He was known for The Patty Duke Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, but Bill Schallert may have been a regular on more TV shows than anyone.
In the ‘50s, he had recurring roles on Hey, Jeannie! and The Adventures of Jim Bowie. In the ‘60s, he won a part on Philip Marlowe. In the ‘70s, it was The Nancy Walker Show and The Nancy Drew Mysteries. In the ‘80s, he was on The New Gidget. In the ‘90s, The Torkelsons.
Schallert also appeared several times on Get Smart as the former head of the spy agency CONTROL as the doddering, tottering, 90-plus-year-old Admiral Hargrade. The whole thing was a little ridiculous; anyone who watched TV in the ‘60s knew it was Bill Schallert under all that make-up. But it seems Schallert had experience in playing elderly gentlemen, as attested to in this interview published in the Milwaukee Sentinel on January 3, 1960.
He Acts His Age—at Last
“I’ve been the victim and the murderer many times but never a police lieutenant. This is more fun,” he declares, “I don’t get eliminated in the first episode and I’ve got a steady job. That’s pretty important when you have a wife and three children.”
For Schallert, 34, the role affords another change of pace. He is playing his own age. An actor since 1947, he has been cast innumerable times in parts which ranged from 50 to 90 years of age. The first time he stepped on-stage as a student at UCLA in 1942, Schallery play Corbaccio, the 85-year-old miser in “Volpone.” “That’s probably what got me started in the oldsters’ direction,” he said, “but it wasn’t too hard to take when I wound up some years later playing the Rev. Davidson opposite June Havoc in ‘Rain’ and Sir Peter Teazle with Marie Wilson in ‘School for Scandal.’”
Started in Stock
A native son or a native son of Los Angeles (Edwin Schallert, the respected, recently-retired drama editor of the Los Angeles Times), young Schallert graduated from UCLA in 1946. He started acting in the Los Angeles Circle Theater and subsequently appeared in West Coast stock companies and the national company of “The Cocktail Party.” Then he spent a year in England on a Fulbright fellowship to study directing and theater management at the Old Vic, Stratford, and at various repertory theaters throughout the country.
According to Schallert, who is currently seen in the movies, “Pillow Talk,” “The Gallant Hours” and “Some Came Running,” this is the heyday of the character actor. “The variety of television parts available is fantastic,” he says. “In the past year, for instance, I have appeared as: An old feuding hillbilly; a vicious prosecuting attorney; an intelligent psychiatrist; a submarine commander; a blind ex-tennis player; a priest; a bartender; a hard-bitten Civil War major; an acidulous high-school teacher; a bowery bum and now Police Lt. Manny Harris.”
Schallert has a few words for the actors who lament the good old days of stock or vaudeville.
“Television is really better in every way except one,” he said. “First, you are better paid. Working conditions and hours are much improved. You have more time to prepare for your part so you can do a better job and you have the advantage of seeing what you have done. The only lack is the live audience. This is why actors return to the stage as often as possible. It’s like getting a blood transfusion.”
Regarding his family and his career, Schallert, who has been married for 10 years, said: “Unlike many actors, I have never worked at anything else even when things were very rough financially. I hated to get distracted...Fortunately my wife, Lia Waggner, is an actress, so she went along with the idea...And our three boys, aged 9, 7 and 5, had to go along...whether they liked it or not.”