Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Second Banana is Just Fine

Dick Crenna easily made two transitions during his career, transitions that proved difficult or unattainable for other actors.

Crenna made the jump from a teenaged role (and a popular one at that) to adulthood. And he also made the jump from radio into television. In both cases, he wasn’t the star of the show. And that suited him just fine.

TV has been blessed over the years with fine supporting actors, some of whom end up working a succession of shows (Harry Morgan’s a better-known example). Arnold Stang once spoke about the joys of being in the supporting cast because there wasn’t the pressure of stardom and the pay was pretty good. So let’s see what Crenna had to say about it to United Press International. This column appeared in papers on July 13, 1959.

Dick Crenna Better Known As Walter and Luke McCoy
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Ever heard of Dick Crenna? Probably not. But you’re more than likely familiar with Walter Denton and Luke McCoy, the characters he’s played on “Our Miss Brooks” and “The Real McCoys.”
Crenna has parlayed the cracked voiced high school boy and the gangling hillbilly role into a $100,000-a-year career.
He’s a member of the growing fraternity of very rich supporting players who jump from series to series on TV when the top stars conk out. Others in the same category are Bob Sweeney (My Favorite Husband and Our Miss Brooks), Harry Morgan (December Bride), Gale Gordon (Our Miss Brooks and The Brothers) and Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley (I Love Lucy.)
Make or Break Series
“A good supporting cast can make or break a series, no matter how big the star may be,” Dick opined. “Take some of the most successful shows—‘December Bride,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘77 Sunset Strip,’ ‘Lucy’ and people like Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar. Their supporting players were as popular as the leads.
“Most stars realize this and capitalize on it. The star of my current series, ‘The Real McCoys,’ is Walter Brennan who spent his movie career as a character actor in supporting roles.
“He’s great to all of us. He knows the problems and tribulations of second bananas.”
Crenna, a likeable young man of 32, believes he could waltz into a third series, and a fourth and fifth successfully.
“I have yet to play myself on television,” he explained. “So everytime. I crop up in a new series I’m a new face and personality. It might be different if I’d played starring roles.
Shortage of Comics
“In the past four years I’ve been offered a half dozen series of my own—all comedies, there’s a shortage of young comics around right now, not the stand-up variety, but character comedians.
“Other than Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon and Wally Cox I can’t think of anybody who can play youthful character parts for laughs.
“It’s not an easy thing to do because you can’t strap comedy on like a pair of six guns. There’s a heck of a future in playing second bananas, and I plan to stick with it.”
Dick began his career on radio at the age of 11, and credits the variety of roles he played for his current versatility.
“It’s hard to say how long ‘The Real McCoys’ will run,” he concluded. “The show is doing so well I guess it will continue as long as we in the cast want it to go on. I signed for five years, and we're starting our third season.
“As far as I’m concerned I hope it rolls along for years to come.”

“The Real McCoys” had a nice run from 1957 to 1963. As he suggested, Crenna did go on to a third and a fourth series, though they’re fairly obscure today. He starred on “Slattery’s People” in the 1964-65 season and was in the cast of “All’s Fair” (1976-77), “It Takes Two” (1982-83), “Pros and Cons” (1991-92) and occasionally on “Judging Amy” (2000-2002) until his death. Along the way, he pocketed an Emmy for other TV work. Not bad for someone who started out in radio in the ‘40s.

Sometimes, not being the star works out just fine.

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