Ken Berry

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Ken Berry
BornKenneth Ronald Berry
(1933-11-03) November 3, 1933 (age 78)
Moline, Illinois
United States
Occupationactor, dancer, singer
Years active1954–present
Spouse(s)Jackie Joseph (1960-77)
 
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Ken Berry
BornKenneth Ronald Berry
(1933-11-03) November 3, 1933 (age 78)
Moline, Illinois
United States
Occupationactor, dancer, singer
Years active1954–present
Spouse(s)Jackie Joseph (1960-77)

Ken Berry (born November 3, 1933) is an American actor, dancer and singer.

As a "triple threat" (dancer/actor/singer), Berry has had success in multiple television shows, one being with his friend and mentor, Andy Griffith. Berry starred in the successful comedies F-Troop, The Andy Griffith Show spin-off Mayberry RFD, and The Carol Burnett Show spin-off Mama's Family. He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Review, has headlined as George M Cohan in the musical George M and provided comic relief for the medical drama Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the 1960s.

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Early life and career

Berry was born in Moline, Illinois, one of two children to accountant Darrell and his wife, Bernice. His older sister, Dona Rae, rounded out the family. He is of Swedish-English decent.

Berry realized he wanted to be a dancer and singer at the age of 12, as he watched a kids’ dance performance during a school assembly. He dreamed of starring in movie musicals and would go to the movie theater to see Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in some of his favorite of their films including Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, On the Town and Summer Stock.[1]

After seeing a school performance, Berry immediately started tap dance class and, at age 15, won a local talent competition sponsored by radio and television big band leader Horace Heidt. Heidt asked Berry to join his traveling performance ensemble, "The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program", which was a popular touring group. Berry's parents drove him to Los Angeles to live with the rest of the troupe at the Horace Height ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He toured the U.S. and parts of Europe for 15 months with the program, dancing and singing for the public and at post-World War II Air Force bases overseas. Berry made lasting relationships with several of his co-cast members and Horace's son, Horace Heidt Jr., who later launched a big band and radio career.[1]

After finishing the tour with Horace Heidt, Berry returned to Moline and he and a friend converted an old grocery store into a dance studio where he taught dance. Thinking that teaching dance could be his profession, Berry taught for about a year before deciding to refocus on his own performance career.

This is the Army

A few months after high school graduation Berry's family drove him back to Los Angeles so that he could pursue acting. But before doing so, at age 20, Berry volunteered for induction into the army and he was assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

His first year in the Army was spent in the Artillery division, and one day, after coming back from maneuvers, his sergeant announced a talent contest on base. The winner would get to go to New York City to appear on Arlene Francis' Soldier Parade. Berry, who always carried his tap shoes with him, went to the only place that had a floor he wouldn’t ruin by dancing on it: the latrine. He worked out a routine and a few hours later won the contest. He headed to NYC for a week and his television debut.

Berry's second and final year was as a part of the Special Services Corp., under the command of Sergeant Leonard Nimoy, who would go on to become a legend himself as Star Trek's Mr. Spock. As a part of Special Services, he toured the country's Army bases and officers clubs entertaining the troops, as well as visiting colleges for recruiting purposes. Soon another talent competition was held, this time it was the All Army Talent Competition, to find service personnel to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town (which later evolved into The Ed Sullivan Show). Berry placed 3rd in the "Specialty Act" category with the song "There’ll Be Some Changes Made" and was on his way back to NYC and television.

Film career

The Sullivan show appearance was to take place shortly before Berry would muster out of the Army, and although he thought it presumptuous to write the Hollywood studios asking them to watch his performance on Toast of the Town, Nimoy didn’t, and sent telegrams to several studios and talent agents asking them to watch Berry on the show. They tuned in and Ken's performance led to an offer from Twentieth Century Fox and a screen test at Universal Studios prior to his arrival back in Hollywood. He signed with an agent as soon as he arrived in town.

Berry accepted Universal's offer and began as a contract player. Soon he was being groomed to take over for Donald O'Connor in the Francis the Talking Mule movie series; however Mickey Rooney became available and got the part. While at Universal Berry took full advantage of the studio's talent development program and later, under the GI Bill, he took jazz, ballet, vocal and additional acting classes.

Unfortunately, the movie musicals Berry dreamed of being in had already seen their heyday by the time he reached Hollywood. Little did he know that acting, which he once thought of as "something I would do between song and dance routines",[1] would become the basis of his career.

Berry went on to star in the 1969 musical comedy Hello Down There (reissued as Sub a Dub Dub) as Mel Cheever, the nemesis to Tony Randall and Janet Leigh, and with Denver Pyle in 1976's in Guardian of the Wilderness, the story of Galen Clark, the man who created Yosemite National Park. Berry also earned broader success as a Disney star in the films Herbie Rides Again in 1974 with Helen Hayes and Stefanie Powers, and The Cat From Outer Space in 1978 with Sandy Duncan and McLean Stevenson.

Las Vegas

In 1956, after being released from Universal, Berry returned to Las Vegas where he opened for and joined Abbott & Costello in their stage act, doing sketches and song & dance routines at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. While working with Abbott & Costello, he met Dee Arlen, an actress whom he credits with getting him his first big break from which almost all of his other opportunities would come.[1] This was Berry's first performance on the Las Vegas strip .

Then, in 1957, Berry was asked by Ken Murray, a well-known vaudeville performer, to join his stage variety show called "The Ken Murray Blackouts". The Blackouts played to standing room only audiences, and Berry was asked to choreograph and perform the opening number for the show when it played the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Berry eventually returned to Las Vegas again in the 1970s at the invitation of Andy Griffith. Griffith, along with Berry and Jerry Van Dyke played Caesars Palace, where Berry performed song and dance numbers sandwiched by Andy and Jerry's stand-up routines.

The Billy Barnes Review

Actress Dee Arlen referred Berry for a role in the show In League with Ivy at the Cabaret Concert Theatre, a nightclub in Los Angeles. This show was where he met famed composer–impresario Billy Barnes who was the play's composer. Barnes would bring Berry into The Billy Barnes Review ensemble, his next break, and he would perform in many of Barnes’ shows in the coming years.

While performing with Barnes, Berry worked with other performers that included Berry's future wife, Jackie Joseph, as well as Joyce Jameson, Bert Convy, Patti Regan, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Lennie Weinrib, and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers. Several cast albums were made.

In November 1959, the original cast of the Broadway show was replaced two weeks after a legal dispute with the producers over a canceled performance. The cast had missed their flight from Chicago after a promotional appearance on Playboy's Penthouse and refunds had to be made to the ticket holders. Berry was out of work and headed back to Los Angeles to find employment.

He performed in several stage shows in Los Angeles, singing, dancing and delivering a few lines. The press dubbed him "another Fred Astaire" and "the next Gene Kelly". His talent was also compared to that of Flamenco Dancer José Greco, legend Donald O'Connor, Ray Bolger and Jack Donohue.[2]

Television career

Arthur Godfrey

From 1946 to 1958, Arthur Godfrey had an evening television show called Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The show was a talent contest, and the winner would get a week's work on Godfrey's morning TV show, which was simulcast on radio. In 1957 Berry won, performed his week on the show and was then asked back for six more weeks. He traveled with Godfrey and performed on remote broadcasts in an Omaha stock yard, in Seattle at a lumber camp and at the Boeing aircraft plant and at the San Diego Zoo. Berry was responsible for coming up with a new routine for every show, which were aired daily.[1]

Carol Burnett

Ken Berry and Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress in 1972

The Billy Barnes Review was popular with Hollywood and one evening Carol Burnett was in Los Angeles and saw Berry in the show. She was appearing on The Garry Moore Show in New York and convinced the producers to sign Berry as a guest star. Burnett became a key ally for Berry, using him on her own special, which eventually became The Carol Burnett Show. Ken was one of Burnett's most frequent guest stars along with Jim Nabors and Steve Lawrence.[3]

A notable dramatic performance by Berry was 1982's Eunice special, which was based on The Carol Burnett Show sketch, The Family. The Family was somewhat of a pilot for Mama's Family. Berry played Phillip, Eunice's brother in the special; however he went on to play Vinton, a different brother on Mama's Family.

His collaborations with Carol Burnett continued, and they appeared together in the 1972 CBS television special Once Upon A Mattress (twice, once in black and white and once in color), and in the 1993 Long Beach theatrical production of the From the Top.

Lucille Ball

Berry's tenure with The Billy Barnes Review also led to another important connection in his career when he was spotted by Lucille Ball. Ball quickly asked him to join her new talent development program she was starting at Desilu, similar to the "talent pools" (known as talent "programs") that the other studios had. He was under contract with Desilu for six months, performing for both Lucy and Billy at the same time. The reviews for The Billy Barnes Review were largely positive, and additional investors contributed the extra money needed to move the show from the York Playhouse to Broadway,[4] which meant he had to take leave from Desilu.

After returning from New York in 1960, Berry was brought back to Desilu to play Woody, a bell hop, on The Ann Sothern Show which was set in a swank New York hotel. The character was the show's 'Greek chorus of one, setting up the premise of the hotel guests at the beginning of each episode.

Later, in 1968, Ball asked Berry to guest star on The Lucy Show, where he played a bank client needing a loan to start a dance studio. Ken performed a tribute to the classic Fred Astaire number "One for My Baby" and duet with Ball for a rendition of "Lucy's Back in Town".

Additional television roles

After numerous smaller roles, Berry was eventually cast as one of three comic relief characters on Dr. Kildare, from 1961-1966. A regular on the series, Berry played Dr. Kapish.

F–Troop and Mayberry RFD

Ken Berry, Andy Griffith and Buddy Foster in Mayberry RFD 1968

Berry continued doing guest roles and thought that he would at least be able to make a career as a day player, but while doing a small part on the short-lived George Burns - Connie Stevens sitcom Wendy & Me, both Burns and Stevens recommended him for the pilot of F-Troop for ABC, a western spoof where he played the accident-prone but lovable Captain Parmenter.

His first weekly role starring in a sitcom, Berry "danced around the house for weeks".[1] Berry's co-stars were Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, both well-known performers. Berry called his time on F-Troop as "2 years of recess"[1] as the entire cast spent time between takes trying to make each other laugh. His grace and agility allowed him to perform choreographed pratfalls over hitching posts, sabers, and trash cans as the accident-prone Captain Parmenter. He was noted for his dancing agility in one particular episode of the western, in which he walks down a boardwalk witlessly avoiding 13 hazards.

In 1967, during the second year of F-Troop, Dick Linke – who was Berry's Manager (he also managed Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors) – pitched an F-Troop stage show to Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah's Entertainment which included a casino and hotel in Reno, Nevada. Harrah went for it and Berry, Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker and James Hampton put together a show, hiring writers and a choreographer to assist.

It was while performing the Reno show that they received word that F-Troop had been canceled due to a production/studio financial dispute.

The next year Berry was cast in a guest star role on The Andy Griffith Show as Sam Jones, a widowed farmer. The role was his introduction to Mayberry and he would take over the lead role once Griffith left the show. In 1968 Ken led the cast (most of the regulars stayed) of the newly titled Mayberry RFD.

While many[who?] thought that the show would die a quick death once Andy Griffith left, the continuity with Griffith's previous show kept the ratings high. Series writers used his "trouper" talents in stories around church revues and talent contests. On the 1970 Mayberry RFD episode "The Charity", he and co-star Paul Hartman did a soft shoe dance together. Berry would sometimes end a show on the porch at dusk, serenading others with such songs as "Carolina Moon".[citation needed]

In spite of finishing in 15th place for the year, Mayberry RFD was canceled in 1971 in what was called "the rural purge", where shows set in a bucolic locale (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction) were replaced with the more hip fare of Norman Lear (All In The Family) and other modern shows like the The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

After Mayberry RFD, Berry went on to star in several TV Movies of the Week and his own summer replacement variety show on ABC called The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show in 1972, which ran for 5 episodes. This show was an opportunity for future stars Steve Martin, Cheryl Ladd and Teri Garr. The show was not picked up, however Berry kept busy.

Later television

In 1973 Sherwood Schwartz wrote a Brady Bunch spin-off called Kelly's Kids, which featured Berry as the adoptive father of three diverse boys (black, white and Asian). The pilot failed to interest ABC, but the concept was revived later in Diff'rent Strokes and Webster.[citation needed]

Over the next two decades Berry constantly guest starred on many other shows throughout his career including The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, The Dick Van Dyke Show, several of Mitzi Gaynor's specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, CHiPS and The Golden Girls.

Mama's Family

In 1983 Berry was cast as Vinton Harper in Mama's Family, a spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show. This was an opportunity to work with successful comic-actors including the versatile Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Beverly Archer during the 6 seasons of the show. Mama's Family aired on NBC from 1983 – 1984 and in repeats until 1985. It was then picked up for first-run syndication from 1986 – 1990. The complete run totaled 130 episodes.

During and after Mama's Family, Berry toured the US in various theatrical performances which included multiple performances of Sugar with co-stars such as Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Soupy Sales and Bobby Morse, The Music Man with Susan Watson (Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi were in the chorus), I Do! I Do! with Loretta Swit, and Gene Kelly's A Salute to Broadway with Howard Keel, and Mimi Hines. Kelly, Berry's idol, was to direct the production, but fell ill.[1]

Commercials

In his younger years, Berry signed with a modeling agency that put him in a variety of spots, including advertisements for tissues, cigarettes, cereal and a car commercial.[1]

Years later, after signing with a commercial agent, Berry was a spokesman in commercials for Kinney Shoes from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, singing and dancing to the "Great American Shoe Store" jingle.

Record albums

Berry's first recording experience came with the Billy Barnes’ cast albums, one from the Broadway performance of The Billy Barnes Review and the second in Billy Barnes’ L.A.

Then, in after an appearance on The Andy Williams Show, Williams asked Berry to record a solo album on his new Barnaby label. Backed by a full orchestra, Ken Berry RFD was released in 1970.

Personal life

Berry married Jackie Joseph, a Billy Barnes cast mate (also famous as "Audrey" in the original Roger Corman cult hit The Little Shop of Horrors), on May 29, 1960. They eventually adopted two children (John and Jennifer). They divorced in 1976.

Berry has "loved cars and anything with wheels" since he was a young child, particularly smaller cars, and maintains a 1966 Mini Moke. An avid motorcyclist, he would camp and ride the local Los Angeles mountain ranges to relax.[1]

Credits

List of television series credits
YearTitleRoleNotes
1961-1966Dr KildareDr. Kapish
1964-1965No Time for SergeantsJoe Dalrymple
1965-1967F TroopCaptain Parmenter
1968-1971Mayberry RFDSam Jones
1968-1978The Carol Burnett ShowHimself
1970The Art Linkletter ShowHimself
1972Ken Berry 'WOW ShowHimself
1983-1990Mama's FamilyVinton Harper
List of other television appearances
YearTitleRoleNotes
1954Talent PatrolHimself
1959Playboy's PenthouseHimselfWith The Billy Barnes Review cast
1960Harrigan and SonHimselfAs Curtis Decker
1960The Ann Sothern ShowWoody
1961HenneseyEnsign Mayberry
1961The Asphalt JungleDoctor (uncredited)
1961The Garry Moore ShowHimself
1962GE True TheaterFiancé
1962The Bob Newhart Showvarious
1962The Gertrude Berg ShowOscar
1962-1963Ensign O'TooleLt. Melton / Calucci
1963Burke's LawClyde (fella at party)
1964Calhoun: County AgentOtis Sorenson
1964Combat!Motor Sergeant
1964The Dick Van Dyke ShowTony Daniels
1964HazelPhil Merrick
1964The Rogues
1964-196512 O'Clock HighMajor Bragg / Captain
1965RawhideLt. Tendall
1965The Hollywood PalaceHimself
1966Carol & CompanyHimself
1967Dateline: HollywoodHimself
1967Rowan & Martin's Laugh-InHimself
1967The Danny Thomas HourSkip
1967The Woody Woodbury ShowHimself
1967You Don't SayHimselfGame show
1968The Andy Griffith ShowSam Jones
1969Allen Ludden's GalleryHimself
1969The Ed Sullivan ShowHimself
1969The Leslie Uggams ShowHimself
1969Wake Me When the War is OverLt. Roger CarringtonMade-for-TV movie
1969-1971The Andy Williams ShowHimselfGuest performer
1971The First Nine Months are the HardestFirst husband
1971The Reluctant HeroesLt. Parnell Murphy
1971This Is Your Life: Andy GriffithHimself
1971-1973Love American StyleVarious roles
1972Arthur Godfrey's Portable Electric Medicine ShowHimself
1972Every Man Needs OneDavid Chase
1972Once Upon a MattressDauntless the Drab
1972The Julie Andrews HourHimself
1973Letters from Three LoversJack
1973 & 1974Miss Teenage America PageantHimself, Master of Ceremonies
1973Mitzi - The First TimeHimself
1973The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Wilt ChamberlainHimself
1973The Mouse FactoryHimself
1974Kelly's KidsKen KellyUnsold pilot
1974Stand Up and CheerHimself
1974TattletalesHimselfGame show
1974The Sonny & Cher Comedy HourHimself
1975Medical CenterAllan Ronston
1975Mitzi and a Hundred GuysHimself
1975The Jim Stafford ShowHimself
1976Ellery QueenDJ Paul Parker / Buddy
1976Mitzi - Roarin' in the TwentiesHimself
1976Over and OutCapt. Paddy Patterson
1977Dinah!Himself
1977The Life and Times of Grizzly AdamsWill Boker
1977The Love Boat IIDr. Jim Berkley
1977Valentine's Second ChanceJimmy Valentine
1978Apple Pie
1978CBS: On the AirHimself
1978-1982Fantasy IslandVarious
1979Featherstone's NestDr. Charlie Featherstone
1979Little House on the PrairieLondon
1979The Love BoatRobert Noble
1980CHiPSKelly
1980The Big ShowHimself
1982EunicePhil Harper
1983Just Men!HimselfGame show hosted by Betty White
1983Texaco Star Theatre: Opening NightHimself
1985Gimme a Break!Dave
1986Small WonderBuddy O'Conner
1992The Golden GirlsThor Anderson
1992Vicki! Mama's Family ReunionHimself
1993Intimate Portrait: Vicki LawrenceHimself
1997The New Adventures of BatmanSeymour Grey
1999Maggie WintersSheriff Riley
2000E! True Hollywood Story: Andy of MayberryHimself
2000Inside TV Land: The Andy Griffith ShowHimself
2006CMT: The Greatest Country Comedy ShowsHimself
2006My First Time: Variety is the Spice of LifeHimself
List of film credits
YearTitleRoleNotes
1962Two for the SeesawLarryDancing with Shirley MacLaine, uncredited
1964The Lively SetHotel room service waiterUncredited
1969Hello Down ThereMel CheeverFilm later re-released as Sub A Dub Dub
1974Herbie Rides AgainWilloughby Whitfield
1976Guardian of the WildernessZachary More
1978The Cat from Outer SpaceFrank
List of theater credits
YearTitleRoleNotes
1957In League with IvyHimself
1958Billy Barnes ReviewHimself
1960Billy Barnes' PeopleHimself
1960Vintage '60Himself
1961Billy Barnes' HollywoodHimself
1961Little Mary SunshineCaptain 'Big Jim' Warington
1961The Billy Barnes ReviewHimself
1963Billy Barnes' LAHimself
1964The Best of Billy BarnesHimself
1974The Music ManProf. Harold Hill
1975Gene Kelly's Salute to BroadwayHimself
1984Run for Your WifeJohn Smith
1993From the TopVarious charactersWith Carol Burnett
Multiple yearsGeorge M!George M. Cohen
Multiple yearsI Do! I Do!Michael Snow
Multiple yearsSugarJoe

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Personal Interview with Ken Berry, 2012.
  2. ^ Hobson, Dick, "The Original Dull Guy", TV Guide
  3. ^ Craft, Dan. "Ken Berry - Still Making 'em Laugh", August 13, 1993
  4. ^ Zolotow, Sam. "Revue Will Move to Golden Theatre"' The New York Times, July 22, 1959, p.2

External links