Orson Bean, a veteran actor and comedian whose credits ran the gamut from his regular Tonight Show appearances to a memorable turn as the oddball Dr. Lester in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, has died. Bean was 91.
Born Dallas Frederick Burrows, Bean picked up his stage name while coming up as a stand-up comic in the 1950s, on the grounds that he got significantly more laughs any time he used it. It would follow him across a 70-year career in the entertainment industry, one that stretched from old-school anthology shows like Playhouse 90 all the way up through recent appearances on Superstore and Grace And Frankie. The intervening decades saw him fulfill positions from game show host to voice actor (notably, playing both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in the Rankin/Bass animated adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings) to author of memoirs of sexual self-awakening—Me And The Orgone, published in 1971—all with a distinctive taste for mischief and a twinkle in his eye.
A favorite of Johnny Carson’s, Bean was a regular on The Tonight Show, where his talent for glib conversation (and his distinctive, slightly reedy voice) introduced him to an entire generation of television watchers. But really, his career was one of those that was frankly inescapable if you were interested in watching interesting or funny things at any point over the last 50 or so years; whether you were tuning in to The Twilight Show; How I Met Your Mother; The Facts Of Life; Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, or any number of more than a hundred roles he took on over the years, chances are good that someone, at some point, said “This scene needs a little more energy. Let’s get Orson Bean.”
Bean died on Friday night, after being struck by a car in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, actress Alley Mills, with whom he co-starred in Doctor Quinn.