Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sheldon Leonard

There was a bit actor named Sheldon Leonard back in the forties who really became an important man in TV.  He was born in NY in 1907, and that NY accent and his gruff, good looks and wavy hair, made him a perfect choice to play a gangster or heavy. 

Of course, everyone remembers him as Nick the bartender in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).  He played the gangster type when George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) was in his fantasy sequence of never being born, and he was kindly as Mr. Martini's employee in the rest of the film.

He made a half dozen films, more or less, each year during the forties.  His characters were named Pretty Willie, Chink, Tito, Slip, Monk, Silky, Chuck, Smacksie, Mickey, Ace, Lucky, Blackie, Trigger, Swifty, and of course, Nick.  Get the picture?  The great thing was that he could play the gangster straight or with humor.

In 1955 he played Harry, the Horse in Guys and Dolls.  That was a good roll in a great movie, but by then he had found television.  He appeared in a few more films and did some voice overs, until 1992.  What he did well was producing and directing.

Just look at this list as producer:
  • The Danny Thomas Show
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • The Andy Griffith Show
  • Gomer Pyle, USMC
  • I Spy
And he directed many of the episodes in those shows, plus some in "Lassie" and "The Real McCoys."

If he had just worked with Danny Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and Andy Griffith, he could have called his life fulfilled.  Sheldon left us in 1997 but his legacy will live on.

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