from the trailer for the film Another Thin Man (1939)
|Born||Sheldon Leonard Bershad
February 22, 1907
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 11, 1997
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Actor, writer, producer, director|
|Spouse(s)||Frances Bober (1931-97; his death; 2 children)|
Life and career
As an actor, Leonard specialized in playing supporting characters, especially gangsters or "heavies", in films such as It's a Wonderful Life (1946), To Have and Have Not (1944), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Open Secret (1948). His trademark was his especially thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth. In the cult classic Decoy, Leonard uses his "heavy" persona to create the hard-boiled police detective Joe Portugal. In the 1950s, Leonard provided the voice of lazy cat Dodsworth in two Warner Bros. cartoons directed by Robert McKimson.
On radio, Leonard played an eccentric racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Program in the late 1940s and early '50s. His role was to salute Benny out of the blue in railroad stations, on street corners, or in department stores ("Hey Bud, come here a minute"), ask Benny what he was about to do, and then proceed to try to argue him out of his course of action by resorting to inane and irrelevant racing logic. Ironically, as "The Tout," he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was "Who knows about horses?"
Leonard was part of the cast of voice actors on the Damon Runyon Theatre radio show (1948-1949). He was part of the ensemble cast of the Martin and Lewis radio show. He also appeared frequently on The Adventures of the Saint, often playing gangsters and heavies, but also sometimes in more positive roles. Sheldon Leonard was also a regular on The Adventures of Maisie in the 1940s.
In the adventure movie The Iroquois Trail in 1950, Leonard played against type in the significant role of Chief Ogane, a Native American warrior, who pursues and fights the frontiersman Nat "Hawkeye" Cutler ( George Montgomery) in a climactic duel to the death with knives. Later in the 1950s and 1960s, he firmly established and expanded his reputation as a producer of hugely popular television series, including The Danny Thomas Show (aka Make Room For Daddy) (1953–64), The Andy Griffith Show (1960–68), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66), and I Spy (1965–68). Leonard also provided the voice of Linus the Lionhearted in a series of Post Crispy Critters cereal TV commercials in 1963-64, which led to a Linus cartoon series that aired on Saturday (and later, Sunday) mornings on CBS (1964–66) and ABC (1967–69). He also was briefly the star of his own television show Big Eddie, where he played the owner of a large sports arena. The show lasted only one season (1975–76).
The character of Andy Taylor was introduced in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series of The Andy Griffith Show. Leonard is informally credited with developing the practice of using an episode of a series as a backdoor pilot episode for new series, in which a guest star is introduced as a new character with the intention using this character as the basis for a new show.
Leonard also has the distinction (along with author Mickey Spillane) of being one of the first two Miller Lite spokesmen. Using his trademark accent, he told the audience, "I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis." One of his last acting roles was a guest appearance on the TV series Cheers, in which he played Sid Nelson, the proprietor of "The Hungry Heifer," Norm Peterson's favorite eating establishment.
Leonard died at 89, and was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. Bill Cosby, whom Leonard cast in I Spy, described Leonard as "my last father" when he dedicated an episode of Cosby to both Leonard and his slain son Ennis Cosby. Bill Cosby also included an impersonation of Sheldon Leonard in one track of his 1966 hit comedy album Wonderfulness. The track, "Niagara Falls", describes Sheldon Leonard's honeymoon at Niagara Falls.
- The Andy Griffith Show
- The Danny Thomas Show
- The Dick Van Dyke Show (also one on-screen appearance in the season 3 episode "Big Max Calvada")
- I Spy
- My World and Welcome to It
- Gomer Pyle, USMC (also one on-screen appearance in the season 5 episode "A Star Is Not Born")
- From a Bird's Eye View
- Shirley's World
- "California Death Records". Vitals.rootsweb.ancestry.com. 1907-02-22. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- By Vosburgh, Dick (1997-01-17). ""Obituary: Sheldon Leonard" by Vosburgh, Dick - The Independent (London, England), January 17, 1997 | Questia, Your Online Research Library". Questia.com. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- Sheldon Leonard Biography - Yahoo! Movies
- Dunning, John (1998). On the air: the encyclopedia of old-time radio. Oxford University Press US. p. 438. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
- Jack-of-all-movie trades Sheldon Leonard dies
- Leonard, Sheldon. And The Show Goes On: Broadway and Hollywood Adventures. Limelight, 1995, ISBN 0-87910-184-9
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sheldon Leonard.|
- Sheldon Leonard at the Internet Movie Database
- Sheldon Leonard at the TCM Movie Database
- Sheldon Leonard at the Internet Broadway Database
- Sheldon Leonard Archive of American Television interview