Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Sid the Banana

How many comedians get eaten by a dinosaur?

I can think of only one—the great Sid Melton.

How can you not like Sid? He always came across as one of those “because-the-elephant-forgot-to-pack-his-trunk” New York vaudevillians. Enthusiastic. Corny. Ready to get grab a hat and cane and jump on stage at a moment’s notice, even giving you a bar or two of a Jolson impression on one knee.

Sid worked steadily for a long time. Not only was he in the aforementioned dinosaur film—Lost Continent with Whit Bissell, Hugh Beaumont and Acquanetta—not only did he star in Stop That Cab with the wonderful Iris Adrian (above right) and Leave It to the Marines (all in 1951), he had regular or recurring roles on a bunch of TV shows through five decades.

Not a lot of newspaper column ink was devoted to Sid, but we’ve found some columns we’ll pass along. First, to the Hartford Courant of August 27, 1961, where he talks a bit about the Danny Thomas Show, on which he began appearing several years into its run.
Sid Melton Gets Break On Danny Thomas Show

(Courant Staff Writer)
VAN NUYS, Calif. (Via Telephone) — Sid Melton isn’t married but he has a wife and they’re expecting a child.
If you’re not curious by now, there’s no hope. But just in case you want to find out what the whole thing’s about, all you have to do is turn you’re [sic] television dial to the “Danny Thomas Show” when it hits the fall trail on Oct. 2 (chs 3 and 12, 9 p.m.)
It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy either. Melton, who at age 40 is an electric bundle of nervous energy, is getting “the biggest break of his 21 years in show business. He is currently featured as Thomas’ nightclub owner friend, Charley Halper, in the popular situation comedy.
Harnassed Energy
For the 1961-62 season some of the Melton nervous energy will be harnessed. His wife will be the talented Pat Carroll who you’ll be able to see in person at the Storrowton Music Fair, West Springfield, for one week starting Monday in “On The Town.”
“She’s a talented comedienne with a keen sense of timing,” says Melton. Timing is a prerequisite for working with a former vaudeville actor. He has a rapid fire type of delivery. Pat and Sid are expecting a baby in the television series. Someone ought to tell her.
But most important to Melton is that he will appear in about 25 of the 32 installments of The Danny Thomas Show. He will also be given a greater part in the situation.
Honest Show
Melton calls the show one of the most honest attempts at entertainment on television. “We keep changing the script right up to the last minute,” he says. “There are no laugh tracks (pre-recorded laughter) on the ‘Danny Thomas Show.’” They tape before live audiences and rewrite as needed and do the whole thing over again. Where the audience reacts unfavorably the script is either edited or rewritten. This may be one of the reasons the show is going into its ninth year this fall.
Sheldon Leonard, who is producer and director, is also Thomas’ partner in Marterto Productions which produces many of the best comedy series on television. Numbered among its stable is “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Melton refers to those people as the “heavyweights of the industry. As for his part in the Thomas show: “I’m just happy that people laugh at me,” he says.
The Chicago Tribune syndicate had Sid talk a bit more about his career in this interview published on March 31, 1963. The Thomas show would end the following season but was revived as Make Room For Granddaddy, giving Sid a chance to play Charley Halper again.
Sid Came Up Hard Way—But It’s Paying Off
By Walter Oleksy

“I WASN’T exactly born in a trunk in the Palace theater,” said Sid Melton, Danny Thomas’ sidekick on television, “altho my father, a vaudeville comedian, played there.”
“My dad, who performed under the name I. Meltzer, thought I should serve a long apprenticeship before going into show business so he waited until I was two years old before putting me into the act,” Sid told us in a recent interview.
“Seventeen years later, in 1940, I had $12.50 saved up and joined three other guys driving to Hollywood for what we hoped would be our big breaks.
“Hollywood wasn’t waiting for us with open arms, but I found some work and finally made an impression in the stage play, ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner.’
“Of my traveling companions, only Peter Leeds made the grade in show business. He’s a member of the Bob Hope troupe and does a lot of funny commercials. The other guys went back to their desk jobs. But that’s show business, to use an overworked phrase.”
Sid toured Europe during World War II, entertaining troops as part of the Hollywood Victory Caravan. After the war he appeared in movies such as “Knock on Any Door,” “The Steel Helmet,” and two Bob Hope pictures.
He also did television work, including regular roles on two series, Captain Midnight and It’s Always Jan, besides frequent guest shots on many series shows.
● ● ●
IN 1958, he joined the Danny Thomas Show, which had been on the air for six years. His performance, in a one-shot role, caught the public’s fancy and he was signed as a regular. He plays the part of Charley Halper, Danny’s night club owner friend.
“Now they’re building up my part even more,” Sid beamed. “I started out on the show as a bachelor, which I really am, and later took a TV wife, Pat Carroll. Now we’re parents of a baby boy.”
Sid impressed us as one of the hundreds of faces in the television crowd who has, thru hard work and natural talent, moved up front, center and is shouldering his big buildup like a pro.
What kind of a guy is Danny Thomas?
“Danny’s the greatest in the world,” Sid said. “He’s easy to work for, down to earth, and he gloats like a proud father if you can get the laughs. He’ll jump into the background and let any other performer take over—if he’s funny.
“Danny doesn’t believe in following the script too closely. We’ve got good writers but we always make changes as we go along. Danny and the executive producer-director, Sheldon Leonard, are always full of ideas.
“I used to come to rehearsals too well prepared. I had the script memorized cold. But Danny and Marjorie Lord, his TV show, are great add-libbers [sic]. They start with the script and take it from there. Gradually I got the hang of that kind of acting and believe me, it makes a show.
How does a confirmed bachelor manage to play an all-suffering husband and father convincingly?
“I’m an actor, ain’t I?” Sid responded.
But just to make sure all stays well, Sid admits he practices an old vaudeville superstition.
“I whistle in my dressing room.”
Sid picked up a recurring part on Green Acres in 1965, playing one half of the brother combination of Alf and Ralph Monroe (Ralph was actually a woman). But it appears he wasn’t altogether happy, as he told the Newspaper Enterprise Association. This column appeared in newspapers on February 11, 1967.
We Have No Bananas

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — People keep asking Sid Melton why he isn’t doing more television those days. It’s a good question and Sid keeps asking himself.
For seven years, as everyone knows, little Sid played Charlie Halper, owner of the club where Danny Thomas performed on The Danny Thomas Show. For seven years, with great comedy timing and a mobile face, Sid kept audiences laughing. With the end of the series no actor in Hollywood had a better track record as a second banana than Sid Melton.
“I'm still amazed,” he says, “but in three years I haven’t been asked to do a single TV pilot. I don’t understand it. I know I can make people laugh. I know I can make people happy.”
Now don’t get the idea that Sid inspired the war on poverty. He appears now and then as Alf Monroe, the inept carpenter on CBS-TV’s Green Acres. He has played other roles this season on The Phyllis Diller Show and on Run, Buddy, Run. He’s proud to he a small part of Green Acres because, “It’s a well-written fun show with no message, unlike most of the trash on television these days.”
He also welcome’s [sic] the change of pace from The Danny Thomas Show on which, he says, the director forever was saying to him, “Give me more of that Donald Duck grasping and sputtering.”
"As Charlie Halper,” he explains. “I had to give every line a trick delivery, it was all high key. Now, on Green Acres, it’s all much straighter and I can throw lines away.”
What Sid misses is another chance at a role like Halper.
“What I’d like to play is another strong banana in a comedy series. With this face it’s the only kind of role I really can play. But when I ask my agents about this, they just make a face, and my only answer to them is, ‘So I don’t look like Robert Culp.’ ”
With time on his hands Sid has been writing a book for a planned Broadway musical titled, “So Long Sam.” The story, he says, takes place in Japan with an all Oriental cast but all of the characters talk like those in “Guys and Dolls.”
He’s also working on his autobiography, for which Bob Hope has written the introduction. But there’s still time for him to keep asking himself that question about why he isn’t a regular on a comedy series.
He grins. “Maybe I’ll have my face changed so I WILL look like Robert Culp.”
Sid never did a regular role, but he did surface on several episodes of The Golden Girls (playing a dead guy, not eaten by a dinosaur) and got called a number of times to work on several other series in the ‘90s. He was also cast in the film Lady Sings the Blues with Diana Ross. And there was also work on stage.

And then there were TV commercials, like the one below, which will end our post. There are two Sids in this. Cartoon fans should recognise the other Sid by his voice if nothing else. While Sid Melton was performing in summer 1938 in the stock cast at the St Regis Hotel in Fleischmanns, New York, the other New York-born Sid was touring with U.S. with a Major Bowes unit and had appeared in the Catskills. He was 97 when he died in 2006. Melton was 94 when he passed away in 2011.


  1. Sid (and then Pat Carroll) were promoted to the opening credits of The Danny Thomas Show, Melton in 1961 and then Carroll in the '62-'63 season when about a third of the story lines focused on them with Danny's kids in New York, while Thomas and Majorie Lord were on a visit to Europe in a parallel story arc. It was the closest Melton would come to starring in his own show (but ironically, when the show went into syndication, they stripped off his and Carroll's opening credit, and since they didn't have one in the closing credits, there's no mention of Melton at all on the circulating prints of the final three seasons of the show).

  2. To our generation, Sid was the lovable con man, side kick, manager, etc. Probably in the top ten of " I know his face, can't remember his name ", category. He pretty much stayed employed through out his career. I saw the mention of Whit Bissell, Hugh Beaumont, and Acquanetta. Bissell was another all purpose actor from the late 1940's to his death. Cast a lot in science fiction films. Beaumont goes without saying, and Acquanetta was Universal's Paula the Ape woman in two of the three they shot in the 1940's. My earliest memoriy of Sid was on " Make Room for Danny ", then of course " Friendly Freddy " on Gomer Pyle USMC.

  3. Sid Raymond, aka Katnip and Baby Huey lol! Love it..thanks Yowp!SC

  4. In 1969, I was laid off of a Union job and had unemployment insurance coming to me, so I went to the Hollywood unemployment office and waited in line. That's where I spotted Sid Melton waiting in an adjacent line. He was really a unique looking character. His face was enormously wrinkled, and he must have had the biggest ears ever, bigger than Clark Gable's, not as big as Dumbo's. His ear lobes looked like they could touch the ground if he lowered his head a little bit. I remember he looked kind of sad and chagrined to be collecting unemployment, but it made me feel like I was being initiated into a fine old Hollywood tradition, collecting a welfare check along with name actors!