Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Lieutenant Who Played One on TV

He was Archie Andrews and Superboy, but boomers reading this will likely know him as the suck-up Lieutenant Carpenter on “McHale’s Navy.”

Bob Hastings has passed away at age 89. He had cancer.

Hastings’ career went back before TV. He appeared as Archie on radio, an industry that refused to typecast actors who were equally adept at comedy and drama. Hastings was one of many actors who went from soap opera to soap opera to soap opera. “Pretty Kitty Kelly.” “Hilltop House.” “Nora Drake.” “Pepper Young’s Family.” All were shows where Hastings played a role. He loved radio and made appearances all across North America at gatherings of old-time radio fans, especially in Seattle, as Bob’s daughter Tricia had settled in Ellensburg, Washington.

Besides radio and TV (his first televised soap was “Search for Tomorrow”), Hastings also cut an album of 45 songs for children on the RCA Victor Bluebird label in 1960, and sang on a record of Mother Goose rhymes released in 1944. His role as Superboy was in the Filmation TV cartoon series of the ‘60s; he did other animation work as well. As a kid, it was a little jarring for me to hear Elroy Carpenter’s voice coming out of young Clark Kent.

I was hoping to find a profile of him written in his radio days, where he was known as “Bobby” at the beginning. About all I found was the Sam Berman sketch you see above. “Archie” began on radio as a daily show in 1943; Hastings was playing the title role by 1947 when it was weekly. So, instead, here’s a feature story from the Milwaukee Journal of May 3, 1964.

Binghamton’s Eager Aide
Under the Uniform of Lt. Carpenter is Bob Hastings, Devoted Family Man and Skilled Supporting Actor

of The Journal
Bob Hastings had a great career going as a boy soprano until his voice changed while he was singing “That Wonderful Mother of Mine” on the “National Barn Dance” radio show.
“Just like that,” he said. “Hardly any warning, and I was out of work. I was forced to become an actor.”
One thing led to another, and at the moment, Hastings is playing the unctuous, fawning Lt. Elroy Carpenter in ABC-TV’s “McHale’s Navy.” As aide to the dyspeptic Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn), Lt. Carpenter is a regulations worshiping sycophant whose eager attention to duty occasionally irks even Binghamton, and makes merely funny situations outright hilarious.
“Carpenter is so. . .prissy—we had another word for it in the service,” said Hastings. “Like, if the captain falls in the mud, Carpenter picks him up and tells him ‘That color is so becoming on you, captain!’”
Hastings was hired to do a bit part in the second episode of the series two years ago. He was the skipper of a PT boat, a sharp, crisply dressed stuffed shirt brought into the script to show up McHale as the slovenly bum that Binghamton thinks he is.
“A couple of weeks later,” said Hastings, “they decided that Binghamton needed someone to talk to, and made me his aide.”
Lt. Carpenter appeared in 27 of the first year’s 39 episodes, and in 32 out of the 33 the second season. Hastings has no idea how many shows Carpenter will be in next year, because he’s the only McHale regular who is not under contract.
“Every Thursday I find out what days I’ll be working the following week,” he said. “I don’t have any agreement about being available for ‘McHale,’ but I feel a moral obligation to Eddie Montaigne, the executive producer. I worked for Eddie on the old ‘Bilko’ show.”
Hastings is the type to take moral obligations seriously. He’s a family man—married 16 years—and deeply concerned about the upbringing of his four children. The little Hastingses are: Patricia, 15; Bobby, 12; Michael, 11, and M.J. (Mary Joan), 8.
He was born and reared a block and a half from Ebbets field in Brooklyn, and, naturally, is fanatical about baseball. He moved to California the same year the Dodgers did, 1959, but not for the same reasons.
“Radio soap operas had about ended, and it seemed to me all the work was out here for an actor,” he said. “I was the oldest unknown in the business.”
Hastings now is 38, but looks much younger. He points out that he played kid roles half his adult life.
“I was playing 15 year old boys when I was 30,” he said. “I was a high school boy on NBC radio’s ‘Archie Andrews’ show until I was married and had three kids.”
Hastings enlisted in the army air corps in World War II, became a flying cadet and finally a B-29 navigator. The war ended just as he was about to leave for Okinawa, however, and 2nd Lt. Hastings didn’t get into combat.
On the screen, Hastings appears to be a tall, somewhat burly fellow, because he usually is standing respectfully next to Joe Flynn, who is short and slight. Actually, Hastings is about 5 feet 10 tall and weighs about 170 pounds.
He keeps in good physical condition by playing touch football with the neighboring kids in Burbank. Not that he’s overly palsy-walsy with his offspring.
“I’m a very old fashioned guy,” he said. “I believe that a man is the head of the house, and should make the basic decisions. I believe that I must bring up my children with great respect for their parents, and I want to be able to send them to college.
“My wife, Joan, was a singer. We used to sing duets together—we still do, now and then. We intend to stay married for keeps. Look at another girl? I couldn’t afford to buy another girl a cup of coffee!”
The Hastingses don’t cluster, family style, around the TV set to watch “McHale’s Navy.” For the children, it’s either bedtime or study time. And those things come first.

Bob Hastings had experience with a second Archie years later. One named Bunker. He was Kelsey, the publican who eventually sold his bar and allowed Carroll O’Connor to rejig “All in the Family” into a far lesser show.

Hastings was the third of four boys born in New York to Charles and Hazel Hastings. His father was a salesman for a dairy company; younger brother Don went into acting.

By all accounts, he and his wife lived quiet lives. She sang in the church choir. He took whatever work he could get. He was never bothered that he was not a huge star. “I’ve been a journeyman actor, and lucky that I’ve been able to work all the time,” he told a columnist in 1982. “Maybe that’s because I’ve always believed the most important thing to me is my four children—not my ego.” To another columnist the same year, he mused: “I fell into acting and have spent my life doing something I love.”

We should all be as fortunate.

Read more about his life here.

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