An astonishingly prolific character actor on television and in films for over six decades, William Schallert was an ideal Everyman and in particular, a much-loved father on shows like "The Patty Duke Show" (ABC, 1963-66) and "The Nancy Drew Mysteries" (ABC, 1977-78), as well as countless episodic television stints and features ranging from "The Man from Planet X" (1951) to "In the Heat of the Night" (1967) and "Innerspace" (1987). Like all great supporting performers, Schallert essentially disappeared into his roles, which allowed him to lend shades and variations of characters, whether kindly or cold of heart, while buffeting his leading men and women. On occasion, he would step into the spotlight for memorable parts, like his short-tempered teacher on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963), a sly government agent on "The Wild, Wild West" (NBC, 1965-69) or a futuristic government official in the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode of the original "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69). For the most part, Schallert brought honesty and heart to his hundreds of screen appearances, which continued to multiply as late as 2011 with a recurring turn on HBO's "True Blood" (2008- ). His ability to provide subtle conviction to his performances remained untouched as he entered his ninth decade, which made Schallert something of a legend in the acting community, if never quite a star.
Born William Joseph Schallert on July 6, 1922 in Los Angeles, he was the son of esteemed film critic and Los Angeles Times drama editor Edwin Schallert and his wife, Elza Baumgarten, a prolific magazine writer and radio host. As a child, Schallert was privy to an insider's view of the entertainment industry, which included attending Shirley Temple's birthday parties at 20th Century Fox, among other rare opportunities. He became interested in acting as a student at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and in 1946, helped to found the Circle Theatre with Sydney Chaplin and several fellow students, including Kathleen Freeman. Chaplin's father, the legendary Charlie Chaplin, allowed the troupe to use his props for productions and eventually directed Schallert in a 1948 staging of Somerset Maugham's "Rain."
Schallert began his onscreen career in 1947 in an uncredited turn as a banker in the drama "The Foxes of Harrow," with Rex Harrison, and soon settled into a prolific run of minor and supporting roles in Hollywood and independent features. Many of these early turns were in forgettable efforts like "Holiday for Sinners" (1952) and "Captive Women" (1952), but between 1948 and 1954, Schallert also landed bit parts in "Mighty Joe Young" (1949), John Huston's "The Red Badge of Courage" (1951) and "Singin' in the Rain" (1952). Tall and angular of feature, Schallert was not cut from conventional leading man material, but his reedy and remarkably adaptive voice and authoritative bearing allowed him to disappear into a wide variety of character roles, with law officials, teachers and in particular, sympathetic fathers - often decades older than his real age - among his specialties. During this period, he also became a familiar face to science fiction fans, who appreciated his ability to bring believability to genre classics like Edgar G. Ulmer's "The Man from Planet X" (1951), "Them!" (1954), "Gog" (1954) and "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957).
Eventually, Schallert's diligence paid off, as bit roles in major features like "The High and Mighty" (1954), "Written on the Wind" (1956) and "Friendly Persuasion" (1956) led to more substantive parts on television. He was a staple of live television dramas, from "Lux Video Theatre" (NBC, 1950-59) and "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961), and appeared regularly on all manner of episodic series, from Westerns like "Death Valley Days" (syndicated, 1952-1975) and "The Adventures of Jim Bowie" (ABC, 1956-58), legal dramas like "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1974), and even fantasy and science fiction shows like "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1965). Schallert's dependability eventually graduated him to series regular on several shows, including "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," as the easily exasperated English teacher Leander Pomfritt. His best-known series was undoubtedly "The Patty Duke Show" as Martin Lane, father to freewheeling teen Patty Lane and uncle to her more conservative, identical twin cousin Cathy (both played by Patty Duke). Schallert's saint-like patience in the face of Patty and Cathy's weekly shenanigans made him a beloved television patriarch, and in 2004, TV Guide enshrined Martin Lane at No. 39 on its list of "50 Greatest TV Dads."
The 1960s saw Schallert balance his steady television work with increased exposure in features, including "Lonely Are the Brave" (1962) as a thoughtful radio operator aiding in the pursuit of Kirk Douglas' determined cowboy, the mayor of a small Southern town in the Oscar-winning "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), and a turn opposite Elvis Presley in "Speedway" (1968). Television would again provide him with his most substantive work, most notably as Agent Frank Harper, a master of disguise who stood in for Ross Martin on "The Wild, Wild West," when the actor suffered a heart attack. Schallert also enjoyed a multiple episode run on "Get Smart" (NBC/CBS, 1965-1970) as the ancient Admiral Harmon, founder of CONTROL, but his best-known '60s performance, and unquestionably his most enduring TV appearance, was as Nilz Baris, an officious agriculture undersecretary who discovered that the furry aliens known as Tribbles had devoured a shipment of precious grain in "The Trouble with Tribbles," a second season, classic episode of "Star Trek."
In the 1970s, Schallert returned to duty as a series regular on two divergent television shows. He was an unctuous TV executive who courted talent agent Nancy Walker's clients on Norman Lear's short-lived "Nancy Walker Show" (ABC, 1976), then shifted gears to play the upstanding criminal lawyer Carson Drew, whose cases were frequently aided by his amateur sleuth daughter (Pamela Sue Martin) on "The Nancy Drew Mysteries" (ABC, 1977-78), which alternated on Sunday evening broadcasts with the equally popular "Hardy Boys Mysteries." Schallert was also a frequent guest star on countless television series and made-for-TV movies, including a turn as General Matt Clark opposite Robert Duvall as Dwight Eisenhower in "Ike" (ABC, 1979) and defense attorney Herbert Kalmbach, who was sent to prison for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal in "Blind Ambition" (CBS, 1979). Schallert also enjoyed a plum role as Judge Rozel C. Thomson, who presided over the trail of Catholic activists who burned draft information in the free verse play "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine" (1971), and reprised the role in the 1972 film version, produced by Gregory Peck. He was perhaps most widely known during this period for his voice, which he lent to numerous animated series, radio spots and commercials, including a long-running stint as Milton the Toaster, the ebullient spokesman for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts.
Schallert continued to log an astonishing number of film and television appearances as he entered his sixth decade in the 1980s. He was once again a beloved TV father to a young Jim Carrey on the short-lived sitcom "The Duck Factory" (NBC, 1984) and later on "The New Gidget" (syndicated, 1985-86) as the grown-up Gidget's caring dad, Russ. He was also General Robert E. Lee in the epic miniseries "North and South, Book II" (ABC, 1986) and Harry Hopkins, a key adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy) in "War and Remembrance" (ABC, 1988-89). Schallert's career also began to reap the occasional tribute, most notably via director Joe Dante, who cast him in several film projects, including a desperate father in his re-imagination of the chilling "It's a Wonderful Life" for the "Twilight Zone" feature anthology (1983) and "Innerspace" (1987) as a bewildered doctor examining Martin Short, who has accidentally ingested a miniature vehicle and its occupant (Dennis Quaid). In 1988, he reprised his turn as Leander Pomfritt in the TV movie "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis" and revisited his "Leave it to Beaver" (ABC/CBS, 1957-1963) character, librarian Mr. Bloomgarden, on several episodes of "The New Leave it to Beaver" (Disney Channel/TBS, 1985-89).
In 1991, Schallert was again a weekly series regular on "The Torkelsons" (NBC, 1991), an offbeat family comedy about a working class family trying to stay ahead of creditors. Schallert was a kindly, elderly boarder in the family's basement. Patty Duke played Schallert's granddaughter in an episode, and the actors would later reprise their "Patty Duke Show" characters in the 1999 TV movie "The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin' in Brooklyn Heights" (CBS), and later, for a series of public service announcements for the Social Security Administration. Incredibly, Schallert still worked on numerous projects per year as he entered his eighties in the new millennium. He appeared as Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens in the HBO film "Recount" (2008) and enjoyed guest turns on series ranging from "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 2005- ) as a iron-fisted legal partner and "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004- ) as a small town newspaper editor. Schallert enjoyed a substantial guest role as an aging CEO with Alzheimer's disease in the short-lived "Deep End" (ABC, 2010) before taking on a recurring turn on "True Blood" as the mayor of the monster-plagued Louisiana town of Bon Temps.