Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Flynn No Failure

He was 30 years old, and considered himself a failure.

He had run for political office in Ohio and lost. He came west, was a graduate student speech at USC and planned to go into teaching, according to a 1953 Los Angeles Times story. Instead, at age 30 in 1955, he was the host of KTTV’s Whatsa Name, where four fashion models attempted to identify relatives of famous people.

It wasn’t quite the career path he was hoping for.

But things picked up and he got his big break in 1962, a TV role that made him famous to millions. He became “Old Leadbottom.”

That’s when Joe Flynn was enlisted for McHale’s Navy.

Flynn eventually became so well known that he became a “type.” Producer Mark Evanier once related how Joe Barbera wanted to hire Flynn to, basically, repeat his McHale’s Navy characterisation on a cartoon series but then hired John Stephenson instead because Stephenson sounded more like Flynn than Flynn did.

United Press International’s Hollywood reporter, Vernon Scott, talked to Flynn while the series was still on. His first column was published on May 29, 1963, and in it Flynn seems to place a great amount of importance on being important. I admit I’m confused about what Scott means when he says “He holds little brief for Bishop, however.” I presume Flynn and the dour Bishop didn’t get along.
Love to Hate Joe's Role

HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Persistence and a photogenic snarl have finally paid off for character actor Joe Flynn, who claims he's had a hundred false starts at achieving stardom.
For the uninitiated, Flynn (definitely no relation to Errol) plays the sulphurous Capt. Wallace Binghamton in video's "McHale's Navy"—a character you love to hate.
But to Flynn the dyspeptic despot of a miserable PT-boat base is an archangel.
Were it not for Binghamton, Flynn would still be lost in the horse latitudes of show biz searching for a claim to fame.
FOR MORE than 15 years the bespectacled performer has wandered around seeking fortune and a modicum of fame. He has appeared in 50 movies and 350 television shows, including regular stints with George Gobel, Bob Newhart and Joey Bishop. He holds little brief for Bishop, however.
"It's a terrible thing to wake up one morning and find yourself 30 years old and a failure," Flynn said.
He was dispatching lunch in the Universal City commissary. Dressed in his Navy captain's uniform he looked every inch an actor. A former Army sergeant, even Flynn admits he couldn't pass for an old sea dog in real life.
"Guys I had gone to school with were doctors, lawyers and successful politicians," he continued in an obvious attempt to garner pity, "but I was still on the fringes of show business.
"I took every part offered me, from one-line bits to support roles in movies.
"EACH TIME I'd complete something worthwhile I was assured by the producer, my agent and friends that I was on my way. 'Just wait until this comes out,' they'd say.
"Well, I'd wait and out would come a bomb."
It was something of a surprise, then when "McHale's Navy" became ABC-TV's big hit of the year. People recognize Flynn on the street now, and he's hearing from old friends--doctors, lawyers and successful politicians, for example.
"It's a thrilling thing to be recognized and to have strangers address you by name," said Flynn. "And I get a big kick out of playing Binghamton. He's a cowardly naval officer. But having been a cowardly sergeant I was well prepared to play the role.
"The world is full of Binghamtons. And we all have at least one of them in our lives that we like to see get his lumps.
"AT THE SAME time he does get some sympathy because, like most of us, he wants to be something he isn't. At least he tries, and you have to give him credit for that."
Because Flynn was stomping around the boondocks of show biz for so long even small touches of status elevate his morale. A few weeks ago he arrived on the set to discover that a canvas chair had been added to the stage one with his name (Joe Flynn) stenciled on the back. He almost came down with the vapors.
"Nobody will ever know how much that meant to me," he concluded. "I was so proud of it I didn't sit in the chair all day. I didn't want to sit down and cover up my name." The name is Flynn, F-L-Y-N-N - like in Errol.
Now that Flynn was a success, he seems to have settled into a comfortable, drab life. Scott pulls a punch here. Flynn didn’t like Ernie Borgnine but nowhere in the story does he or Scott explain why. Maybe Flynn was a fan of Ethel Merman, I don’t know.

This story appeared on June 6, 1964.
Joe Flynn Smokes Pipe in Secret Because of Sponsor

UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — Joe Flynn, the vile-tempered Capt Binghamton of “McHale's Navy,” is a placid soul off-screen who dabbles in politics and loafs as much as possible.
He’s a secret pipe-smoker because the show is sponsored by a cigaret company.
Another thing, he’s not particularly fond of his co-star, Ernest Borgnine. When he shouts at Commander McHale in a scene he is venting his own wrath at Borgnine.
If nothing else, that proves Flynn is courageous. Even he admits that big Ernie could dismember him with a single shot to the incisors.
Away from the set Flynn leads the good life. He likes nothing better than to settle down in a comfortable chair with a highball.
The easy chair most likely will be an Italian provincial number in his contemporary home in Benedict Canyon, a genteel section of Beverly Hills. He and his wife Shirley (married eight years) have lived in the four-bedroom, three-bath house for the past three years. They have two sons, Tony, 5, and Kenneth Conrad (K.C.), 4.
The senior Flynns collect paintings—28 in all—ranging from modern impressionists to abstracts. Flynn enjoys just looking at them. Around the house he is totally useless.
“I’m not a handyman,” he says drily, “but I have a great knack for going to the yellow pages (of the telephone book).”
Every work day the actor is up at 5:30 in the morning and seldom returns before 6:30 p.m. He’s home for dinner every night.
“I’m on the Three-S diet,” he boasts, “Steak, Salad and Scotch. We exist almost exclusively on beef—steaks, roasts, hamburger, meatloaf and stew—Shirley cooks them all well.”
Joe drives a 1962 sedan while Shirley pilots the children around in a sports compact.
If Flynn appears to be more affluent than his television salary might indicate, it is only fair to state that he also owns two parking lots in the heart of Beverly Hills. The Comstock Lode produced less gold.
Capitalist Flynn has refused to buy a pet for his youngsters. For himself, however, he has a year-old cocker spaniel named Guy.
Flynn is remarkably proud of the fact that he is a lounge lizard, a total stranger to exercise. He does not play golf, swim or play tennis. Just watching such exertions gives him the bends, at least at the elbows.
His friends are mostly performers—George Gobel, Bob Newhart, Robert Vaughn and Tim Conway, who plays the hare-brained Navy ensign on “McHale's Navy.”
The Flynns rarely entertain and rarely dine out. A big night in the family consists of a visit with friends. Joe prefers to relax with a good biography or history book and hit the hay early.
A gardener relieves Flynn of hacking around the shrubs and flowers, the thought of which appalls him. A steady housekeeper makes life easier for Shirley.
Frequently Flynn devotes his weekends to the U.S. Navy, traveling around in his Captain’s uniform for benefits, telethons and a variety of Navy functions. Sometimes he is paid. Sometimes not.
He takes along his stand-in and secretary, Jimmy Jones, who does the driving and handles his fan mail.
When not in uniform Flynn lazes around in sweaters and slacks.
He is much in demand as master of ceremonies for Democratic Party functions. He is an ardent Democrat and longtime friend of Jesse Unruh, California’s “big daddy" of Democratic politics.
This summer Flynn and his pretty wife are vacationing in Europe, safe in the knowledge that he won't have to wear his Navy uniform for two whole months.
McHale’s Navy left the air in 1966. Flynn’s personal friendship and on-camera chemistry with Conway led to the two starring in a sitcom called The Tim Conway Show in 1970. It was one of Conway’s numerous failures. At least it got to air. In 1972, Flynn shot a comedy pilot with Soupy Sales called The Bear and I that went nowhere. In early 1967, Flynn and Jack Weston filmed a Dragnet parody called Ready and Willing. It got an airing seven years later as part of NBC Monday Night at the Movies.

But Flynn found steady employment in Disney family comedies until his untimely death in his swimming pool at age 49 in 1974.


  1. "Producer Mark Evanier once related how Joe Barbera wanted to hire Flynn to, basically, repeat his McHale’s Navy characterisation on a cartoon series but then hired John Stephenson instead because Stephenson sounded more like Flynn than Flynn did."

    I recall reading, too, that Barbera had to coach Paul Lynde on how to sound like Paul Lynde (another voice Stephenson eventually took over). It's the difference between an impressionist and the actual person. An impressionist highlights the individual's extremes to get laughs, but the original person is considerably more nuanced, even if, as in the cases of Flynn and, to a lesser extent, Lynde, he seems to be something of a one-note character. Hiring the original person for his voice gets you more variety but less of his signature vocal mannerisms, which is probably not what you want when you're looking for a voice for a limited-animation show for kids.

    1. I read that,too, in the 1989 "The Art of Hanna-Barbera"(Ted Sennett), and I've heard the old 1970 Jay Ward King Vitamin cereal ads, with Joe as King V., and he doesn't even sound like John Stephenson's Flynn (heard first on the next season's "Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch", the series Yowp refers to notby name. John repeated that for 1973's "Inch High Private" eye and after Mr.Flynn's death in 1974, in `1978's "Yogi's Galaxy Goof ups," the only good, very good in fact, Yogi reboot as it returned the character to one part (two one part cartoons) cartoons as a bumbler, and with Huck! (Amng other shows John did the Joe Flynn voice.)

  2. It seems like after " McHale's Navy ", the Binghamton character was his persona from them on. No nonsense, explosive. The formula that worked for Flynn. Before McHale, the majority of his movie and television appearances had him playing mild mannered, amiable characters, clerks, scientists, even gas station attendants. His character of Mr.Kelly, law partner of Dobson and Kelly on " Ozzie and Harriet " was very amiable. Kind of faded into the woodwork. I remember it was on a Friday in 1974 that he died. I found out about it the following morning in " The Daily Press ", our Saturday morning newspaper. Funny, his last performance was released close to three years after his passing. Disney's " The Rescuers " His Dean Higgins character in Disney's whole " Medville College " saga was pretty much Binghamton 2.0.

  3. Yes, reportedly Flynn did not like Borgnine. Not sure what Borgnine thought of Flynn (he was briefly complimentary to him in his Archive of American Television interview, but he might have just been being nice). Outtakes of the show reveal Borgnine's frustration with Flynn goofing around in takes. All this made the dislike of the characters for each other
    pretty believable!