May 14, 1921– Richard Deacon. I know that Modern Family will probably bump some show this list, but it is only in the 6th season & I am still in the early stages stages of love, all dizzy & blurry & unable to be objective:
Top 10 Sitcoms of All Time:
- I Love Lucy
- The Dick Van Dyke Show
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show
- Will & Grace
- Arrested Development
- The Bob Newhart Show
He appeared in hundreds of TV shows & films, but I loved him best as the dour Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show. At the start of his career, Richard Deacon was advised by fellow actor Helen Hayes to abandon all hope for becoming a leading man. She encouraged him to chase a career as a character actor. Hayes gave me the same advice.
Big, bald, bespectacled & bass-voiced, Deacon heeded Hayes’ advice, & was able to survive in show biz far longer than most of those leading men. Usually cast as a sourpuss, Deacon was a valuable & highly regarded supporting cast commodity for films: Desiree (1954), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), & The Birds (1963) among many others. Pretty much every major star who worked with Deacon paid compliments to his considerable skills. His biggest admirers: Lou Costello, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny & Cary Grant, no slouches in the comedy department.
Deacon proved even better on TV. His resume his head-spinning. He guest starred on nearly every sitcom of his era. Deacon had the distinction of doing 2 sitcoms at the same time in the early 1960s: he was pompous suburbanite Fred Rutherford on Leave It To Beaver & the long-suffering Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show. I love the idea of working on 2 series at once. Deacon also co-starred as Kaye Ballard‘s husband on the delicious The Mothers-In-Law (1968) along with Eve Arden & a rare leading role on the 1964 Twilight Zone installment The Brain Center At Whipples. In his last decade, Richard Deacon hosted a TV program on microwave cooking, & published a companion book on the subject.
Deacon appeared in the long-running Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! as Horace Vandergelder (a role I played to great acclaim in the late 1980s) opposite Phyllis Diller, one of the best Dollys, from 1968-1970. Deacon continued appearing on TV & in films until he was taken by heart disease at 67 years old.
On The Dick Van Dyke Show, I always wished he would have more air time, I thought him so funny. His work on this show had a certain influence on my own comedic style. My favorite Deacon performance is as Tallulah Bankhead’s butler on an episode of I Love Lucy.
Deacon was a barely closeted gay man. His was an open secret in Hollywood. Deacon:
“Not even gays would guess. Most would be surprised. Only because what you see on TV, a serious guy in a suit, unsmiling, isn’t how anyone thinks of gay males. I’m nearly the exact opposite of a Paul Lynde.”
Melvin Cooley, what a cool name, huh?