Paul Smith (American comedy actor)

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Paul Smith
Born Paul Smith
(1929-02-05) February 5, 1929 (age 85)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Years active 1951-1976

Paul Smith (born February 5, 1929) is an American comic character actor with a perpetually perplexed or, alternatively, bemused expression, who, during the 1950s, 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, appeared in scores of television episodes, primarily sitcoms, including regular roles in five series, and was also seen in numerous theatrical features, television films and commercials, frequently in brief, sometimes unbilled, comedic bits.

Acting career during the 1950s[edit]

Born in Pennsylvania's second-largest city, Pittsburgh, Paul Smith moved to Los Angeles in his early teens and was cast in Clark Gable's first post-World War II film, 1945's Adventure, playing, at age 16, the small unbilled role of a ship's first mate. In 1951, following a six-year period of no film roles, he began an uninterrupted 25-year career which lasted until his retirement, at age 47, in 1976.

Fibber McGee and Molly in 1959[edit]

During the 1950s, Smith made appearances in twenty-four theatrical features, from 1951's I Want You to 1959's The FBI Story, with his work in eleven of those being unbilled and the remainder providing him with small parts which were credited near the bottom of the cast list. He was also in episodes of fourteen TV series, from 1955's Navy Log and The 20th Century Fox Hour to 1959's Fibber McGee and Molly, the first of his five sitcoms, playing the McGees' next-door neighbor Roy Norris, a family man with a wife (Elisabeth Fraser) and 11-year-old daughter (Barbara Beaird). The actors playing the McGees (Bob Sweeney and Cathy Lewis) could not, however, duplicate the long-running (1935–59) unique ambiance of the original radio McGees (Jim Jordan and Marian Jordan) and the Tuesday night NBC series folded in January 1960 after airing 13 filmed episodes.

Acting career during the 1960s[edit]

In the course of the 1960s, which became his busiest decade, Smith was, again, continually employed, appearing in nine features: one in 1960, Visit to a Small Planet, one in 1961, The Silent Call, two in 1964, Advance to the Rear and Bikini Beach, one in 1965, The Great Race, two in 1968, Disney's The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit and the independent Stranger and the Dead Season, and two additional independents in 1969, The Erotic Adventures of Robin Hood (in which he was Will Scarlet) and The Assassination of the Dog. Aside from the three independents and one credited bit in Bikini Beach, his remaining five appearances, which were in major studio films, went unbilled. Although in comparison to twenty-four titles in the 1950s, his theatrical output dropped to nine, all of his remaining work schedule was consumed by television where his output increased exponentially. Seen in episodes of thirty series, starting, in 1960, with Johnny Midnight, Markham, Checkmate and Thriller, and ending in 1969 with Ironside and Adam-12, he was also a cast member in four sitcoms, among those series, and a semi-regular on a fifth, ABC's Bewitched, where, between 1966 and 1972, he appeared in nine episodes,[1] usually playing a befuddled or exasperated cop who is flummoxed by the magical witchcraft of Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery). The size of his roles was mostly small and he did not even receive billing in the credits of some of his TV installments.

Smith's earliest 1960s sitcom was CBS' Mrs. G. Goes to College, which marked Gertrude Berg's return to series TV in October 1961, after having portrayed a character, coincidentally also named "Molly", Molly Goldberg, on her long-running ethnic family sitcom, The Goldbergs, which predated the McGees' Molly by six years, having begun on radio in 1929, moved to CBS television in 1949 and ended in 1956. The plot centers around Sarah Green, a widow in her early sixties, who decides to acquire higher education, matriculates in her hometown college and interacts with, among others, her Cambridge University exchange professor (Cedric Hardwicke) and next-door neighbor George Howell, a character analogous to Smith's Roy Norris from Fibber McGee and Molly, replete with a no-nonsense wife (Aneta Corsaut). As with Fibber McGee, the new series could not come even close to the success of the original and, after thirteen episodes, a midseason move from Tuesday to Wednesday night, along a title change designed to emphasize Berg's name, The Gertrude Berg Show, was unable to improve the ratings for the remaining thirteen episodes and abruptly ended its run in April 1962, without showing any repeats. Although the show did receive two Emmy nominations, Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead) for Gertrude Berg and Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress for Mary Wickes, co-star Cedric Hardwicke, in a 1962 TV Guide article which focuses on his work in the series, and references him as "Sir Cedric", is quoted as commenting, "if you're going to work in rubbish, you might as well get paid for it".[2] One of the later episodes in the renamed series, "Goodbye, Mr. Howell", broadcast on February 15, 1962, actually centers around Paul Smith's character, as George Howell encounters unexpected problems and has to consider selling his house.

No Time for Sergeants and Mr. Terrific[edit]

Three years following Mrs. G. and, after having spent a couple of 1963 episodes playing Commander Carter in the World War II-set military sitcom McHale's Navy, Paul Smith was back in uniform as a clueless captain at Andrews Airforce Base, during peacetime, in No Time for Sergeants, his third regular role on a sitcom. Making its ABC debut on September 14, 1964, the series was based on a 1955 episode of the Golden Age of Television live anthology drama series, The United States Steel Hour, which starred Andy Griffith as Private Will Stockdale, a folksy storytelling southerner who has a commonsense remedy for every problem, thus frustrating his slow-burning, by-the-book sergeant. The play became a long-running 1955–57 Broadway play and a 1958 film, with star Andy Griffith continuing to repeat his role. In 1964, however, Griffith was busy with his own show, playing a folksy Southern sheriff on CBS' Monday night sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, which had premiered in 1960. The role of Will Stockdale was ultimately won by little-known young actor Sammy Jackson. Smith's character, Captain Martin, sometimes called Captain Martinson, was unnamed and barely noticeable in the earlier productions and his primary function in the TV series, as the immediate superior of the sergeant and his recruits, was to react in a series of surprised, uncomprehending, confused or bemused expressions upon hearing Will Stockdale's explanations delivered in his patented southern drawl and observing his ability to easily overcome any adversity. The show completed a full season set of 34 episodes and 17 repeats in its Monday night at 8:30 time slot, but in a programming coincidence, was scheduled directly opposite Andy Griffith's sitcom on CBS and could not overcome the top-rated competition from the original Will Stockdale. The final repeat episode of No Time for Sergeants aired on September 6, 1965, 51 weeks after its premiere. Three and a half months later, on Christmas Eve, Smith was seen as an unnamed captain in a similar scene with a similar character in the "Gomer Pyle, P.O.W." episode of the more-successful show patterned after No Time for Sergeants, CBS' Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and, while both shows premiered the same month, Gomer Pyle ran for five seasons, until September 1969.

Over a year of guest shots passed before Paul Smith was cast as a regular in another sitcom, his second on CBS and, again, on Monday night. The superhero spoof, Mr. Terrific, was a midseason replacement for The Fugitive-like failed sitcom Run, Buddy, Run. Programmed at 8, it was preceded by the cult sitcom Gilligan's Island and followed by three of CBS' highest-rated sitcoms, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show and Family Affair. It was also immediately followed, at 8:30 on NBC, by another superhero spoof, Captain Nice which, in similar fashion, bestowed, through ingestion of pills or chemical concoction, superhuman powers upon a diffident, milquetoast protagonist. Before he had won the part, the actor cast as Mr. Terrific, Stephen Strimpell, had, in fact, tested for the title role in Captain Nice, which ultimately went to William Daniels.[2] Both characters, upon taking their "medication", turn, for a brief period, into caped crime fighters. Mr. Terrific's real identity is Stanley Beamish, a service-station owner who serves, as superhero, the "Bureau of Special Projects". In the show's lengthy cartoon opening credits which explain, in song, the concept, Paul Smith, appearing as a regular cast member in his first color series, receives, for the first time, credit as a member of the cast.[3] Playing Harley Trent, an agent for the Bureau, Smith, whose rounded-face, stretched-mouth caricature overemphasizes his trademark goofy, bemused smile, is shown third, following Strimpell and Dick Gautier as Hal, Beamish's best friend. Mr. Terrific premiered the first of its 17 episodes the same day as Captain Nice, January 17, 1967 and presented its final repeat just over seven months later, on August 28, the same day as Captain Nice's last showing. Universal Television, which produced the series, subsequently edited three of the episodes into a feature film, The Pill Caper, which was put into TV syndication.[4]

The Doris Day Show and retirement in 1976[edit]

Two more years of guest appearances followed, with Paul Smith eventually cast in The Doris Day Show, his final, and longest-running, sitcom, seen, as in the case of his two previous shows, Monday nights on CBS. The actress-singer had just completed what turned out to be her last theatrical feature, 1968's With Six You Get Eggroll, in which she plays the widowed mother of three sons. With the film set for release in August, she started filming episodes for her only TV series, due to debut in September, playing Doris Martin, the widowed mother of two sons. The first season, had her living with the boys on her father's ranch but, starting with the second season in September 1969, the Tuesday night series moved to Monday and also changed the setting, with Doris now commuting to San Francisco, having found work as a secretary at a magazine called Today's World. Among the publication's staff is associate editor Ron Harvey, played by Paul Smith. During the second season, the opening credits showed, at the office, Doris' co-workers "McLean Stevenson as Mr. Nicholson and Rose Marie as Myrna", playing the editor and the wisecracking secretary. By the third season, however, as Doris and her sons moved away from the ranch to live in San Francisco, those credits reflected Paul Smith's increased importance on the series,[5] indicated by the addition of his live image in third place, after Doris Day and Rose Marie, with McLean Stevenson now shown in fourth place.[6]

Having been a regular for two seasons on The Doris Day Show, Paul Smith and all other supporting cast members were replaced with a new cast. For the show's last two seasons (1971–73), Doris Day was still named "Doris Martin", but was rebranded as a swinging single with no family, still at the same-named Today's World, but upgraded to associate editor, with a new set of co-workers. After departing Doris Day in 1971, in his last five years in front of the cameras, Smith had small roles in a couple of made-for-TV movies and one theatrical feature (1972's Now You See Him, Now You Don't). Of his nine appearances on Bewitched, five were in the 1970s — two in 1970, two in 1971 and one in 1972. There were also five appearances on segments of the ABC comedy anthology series Love, American Style, one in 1969, two in 1971, one in 1972 and one in 1973, in which he was billed as A. Paul Smith. His sole 1974 credit is a guest shot on ABC's police drama The Rookies, while in 1975, he was seen in two: an episode of ABC's prison-set sitcom On the Rocks, an Americanized version of the British show Porridge, along with an installment of the NBC law enforcement anthology drama Police Story. His final on-camera role was in "Mr. Mephisto", the second episode (broadcast September 18, 1976) of the Saturday morning live action children's series Monster Squad, playing a character named Officer McMacMac.

Other actors named Paul Smith[edit]

Paul Smith's credits have been occasionally commingled with those of another American actor (1936–2012) whose name frequently appeared in credit listings as Paul Smith, as well as with credits of the 1980s and early 1990s actor (born 1968) who, during his teens and early 20s, while appearing in a number of TV series and a few feature films in his native Australia, was billed as Paul Smith. The other American Paul Smith, distinctive for his imposing size and hulking, frequently bearded persona, began acting in 1960, but the great majority of his credits are from the 1970s and 1980s, with a few stretching into the 1990s (billed as "Paul Smith" in his final credit, 1999's D.R.E.A.M. Team). Although on at least one occasion (in 1963) he was billed as P. L. Smith and on at least three occasions (in 1979) as Paul Lawrence Smith, his most frequent billing has been alternatively Paul L. Smith or, simply, Paul Smith (billed as "Paul Smith" in what may be his best known role, that of the brutal Turkish prison guard, Hamidou, in the 1978 cult film Midnight Express). Some of the film and television credits from the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, in which he was billed as "Paul Smith", overlap those of the subject of this article, and may be incorrectly credited in some filmographies. Working in Italy, during mid-1970s, he made a series of five action films which traded on his resemblance to big, burly, bearded Bud Spencer who also, at the time, starred in European action films, but when the American distributor of one such film decided to market it with Smith billed as "Bob Spencer", he sued in 1980, successfully arguing that "the only thing an actor has is his name and if that's taken away, he has nothing".[7]

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