Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Shy Guy

The Students Stock Company of the Wallis School of Dramatic Art in Los Angeles celebrated the school’s 14th anniversary in September 1922 by performing a four-act comedy. The name of one of the supporting players should be recognised by fans of The Andy Griffith Show—Howard McNear.

He was 17 years old.

McNear carried on acting until he physically couldn’t. He suffered a massive stroke while working on Griffith and when he returned, he had trouble moving and, worse, remembering his lines. He was almost 64 when he died in 1969.

Before the Griffith show, McNear’s biggest claim to fame was on the radio version of Gunsmoke; he played Doc. McNear learned you could be anonymous in radio because no one ever saw you, but television was different and brought a whole bigger level of fame.

Here are a pair of articles where McNear talks about his career. The first pre-dates Griffith and the latter was published just after he started on the show. The first column is by Hedda Hopper and is dated January 12, 1960. It gives you an idea of the kind of man Jack Benny was (Joe Kearns had played McNear’s part earlier on radio). The second story appeared starting around April 1, 1961.

Howard McNear Discusses His Portrayals
HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 11 — When top comedians chew the fat about their craft, Howard McNear's name is bound to come up. He's played with all of them, bringing a unique type characterization to their shows which no one has succeeded in imitating.
I knew him first on my radio shows, later as the "Mr. Hamish" of the George Gobel time. I've watched him with George Burns and Gracie Allen, Tennessee Ernie Ford and with Jack Benny. Recently he stepped out of his favorite characterization to play the doctor in "Anatomy of a Murder"; it's brought him a slew of offers for straight roles.
George Cukor will pay him his price to read one line in his inimitable manner: . . . "But I don't like to play straight parts any more," he told me. "Just last week I turned one down.
IRKED—"My agent could have killed me and so could my wife. But it was a serious thing — they wanted me for a judge who was committing a girl to a mental institution. I don't think it was right for me. I prefer specialized bits."
McNear, who refers to himself as "second banana" in the laugh field, realizes his jittery frustrated character, who leaves sentences hanging in the air at times while pantomime finishes out the idea, is too intense to be done too often.
"He's a sort of nervous wreck and you can't be on too much with it," he explains.
"I fitted him into the part of an absent-minded lawyer for a Jack Benny show which isn't released yet and he's called me for another show on the 18th.
AGREEMENT — “At first he wanted me to play it straight and I tried it for a couple of rehearsals. Then they agreed it would be better for me to do it my own way. Jack said he thought I was master of this peculiar thing and he couldn't remember anyone's doing a character quite like it."
He has a theory that such characterizations aren't copied from any one thing or combination of things the comedian has seen or heard.
"I think they evolve from the person himself. I think perhaps it's my own mannerisms—exaggerated of course. I've often wondered if such portrayals aren't built up from the subconscious. I've worked with practically all the big comics and have arrived at that conclusion after analyzing their techniques.
PAINFULLY SHY —"As a young fellow I was painfully shy. I'm still shy. I really feel perfectly at home only when I'm on stage. Meeting people is far harder for me than being behind the footlights; perhaps that's because I can feel I'm someone else when I'm acting.
"I was trained for an architect because my father was an architect and bank vault engineer."
Howard McNear has played Doc in radio's "Gunsmoke" for eight years with the same producer. "Bill Conrad plays the Matt Dillon role that Jim Arness does on TV and is also a director."
IMPACT—"They use the radio scripts as a tryout for the TV," he said. "I think radio has great emotional impact and that it was sold out too fast. Recently I got a letter from a Coast Guard family stationed where there is no TV.
"They wanted a picture of our cast and when they came to San Diego for Christmas phoned to tell me how much it meant to them.
"There are drop-off places where there's not only no TV but where radio scarcely reaches — places like Eagle Pass, Tex. We get wonderful letters from shut-ins and from the blind and near-blind who live by radio."

Actor Howard McNear Became 'Barber', Won Greatest Fame

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) – Howard McNear, a member of a pioneer Northern California family from Petaluma, so-called "egg basket of world," has been an actor for years, but he had to become a barber to start being recognized on the street.
After long years with stock companies, on the radio and in the movies, he's achieved his greatest fame through TV playing Floyd, the fussy barber, on the "Andy Griffith Show" (CBS-TV), and his services are much in demand.
"I can't understand it," he said. "After all these years, now people are beginning to recognize me on the street and in restaurants. They even mistake my brother for me and he's quite flattered."
He's appeared on TV with George Gobel, Jack Benny and in the Peter Gunn series among others, and for 10 years had been voice of Doc in the radio version of "Gunsmoke."
“My first TV show was with George Gobel,” said McNear in an interview. "I was scared going out there in front of 30 million people—all at once—but George was very helpful to me.”
McNear said he was shy as a boy and he claims he still is shy.
He speaks in awe of Jack Benny – "He's a big star but he took the trouble to call my wife once and tell her how well he thought I did in one of his shows. My wife was in tears afterwards—she was so happy."
Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether McNear, in his whimsical fashion, is pulling one’s leg.
"They say Jack Benny is cheap," he said, but I don't think so. He paid me $800 for a little commercial."
Howard got his first dramatic training from Patia Power, mother of the late film star Tyrone Power. "My mother agreed to let me go to the school," he recalled, "but I was so shy I walked up and down in front of it for three days before I had the courage to go inside."
McNear was born in the heart of Los Angeles at Hope St. and Jefferson Blvd. His mother was born in Petaluma. His father died at age of 27, but there are many McNears left in northern California.
The family name is perpetuated along the coast in such spots as McNear's Beach and McNear's Point.
McNear grew up in San Gabriel near Los Angeles and drew inspiration from a kindly neighbor, John S. McGroarty, California's beloved poet laureate. McCroarty wrote and staged the annual Mission Play depicting the life of the Franciscan missionary Junipero Sevra. McNear got his first taste of theater life as an usher at the play and then won a part in it.
For many years he was with the Savoy Players Stock Company in San Diego, Calif.
He was not confined to comedy in those days.
“I played the part of a young man who was executed in a very dramatic thing called ‘The Noose’,” he said. “I played the part of a prizefighter in ‘Izatso?’ and my opponent hit me harder that he meant to oh the nose. I bled all through the next act.”
At 55, McNear is content with his career. One of his main interests in life these days is his 16-year-old son, Christopher—Kit.
The boy was named after a McNear ancestor who was a sea captain.
Young Kit doesn't want to be on actor like his dad.
“He wants to be a fishing boat captain,” said shy Howard, shaking his head at the intrepidity of the youngster.

1 comment:

  1. McNear was a central character on Gunsmoke, but that wasn't his only role - he appeared on Radio in EVERY major series produced in California, including Suspense, The Whistler, The Lineup, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, etc. etc., nearly always in dramatic roles. Quite a career before The Andy Griffith Show, but tha't just about the only thing he's remembered for. Gilbert Gottfried does a hilarious bit where he imitates Howard McNear singing a duet with Bob Dylan!