"
And you don't even remember anything that occurred, and they didn't, obviously, either. But it got off on time. And that was the main memory that I had of that ....... that I was glad it was over with, and I got into the Bilko show after that."
When he played Reed in the Broadway play Stalag 17 his comedic talents had come to the attention of none other than, Phil Silvers. The great Vaudeville comic made a mental note of the performances given by Mr Melvin, especially the different voices he had managed to hone to perfection.
1955: Phil and master comedy creator, Nat Hiken cast Allan as Corporal Steve Henshaw in their new comedy show You'll Never Get Rich (later to become known as The Phil Silvers Show and informally Bilko).
Henshaw, was one of the devoted right-hand men, alongside Corporal Rocco Barbella, to the scheming Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko.
While Ernie Bilko, head of the motor pool at the fictional Fort Baxter US Army camp in Kansas, was pursuing his scams and get-rich-quick schemes, Henshaw and Corporal Rocco Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) would loyally help him with his ruses. One, in the show called Operation Love, famously involved Henshaw impersonating the Hollywood stars Clark Gable, Cary Grant and James Stewart on the telephone.
In another memorable show, Where There's a Will, his talents could be heard doing a superb parody of Humphrey Bogart.
Humphrey Bogart impression
If any voice was needed Allan was the man for the job, be it as a public announcer, race commentator or any Hollywood icon.
Throughout the four-year run of the Bilko show, Allan was a formidable supporting actor to the former burlesque comedian Phil Silvers. In America, the programme knocked the legendary Milton Berle Show off its top spot in the ratings, won eight Emmy Awards and, to the surprise of many, ended when it was still getting great ratings in 1959. After over 140 episodes, the CBS network saw the potential in continuing to syndicate the show profitably without having to pay out the salaries to the large cast.
"Bilko was a wonderful experience........we kibitzed around a lot and had a lot of fun. One thing that pops into my mind is the show that we used the monkey on (The Court-Martial). We were having lunch that afternoon before we went up to rehearsal, Phil and Harvey and I, and we went up to the hall and there was Nat (Hiken) sitting there and the monkey was skating around on little roller skates and there was no one else in the hall. Phil and Harvey and I walked in and we stood there for a minute and Phil looked and he said, "Say, Nat, I don't want to interrupt anything, but who is that?" And Nat says, "Oh, hi Phil, that's your co-star for this week." He says, "No kidding?" Then he says, "Come on fellas," and we turned around and we walked right out, back down to Lindy's again. And he says, "I'm not going up and work with any monkey!" But it turned out to be one of the funniest shows we did. The show brought us instant fame; we were the talk of the town there for the next four or five years. It was a lot of fun and you felt that you had arrived when the people did recognize you, and it was sort of euphoric in that sense. And then out of that you felt that, well, you're on your way now and that bigger and better things will evolve, which they ultimately did.....well, not bigger and better, maybe, but there was a lot of work that ensued after that." Allan Melvin
Very wisely he saw the bigger picture and he knew that in order to survive in the world of showbiz he would have to move his family to the hub of television, Los Angeles. So Allan, Amalia and their two daughters Amalia and Jennifer made the move to the west coast of the United States.
1961: One of his first acting roles was as Rob Petrie's Army friend Sol Pomeratz on The Dick Van Dyke Show. A part he would continue to play for quite a number of years up until 1966. Allan later said this about his experiences on this show, "Oh, it was marvellous, exhilarating. It was so well written and conceived and the working conditions were so great, working with Carl Reiner and Dick and Mary and the whole crowd. And it was just a joy because it was a very creative show. It was an early kind of a watershed ensemble comedy show and I was very fortunate to get involved with it through Aaron Ruben, who directed a lot of the Phil Silvers stuff. When he came out here, he had me come out and then I did Andy Griffith’s and Bill Dana’s show, and there was a whole flock of them on one little lot."
He also appeared as hard guy, Orlov on Route 66 in the episode called Incident on a Bridge. Of this show Allan said, "I did Route 66 in Cleveland. I played a Russian worker in a gravel pit and was in love with this young girl and it was a big dramatic thing. I had a fight with another actor and we fell off the big high rig up there. It was a novelty for me to do something like this, I found it much more difficult to do than comedy, because you don’t really loosen up in the role. It’s hard to explain but maybe it’s counter to my whole personality. So I found that I needed a little more humour and a little more relaxation in the role. It seemed kind of constricting to work that way – not as much fun, I guess is what it really boils down to. After this I didn’t want to do any more dramatic roles. I think it probably is one of the most difficult roles I’ve played, because it was really something I had to work hard at, it was more demanding for me."
Then came his Alec Guinness moment.
Between 1962 and 1967, he would play eight different parts, a la the great Mr Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, on The Andy Griffith Show.
These were as Clarence (Doc) Malloy in Jailbreak as Detective Bardoli Andy And Barney In The Big City as Neal in Lawman Barney as Jake in Barney's First Car as the recruiting sergeant in Ernest T. Bass Joins The Army as the escaped prisoner in Andy's Vacation as Fred Plummer in Barney's Uniform and as Clyde Plaunt in Howard's Main Event.
Allan recalled his time on this show: "I didn't really play that many heavies in my career, but I was always a heavy on Andy. It seemed like I was on it more than I was. As far as any specific memories about working on The Andy Griffith Show, I don't really have any favourite anecdotes. I say the words, take the money and pop off home. I always enjoyed doing that show. We had a lot of fun doing it. They were a great bunch. Andy and I hit it off right away, and between Aaron and Andy, I never for a moment felt like anew kid on the block."
The Aaron, quoted by Allan, was Aaron Ruben, the man who staged the Bilko show after Nat Hiken had departed. Aaron was in charge of The Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1965, he produced and also wrote and directed some of the episodes of this CBS smash hit.
Allan was the voices of the tyrannical Sergeant Snorkle and the timid GI, Zero in a series of five animated cartoons based around the, Mort Walker created, comic strip Beetle Bailey - these were called Home Sweet Swampy, Hero’s Reward, Pyschological Testing, A Tree is a Tree? and Et Tu Otto.
1963: Beetle Bailey (voiced by Howard Morris) gets top billing with his own cartoon series Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey – taking Allan as Sergeant Snorkle with him. Allan even co-wrote some of the shows himself; including Bye Bye Young Lovers and Tatoo-Tootsie Goodbye.
For more than 50 years the laziest private in the Army had won the daily attention of millions of faithful comic strip readers and kept them in stitches. Beetle Bailey the Private who'd rather drop and nap than drop and do twenty is the wise-cracking joker of the most famous Army camp, Camp Swampy. Where befuddled General Halftrack still hasn t heard from the Pentagon, grumbling Sergeant Snorkle (Allan) has never had a date, Beetle hasn't washed his socks and Cooke still makes those high-bouncing meatballs.
Including the five from 1962, Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey ran for 50 shows from until August 9, 1964.
Also in 1963, Allan made these appearances: As Dr Benjamin Wells in an episode of Empire called The Loner - On Dr Kildare as Linko in an episode called Jail Ward - Then he met up with his old Bilko show friend, Billy Sands......when making an appearance on the hit comedy, McHales Navy....this time playing the role of Brad Devery in A Wreath for McHale.
Allan then turned up in the offbeat comedy show, Grindl as Dr. Millbank. His performance was in the show entitled Grindl, Impractical Nurse.
The Flintstones came calling for Allan on thirteen occasions between 1963 and 1966. He made his Flintstones debut on the small screen in Glue for Two which was first broadcast on Halloween Night, 1963.
The episodes were:
Season 4, Episode 7: Glue for Two aired 31 October 1963 Voices: H. Quartz / Jane / Cop / Cat / Bird / Doc
Season 4, Episode 9: Old Lady Betty aired 14 November 1963 Voices: Stony / Sergeant / Elephant
Season 4, Episode 14: Peek-a-Boo Camera aired 19 December 1963 Voices: H. Quartz / Owner / Sportscaster / Sleuth / Doorman / 1st Buffalo
Season 5, Episode 2: Monster Fred aired 24 September 1964 Voice: Dr Len Frankenstone
Season 5, Episode 5: Bedrock Rodeo Round-Up aired 15 October 1964 Voice: Bony Hurdle
Season 5, Episode 21: Sheriff for a Day aired 5 February 1965 Voices: Mr. Nate Slate / Hoss Cartrock / Sheriff Craig
Season 5, Episode 23: The Rolls Rock Caper aired 19 February 1965 Voices: Boudler / First Thug / Pig
Season 5, Episode 24: Superstone aired 26 February 1965 Voices: Superstone / Bugsy / Bartender / Sergeant
Season 6, Episode 5: Circus Business aired 15 October 1965 Voices: Mailman / Head #1 / Tom / Thin Man / Prospector
Season 6, Episode 11: The Masquerade Party aired 26 November 1965 Voices: Additional voices
Season 6, Episode 12: Shinrock-A-Go-Go aired 3 December 1965 Voices: Additional voices
Season 6, Episode 13: Royal Rubble aired 10 December 1965 Voices: Additional voices
Season 6, Episode 21: Boss for a Day aired 25 February 1966 Voices: Additional voices
Between 1963 & 1966 Allan didn't quite make legal history by appearing three times on the court drama, Perry Mason playing characters called; Bert Kannon, Thomas Link and Carl Jasper. Not once was he put up before the beak for impersonating someone else.
Also between 1964 & 1966 he appeared a few times as Clarence O'Hara in the hit television show, My Favorite Martian.
1964: Between this year and 1965, he appeared in several installments of the last season of the hugely popular Joey Bishop Show. This year also saw him have a recurring role as Officer Johnson in the immensely successful Danny Thomas Show, Make Room for Daddy. Then he made a few appearances on The Bill Dana Show in the episodes called Jose, the Flower Thief and Jose's Hot Dog Caper (The Bill Dana Show was an NBC spinoff of Make Room for Daddy).
After this he went on to put in a shift on Kill the Dream, But Spare the Dreamer - this was an episode of the gritty, but realistic, hospital drama, Ben Casey.
The now world famous animation duo of Hanna and Barbera, had already used Allan as a bit part voice extra on their hugely successful The Flintstones cartoon, but better things lay ahead for Mr Melvin.
Allan, of course started in show business as a mimic.......he had a talent for doing voices and cartoons just fell into line with this. He had heard about casting for a new cartoon show. So with huge enthusiasm, he went over to Hanna-Barbera Studios and read for Joe Barbera. Allan was delighted to meet him because Joe was the "head cheese" of the esteemed animated studio. The pair got chatting and Joe gave Allan a copy of a new cartoon script.........which Allan promptly read to him. Mr Barbera seemed well pleased and Allan got the job voicing the title role on the NEW cartoon, The Magilla Gorilla Show. That's the way it happened simple as that!
Allan originated the Magilla voice. A drawing of Magilla with bow tie, hat, short pants and suspenders was made. The short pants being a little bit bigger than the body - like a clown would wear at a circus. The overall image of Magilla with his outfit and attitude seemed to suggest a somewhat bouncing guy ready for anything coming down the pyke. That was the image that Allan managed to reflect in the voice of the gorilla.
Magilla spent his time languishing in the front display window of Mr. Peebles' pet store, eating bananas and generally running down the businessman's finances. Mr. Peebles dropped the price of Magilla considerably, but he was only ever purchased for a short time, typically by some thieves who needed the gorilla to break into a bank or by an ad company looking for a mascot for their new product. The customers always ended up returning the cartoon gorilla, forcing Mr. Peebles to hand back their money.
Their was only one customer who was ever truly interested in getting the accident-prone simian for good........that person was a little girl called Ogee (pronounced Oh Gee), who regrettably never had enough cash.
Accompanying Magilla were segments of Punkin' Puss (also voiced by Allan) and Mush Mouth. A countrified cat and mouse who could not stop feuding, the title characters were reminiscent of the earlier The Hillbilly Bears.
The last segment was Ricochet Rabbit, a sheriff who kept the peace with the help of his deputy Droopalong Coyote. The lawman got his name from his habit of bouncing off of different objects while chasing bad guys.
Magilla Gorilla / Punkin' Puss - Allan
Mr. Peebles / Breezly / Mushmouse - Howard Morris
Ogee - Jean VanderPyl
Ricochet Rabbit - Don Messick
Sneezly / Droop-a-Long Coyote - Mel Blanc
Colonel Fusby - John Stephenson
After the huge success of this gorilla series - Allan was obviously destined to become a big name in the world of voice-overs. Helped, of course, by his huge range of voice mimickry and the clearness of his speech.
1965: Firstly the fantasy comedy show, Barnaby (aka Barnaby and Mr O'Malley) came calling for his services. This was an unsold television pilot show based around the World War II cartoon characters of Crockett Johnson. Then the critically acclaimed drama, Slattery's People claimed Allan for one of their shows. This was called He Who Has Ears, Let Him Bug Somebody Else.......in this serious political drama Allan played the role of Charles X. Braddock.
Between 1965 and 1968, Allan continued his association with producer Aaron Ruben when he once again put on a uniform this time as Sergeant Charlie Hacker, Sergeant Carter's nemesis in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. This show was a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show. Jim Nabors played a bumbling US Army private who always infuriated his Drill Sergeant.
Of his scenes with actor Frank Sutton (Sergeant Carter) Allan said this, "Oh, he was an excellent guy. He was a very capable actor and a dedicated actor and a dynamic guy. I mean, he could pump himself up, which he had to do regularly as the Sarge on there, and he brought it off, it was really a demanding role. We had a lot of fun together; I had known Frank in New York, so we had laughs together on the show."
Allan did some work on The Secret Squirrel Show providing the voice for The Thinker in the cartoon called Pussycat Man. He was then screen tested for the role of Harry Wallace (left) on the new NBC/Warner Bros television series, Hank - and duly got the part - this show was about a young man who disguises himself to drop into college. He wished to pursue a college degree. Born of poverty, and an orphan, Hank doesn't let that get in his way as he desperately tried to pursue that degree.
During 1966: Allan was one of numerous well-known voices in an animated special of Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? Here he was the voice of Alice's father, and Humphrey Dumpty.
Sammy Davis, Jr. sings as the Cheshire Cat
Alice in Wonderland, the wondrous children's fantasy classic by Lewis Carroll, was presented as an hour-long, fully animated musical special.
Some of literature's most loveable characters were voiced by major stars of stage, screen and television. The talented young actress Janet Waldo lent her tones to the role of Alice..........she was also the voice behind the teenager Judy on the popular cartoon show The Jetsons.
Guest celebrities who also provided voices for this special included Bill Dana (White Knight), entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. (Cheshire Cat), Howard Morris (White Rabbit), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Queen of Hearts ), Hedda Hopper (Hedda Hatter), Don Messick (Fluff / Dormouse), Daws Butler (King of Hearts) and comic, Harvey Korman (Mad Hatter). Special guest stars were Fred Flintstone (Alan Reed) and Barney Rubble (Mel Blanc) who played the front and rear ends of the Blue Caterpillar. Adapted for TV by Bill Dana with music by Lee Adams and Charles "Buddy" Strouse.
Next up for Allan was a TV appearance on Run Buddy Run playing a character called Marty Mason. This show was basically concerned with how the title character, Buddy Overstreet, eluded the mob each week. Surely this was loosely based on The Fugitive. But, instead of Doctor Richard Kimble running from Inspector Gerard to clear himself of his wife's murder, Buddy (Jack Sheldon) was running from mobsters. Interestingly, this show was produced by none other than ex Bilko writer Leonard Stern.
Suddenly, Allan found himself Lost in Space or to be more precise appearing on the Irwin Allen created space fantasy. Set in the year 1997, Professor John Robinson, his wife Maureen, their children (Judy, Penny and Will) and Major Don West are selected to go to the third planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, to establish a new human colony. Allan played Claudius the Space Enforcer in the episode called West of Mars - and he also provided the voice of the Gambling Machine in Curse of Cousin Smith.
West of Mars review: It was bound to happen: Two forms of TV entertainment, the western and science fiction, were joined here for one rapturous hour. Zeno the Superswift, the fastest gun in the galaxy, turned up on the planet eluding justice. As he looked the same as Dr Smith, he forced Smith to change identities with him. Poor Smith was then hauled off to the cooler by Claudius the Space Enforcer (Allan). Zeno was not as convincing as he was back on Jupiter 2, because his speech or habits weren't the same as Dr Smith's.
Claudius the Space Enforcer