Saturday, December 18, 2021

Herb Edelman


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their careers.

Herb Edelman
was born in Brooklyn on November 5, 1933.  Growing up, he aspired to be a veterinarian, something he'd later study at Cornell University.  During his freshman year however, Edelman dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army.  There he served as an announcer for Armed Forces Radio, his first foray into the world of show business.

After the Service, Edelman returned to New York and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he studied theater. Once again, he dropped out, preferring to support himself through odd jobs while looking for acting roles.

During one such shift, Edelman picked up Mike Nichols, a Broadway and theatrical director. Edelman so impressed Nichols that he cast him in his first Broadway role, that of a telephone repairman in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

In the 1960s, Edelman relocated to Los Angeles and began working in television.  His early roles were on such series as That Girl, The Girl From UNCLE, and Honey West.  He made his way to the big screen in 1967, appearing in the James Coburn classic In Like Flint.  That same year, he reprised his role from Barefoot in the Park in the Hollywood adaptation.

After years of making guest appearances, Edelman landed his own series in 1968, starring opposite Bob Denver in the CBS sit-com The Good Guys (right).  He played diner owner Bert Gramus, lifelong friend to Denver's Rufus Butterworth, a Gilligan-esque cab driver who always meant well, but seldom succeeded.  The series ran for two seasons before being canceled by the network.  Check out the pilot episode on YouTube.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, Edelman continued working in television, appearing in such series as Happy Days, Welcome Back, Kotter, Fantasy Island and MacGyver.  Then in 1985, he landed the role for which he is probably best remembered, Stan Zbornak on the NBC sit-com The Golden Girls.  Over its seven-year run, Edelman appeared in 26 episodes, including the one that inspired this blog.  

"Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas" aired on December 16, 1989.  It sees Stan, ex-husband to main character Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), living in a homeless shelter after his new wife kicks him to the curb.  

When the series left the air in 1992, Edelman continued working in television, with a semi-recurring role on Murder, She Wrote.  His final role was in a 1994 episode of a series no one remembers, an NBC sit-com called The Mommies.

A lifelong smoker, Edelman's habit finally caught up with him in the early 1990s as he settled into retirement.  He died of emphysema on July 21, 1996, at the age of 62.  He was laid to rest at Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield Gardens, New York.

Location: Gate 334N, Block 13, Row 001R, Grave 8
Society Name: Congregation Ohev Sholem

Rest in peace, Stan.

  • During the years that Edelman was on The Golden Girls, he also had a recurring role on another NBC series, St. Elsewhere.  There he met actress Christina Pickles (Nurse Helen Rosenthal), whom he dated for several years.

  • Edelman originated the role of Murray the Cop in the 1968 film The Odd Couple.  When the film went to series, the role was taken over by Al Molinaro, later of Happy Days fame.

  • The Good Guys was originally filmed in front of a live studio audience, but this ended shortly into the series.  According to director Leonard Stern, the fire marshal put an end to it over safety concerns, as several of the cast and crew were known to smoke pot together.

  • Although twice nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on The Golden Girls, Edelman never brought home the trophy.

  • This blogger also remembers Edelman's recurring role on The Bradys, a short-lived revival of The Brady Bunch that aired in 1990.

  • Edelman played Stan one final time in an episode of The Golden Palace entitled "One Angry Stan."  You can watch the episode in its entirety, albeit cut for syndication, on YouTube.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Otis the Drunk


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their careers.

Harold John "Hal" Smith was born in Petoskey, Michigan on August 24, 1916.  From an early age, he aspired to a career in show business, and he didn't waste any time getting started.  After completing high school in 1936, he went to work at WIBX 950 AM in Utica, New York, where he'd spend the next seven years as a DJ and voice talent.

Like many of his generation, Smith decided to serve his country during World War 2.  In 1943, having already learned how to fly, he enlisted in the now-defunct United States Army Air Forces, and was stationed in Manila.  Assigned to the Special Services Division, Smith planned and directed variety shows for his fellow troops, even creating his own one-man show, entitled Strictly From Hunger.  He was discharged in 1946, but not before earning a series of decorations, most notably the World War 2 Victory Medal.

When the war was finally over, Smith returned to the United States, but not to his old job in Utica.  Eager to make a name for himself in show business, he relocated to Hollywood, where he returned to his career as a DJ while also building his acting resume.  He spent the next decade appearing on such TV series as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, The Donna Reed Show and The Red Skelton Show.

Smith's big break came in 1960, when he was cast in the role that would define his career, that of Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show (right). As the town drunk, Otis would often find himself in Sheriff Taylor's jail cell, but he was usually there of his own accord.  Smith appeared on the series for most of its run, but his character was dropped in the final season when sponsors grew concerned that he encouraged excessive drinking.  Ironically, according to his friends Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, Smith never drank in real life.

In 1969, Smith appeared on The Brady Bunch in the role that inspired this blog, playing a department store Santa who makes an unlikely promise to young Cindy Brady (see Trivia below).  It wasn't his first time playing jolly old Saint Nick, and it would by no means be his last.

Smith was also a very prolific voice actor, working for Hollywood's top animators, including Walt Disney Pictures, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Brothers.  He worked on such classic animated series as The Huckleberry Hound Show, Quick Draw McGraw and Hong Kong Phooey

In 1960, he started a two-year run as the voice of Elmer J. Fudd, and by the end of the decade, he was starring as Pluto at Walt Disney.  He also appeared as Owl in three separate Winnie the Pooh features.  But the voice-over role I remember best of all was that of Goliath on the stop-motion animation series Davey and Goliath (left).  Oh Davey, you know you want to listen to it, so here's an episode on YouTube.

I've only scratched the surface with his filmography.  Smith worked excessively in all manners of media and was even voicing video game characters into the 1990s.  The guy never lacked for work.  He was going strong until 1992, when his wife suddenly passed away.  After that, his own health began to deteriorate, and he eventually died of a heart attack on January 28, 1994 at the age of 77.  He was found sitting peacefully in a chair, the radio still turned on.

Hal Smith was interred at the mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California.

Rest in peace, Otis.

  • Like many of the show's regulars, Smith returned to the role of Otis in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Return to Mayberry.  Twenty years later, his character was now completely sober, delivering ice cream but precious few laughs.

  • Smith often appeared in commercials throughout his career, including these for Pizza HutHickory Farms, and this fantastically outdated toy commercial for Mattel.  "You can tell its Mattel - its swell!"

  • You're going to think I'm making this up, but I'm not.  In 1976, Smith appeared in the X-rated film "Once Upon a Girl," a film featuring both live action and animated sequences.  It was created by disgruntled ex-Disney animators and features many voice actors of the time, including Smith and Frank Welker.  Smith played the character of Mother Goose, a woman put on trial for obscenity.  You can hear a sample of his work on YouTube.  Don't worry, this clip is G rated.

  • Smith reprised his signature role of Otis in the 1991 Alan Jackson video "Don't Rock the Jukebox."  Check it out on YouTube.

  • In the 1970s, Smith provided the narration for a series of Disney books, including Pinocchio.  Read along with him on YouTube.

  • Between 1964 and 1993, Smith played Santa Claus no less than ten times.  Here's a complete list, many of which are available on YouTube. The Flintstones (1964), The Brady Bunch (1969), Santa and the Three Bears (1970), A Christmas Story* (1972), A Flintstone Christmas (1977), Casper's First Christmas (1979), Yogi's First Christmas (1980), Midnight Patrol: Adventures in the Dream Zone (1990), Bonkers (1993), The Town Santa Forgot (1993)
    * A Hanna-Barbera cartoon - not the Peter Billingsley movie.

  • Several of Smith's Mayberry co-stars have been featured here at Six Feet Under Hollywood, including Frances Bavier, Don Knotts and George Lindsey.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sebastian Cabot


This week at Six Feet Under Hollywood, we continue our month-long look at actors who have played Santa at one point or another in their career.

Charles Sebastian Thomas Cabot was born in London, England on July 6, 1918. His father owned and operated a family business, but by the early 1930s, it too was feeling the effect of the worldwide economic depression.  When Mr. Cabot closed the business, fourteen-year-old Sebastian quit school and never went back.

Having had an interest in automobiles from an early age, Cabot's first job was in a garage, where he served as a chauffeur and valet to British actor Frank Pettingell.  Through this relationship, Cabot himself became interested in the theatre and joined a local repertory company.  Although he had never attended drama school, he proved a quick study, and finding roles became that much easier.

Cabot's first credited role was in the 1936 film Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent. You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube. He worked extensively throughout the 1940s, in such films as They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) and The Spider and The Fly (1949).

In the early 1950s, Cabot crossed the pond and started finding work in Hollywood.  His most memorable role during this era was in George Pal's production of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (right), playing a turn-of-the-century time-travel skeptic. He was also finding steady work as a voice actor, including the role of Noah in Igor Stravinsky's musical The Flood (1962).  You can listen to the production on YouTube.  Disney fans will no doubt recall Cabot's voice work in both The Sword and the Stone (1963) and The Jungle Book (1967).

Cabot was also finding work on American television, guest starring on such series as Alfred Hitchcock PresentsBonanza, and The Red Skelton Show.  He also journeyed into The Twilight Zone playing Lucifer himself, in the classic episode "A Nice Place to Visit."

By 1966, Cabot had built an impressive resume, but had very little to show for it.  That year, he was persuaded to join the CBS series Family Affair (left) as Mr. Giles French, the role for which he is most famous.  Like his co-star Brian Keith, Cabot was no fan of the series, but was a fan of steady employment.  It ran for five seasons before being canceled in 1971.  Here's the series intro.

In 1973, Cabot took on the role that inspired this holiday blog, that of Kris Kringle in the made-for-TV remake of the classic film Miracle on 34th Street.  The film also starred a host of other 70s notables, including Roddy McDowell, Jim Backus and Tom Bosley.  You can see this star-studded remake in its entirety on YouTube.

By 1977, Cabot was living in Victoria, British Columbia, having mostly retired from acting.  On August 23, he suffered a stroke at his home and was transported to a local hospital, where he died at the age of 59.

Sebastian Cabot was cremated and his ashes were buried at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles.

Rest in peace, Mr. French.


  • Later in life, Cabot admitted that when he was first starting out as a young actor, he had lied about having previous credits in order to procure employment.

  • As a young man, Cabot also gained employment as a chef.

  • In 1967, Cabot released a spoken word version of the Bob Dylan song "Like a Rolling Stone."  Really.  Check it out on YouTube.  If that ain't enough, check out his rendition of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," also on YouTube.

  • Mr. French was noticeably absent from a string of episodes of Family Affair, and the viewers were told he had been summoned back to England at the request of the Queen. In reality, Cabot took a leave of absence due to a serious illness.  He was temporarily replaced by actor John Williams, playing the part of Mr. French's brother. 

    You ever notice that whenever an actor leaves a show, the producers always bring in a new character who's supposed to be related?  Jill Munroe out, Kris Munroe in.  Chrissy Snow out, Cindy Snow in.  Julie McCoy out, Judy McCoy in.  And don't even get me started on Coy and Vance Duke.

  • Cabot shares his name with a famous explorer of the Americas, who came here shortly after Columbus's discovery of the New World.