Ken Berry

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Ken Berry
Berry in 1972
Kenneth Ronald Berry

(1933-11-03)November 3, 1933
DiedDecember 1, 2018(2018-12-01) (aged 85)
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • dancer
  • singer
Years active1954–1999
(m. 1960; div. 1976)
PartnerSusie Walsh (1994–2018; his death)
RelativesBill Bateman (former-son-in-law)[2]

Kenneth Ronald Berry (November 3, 1933 – December 1, 2018) was an American actor, comedian, dancer, and singer. Berry starred on the television series F Troop (1965–1967), Mayberry R.F.D. (1968–1971) and Mama's Family (1983–1990). He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue, headlined as George M. Cohan in the musical George M! and provided comic relief for the medical drama Dr. Kildare with Richard Chamberlain in the 1960s.

Early life[edit]

Berry was born in Moline, Illinois in 1933 of Swedish and English descent, one of two children of an accountant, Darrell Berry, and his wife, Bernice (née Larson). He realized he wanted to be a dancer and singer at age 12, as he watched a children's dance performance during a school assembly. He then dreamed of starring in musicals and went to movie theaters to watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in some of his favorite films such as Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, On the Town, and Summer Stock.[3]

Berry soon began attending tap dance classes, and by age 15 he won a local talent competition sponsored by radio and television big band leader Horace Heidt. Impressed by the young dancer's talent, Heidt asked him to join his popular traveling performance ensemble, "The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program". Berry accepted and toured the United States and Europe for 15 months, dancing and singing for the public and at post-World War II United States Air Force bases overseas. Berry during those months made lasting relationships with several ensemble members, including Heidt's son, Horace Jr., who later launched a big band and radio career.[3]

Army service[edit]

After high school graduation, Berry volunteered for the United States Army, and was assigned to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His first year in the Army was spent in the artillery, where he entered a post talent contest; the winner would go on Arlene Francis's Soldier Parade in New York City. Berry, who always carried his tap shoes with him, worked out a routine and a few hours later won the contest. He headed to New York for his television debut.[citation needed]

Berry's second and final year in the Army was with Special Services, under Sergeant Leonard Nimoy, who encouraged Berry to go to Hollywood and pursue acting. As a part of Special Services, he toured Army posts and officers' clubs entertaining the troops, as well as visiting colleges for recruiting purposes. Soon, another talent competition was held, the All Army Talent Competition, looking to find service personnel to appear on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town. Berry placed third in the "Specialty Act" category with the song "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and returned to New York City and television.


Film work[edit]

The Sullivan appearance was to take place shortly before Berry would muster out of the Army. Nimoy sent telegrams to several studios and talent agents asking them to watch Berry on the show. The performance led to an offer from 20th Century Fox and a screen test at Universal Studios. He signed with an agent as soon as he arrived in Hollywood. Berry accepted Universal's offer and began as a contract player. Soon he was being groomed to take over for Donald O'Connor in the Francis the Talking Mule movie series;[citation needed] however, Mickey Rooney became available and got the part. At Universal, Berry took full advantage of the studio's talent development program, and later, under the G.I. Bill, he took jazz dance, ballet, vocal, and additional acting classes. The movie musicals Berry admired had already seen their heyday; however, acting, which he once thought of as "something I would do between song and dance routines",[3] became the basis of his career.

Berry went on to star in the 1969 musical comedy Hello Down There — reissued as Sub a Dub Dub — as Mel Cheever, the nemesis of Tony Randall and Janet Leigh. He also starred in 1969's made-for-television film "Wake me up when the War is Over", with Eva Gabor and Werner Klemperer.[4] and with Denver Pyle in 1976's Guardian of the Wilderness, the story of Galen Clark, the man who created Yosemite National Park. Berry also earned broader success as a Disney star in the films Herbie Rides Again in 1974, with Helen Hayes and Stefanie Powers, and The Cat from Outer Space in 1978, with Sandy Duncan and McLean Stevenson.

Las Vegas[edit]

In 1956, after being released from Universal, Berry ventured to Las Vegas where he opened for and joined Abbott and Costello in their stage act, performing sketches and song and dance routines at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. While working with Abbott and Costello, he met Dee Arlen, an actress whom he credited with getting him his first big break.[3] This was Berry's first performance on the Las Vegas Strip. Then, in 1957, Berry was asked by Ken Murray, a well-known vaudeville performer, to join his stage variety show The Ken Murray Blackouts. The Blackouts played to standing-room-only audiences, and Berry was asked to choreograph and perform the opening number for the show when it played the Riviera hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Berry eventually returned to Las Vegas again in the 1970s at the invitation of Andy Griffith. Griffith, with Berry and Jerry Van Dyke, played Caesars Palace, where Berry performed song and dance numbers sandwiched by Andy and Jerry's stand-up routines.

The Billy Barnes Revue[edit]

Actress Dee Arlen referred Berry for a role in the show In League with Ivy at the Cabaret Concert Theatre, a nightclub in Los Angeles. Here he met famed composer–impresario Billy Barnes, the play's composer. Barnes brought Berry into The Billy Barnes Revue ensemble, his next break, and he performed in many of Barnes' shows in the coming years. While with Barnes, Berry worked with other performers including his future wife Jackie Joseph as well as Joyce Jameson, Bert Convy, Patti Regan, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Lennie Weinrib, and sketch writer/director Bob Rodgers. Several cast albums were made. In November 1959, the original cast of the Broadway show was replaced two weeks after a legal dispute with the producers over a canceled performance. The cast had missed their flight from Chicago after a promotional appearance on Playboy's Penthouse, and refunds had to be made to the ticket holders. He performed in several stage shows in Los Angeles.

Television work[edit]

Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts was a prime time television talent contest, that ran from 1946 to 1958. The winner got a week's work on Godfrey's morning television program, which was simulcast on radio. Berry won in 1957, performed his week on the show, and was then asked back for six more weeks. He traveled with Godfrey and performed on remote broadcasts in an Omaha stock yard, in Seattle at a lumber camp, at the Boeing aircraft plant, and at the San Diego Zoo. Berry came up with a new routine for every show, which aired daily.[3]

Berry and Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress in 1972

The Billy Barnes Review was popular with Hollywood, and one evening Carol Burnett was in Los Angeles and saw Berry in the show. She was appearing on The Garry Moore Show in New York and convinced the producers to sign Berry as a guest star. Burnett became a key ally for Berry, using him on her own special, which eventually became CBS's The Carol Burnett Show. Ken was one of Burnett's most frequent guest stars along with Jim Nabors and Steve Lawrence. In 1972, Berry and Burnett appeared together in the color remake of Burnett's Broadway hit, Once Upon a Mattress for CBS.[5]

A notable dramatic performance by Berry was 1982's television movie Eunice, which was based on The Carol Burnett Show sketch, The Family. The Family was something of a pilot for Mama's Family. Berry played Phillip, Eunice's brother, in the special; however he went on to play Vinton, a different brother, on Mama's Family.

His collaboration with Carol Burnett continued with the 1993 theatrical production of From the Top in Long Beach, California.[5]

The Billy Barnes Review also led to another important connection in his career when he was spotted by Lucille Ball. Ball quickly asked him to join her new talent development program at Desilu, similar to the "talent pools" – known as talent "programs" – that the other studios had. He was under contract with Desilu for six months, performing for both Ball and Barnes at the same time. The reviews for The Billy Barnes Review were largely positive, and additional investors contributed the extra money needed to move the show from the York Playhouse to Broadway,[6] which meant he had to take leave from Desilu.

After returning from New York in 1960, Berry was brought back to Desilu to play Woody, a bell hop, in 10 episodes of CBS's The Ann Sothern Show, which was set in a New York hotel called the Bartley House. The character Woody served as a "Greek chorus of one" on the series.

In 1968, Ball asked Berry to guest star on The Lucy Show, where he played a bank client needing a loan to start a dance studio. He performed a tribute to the Fred Astaire number "Steppin' Out with My Baby" and a duet with Ball for a rendition of "Lucy's Back in Town".

After numerous smaller roles, Berry was cast as one of three comic relief characters on Dr. Kildare from 1961 to 1966. A regular on the series, Berry played Dr. Kapish. He also played a dance instructor several times on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Berry, Andy Griffith and Buddy Foster in Mayberry R.F.D., 1968

Berry continued doing guest roles, but while performing a small part on the short-lived George Burns-Connie Stevens sitcom Wendy and Me, both Burns and Stevens recommended him for the pilot of F Troop for ABC, a western spoof where he played the accident-prone Captain Parmenter—his first starring role in a weekly sitcom.

Berry's co-stars were Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch. Berry called his time on F-Troop "two years of recess"[3] as the entire cast spent time between takes trying to make each other laugh. His dancing ability allowed him to perform choreographed pratfalls over hitching posts, sabers, and trash cans.

In 1967, during the second year of F-Troop, Dick Linke — who was Berry's manager, and also managed Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors — pitched an F Troop stage show to Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah's Entertainment, which included a casino and hotel in Reno, Nevada. Harrah went for it, and Berry, Larry Storch, Forrest Tucker, and James Hampton put together a show, hiring writers and a choreographer to assist. While performing the Reno show they received word that F Troop had been canceled due to a financial dispute between the production company and the studio.

The next year, Berry was cast in the featured role of Sam Jones, a widowed farmer, on the last few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. He then took a leading role on its spin-off Mayberry R.F.D..[7] In September 1968, Berry led the cast of Mayberry R.F.D. as Griffith's character receded. Most of the regular characters stayed with the show. Andy and wife Helen left after a few episodes in season two. Series writers used Berry's "trouper" talents in stories about church revues and talent contests. On the 1970 Mayberry R.F.D. episode "The Charity", he and co-star Paul Hartman performed a soft-shoe routine. Berry sometimes ended a show on the porch at dusk, serenading others with such songs as "Carolina Moon". In spite of finishing 15th place for season three, Mayberry R.F.D. was canceled in 1971 in what was called "the rural purge", where shows set in a bucolic locale (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction) were replaced with the more "hip" fare of Norman Lear (All in the Family) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

After Mayberry R.F.D., Berry starred in several TV movies and his own summer replacement variety show on ABC titled The Ken Berry 'Wow' Show in 1972, which ran for five episodes. This show was a launching pad for future stars Steve Martin, Cheryl Ladd, and Teri Garr.

In 1973 Sherwood Schwartz wrote a spin-off of The Brady Bunch, titled Kelly's Kids, which featured Berry as the adoptive father of three diverse boys (black, white, and Asian). The pilot failed to interest ABC.

Over the next two decades Berry guest starred on many shows, including The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, several Mitzi Gaynor specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Grizzly Adams, CHiPs, The Golden Girls, and Little House on the Prairie.

In 1983, Berry was cast as Vinton Harper in Mama's Family, a spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show with comic actors including Vicki Lawrence, Dorothy Lyman, and Rue McClanahan. Betty White and Carol Burnett appeared as guest stars. The first two seasons aired on NBC and then the show was cancelled in 1984. In 1986, it was picked up for first run syndication. Lawrence, Berry, and Lyman all returned. McClanahan and White were already filming The Golden Girls so they were no longer available. White did make one guest appearance. Burnett did not appear due to her recent divorce from long-time husband Joe Hamilton, the show's producer. Beverly Archer and Allan Kayser joined the cast as neighbor Iola Boylen and Mama's grandson (Eunice's son) Bubba Higgins, respectively. The reboot of Mama's Family was successful, airing until 1990 with a total of 130 episodes filmed.

During and after Mama's Family, Berry toured the United States in various theatrical performances, including multiple performances of Sugar with co-stars such as Donald O'Connor, Mickey Rooney, Soupy Sales, and Bobby Morse, The Music Man with Susan Watson (Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi were in the chorus), I Do! I Do! with Loretta Swit, and Gene Kelly's A Salute to Broadway with Howard Keel and Mimi Hines. Kelly, who was Berry's idol, was set to direct the production, but fell ill.[3]

In his younger years, Berry signed with a modeling agency that put him in a variety of spots, including advertisements for tissues, cigarettes, cereal, and a car commercial.[3] Years later, after signing with a commercial agent, Berry was a spokesman in commercials for Kinney Shoes from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, singing and dancing to the "Great American Shoe Store" jingle.[citation needed]


Berry's first recording experience came with the Billy Barnes cast albums: one from the Broadway performance of The Billy Barnes Review and the second in Billy Barnes' L.A.

After an appearance on The Andy Williams Show, Williams asked Berry to record a solo album on his new Barnaby label. Backed by a full orchestra, Ken Berry RFD was released in 1970.

Personal life[edit]

Berry married Jackie Joseph, a Billy Barnes castmate, on May 29, 1960. On November 29, 1962, their son Joseph Larson Berry was born but died 6 days later on December 5, 1962.[8] They then adopted two children together, John (b. 1964–2016) and Jennifer (b. 1965–2020).[9] They divorced in 1976. His son John, who later became a co-founder of the Indie rock band Idaho, died in 2016 of brain cancer at the age of 51.[10] His daughter Jennifer died in 2020 of natural causes at the age of 55.[11] Berry's longtime partner and companion, Susie Walsh, a stage manager, had been with him for the last 24 years.

Berry "loved cars and anything with wheels" from the time he was a young child, particularly smaller cars, and maintained a 1966 Mini Moke. An avid motorcyclist, he camped and rode the local Los Angeles mountain ranges.[3]


Berry died of heart complications in Burbank, California, on December 1, 2018, at the age of 85.[12][13][14]


List of television series credits
Year Title Role Notes
1961–1966 Dr. Kildare Dr. John Kapish 25 episodes
1965–1967 F Troop Capt. Wilton Parmenter 65 episodes
1968–1971 Mayberry R.F.D. Sam Jones 78 episodes[15]
1968–1978 The Carol Burnett Show Himself 19 episodes
1972 The Ken Berry WOW Show Himself 5 episodes
1983–1990 Mama's Family Vinton Harper 130 episodes
List of other television appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1954 Talent Patrol Himself
1959 Playboy's Penthouse Himself With The Billy Barnes Revue cast
1960 Harrigan and Son Himself As Curtis Decker
1960–1961 The Ann Sothern Show Woody 10 episodes
1961 Hennesey Ensign Mayberry
1961 The Asphalt Jungle Doctor (uncredited)
1961 The Garry Moore Show Himself
1962 GE True Fiancé
1962 The Bob Newhart Show various
1962 Mrs. G. Goes to College Oscar
1962–1963 Ensign O'Toole Lt. Melton / Calucci
1963 Burke's Law Clyde (fella at party)
1964 Calhoun: County Agent Otis Sorenson
1964 Combat! Motor Sergeant
1964 The Dick Van Dyke Show Tony Daniels (choreographer)
1964 Hazel Phil Merrick
1964 The Rogues
1964–1965 Twelve O'Clock High Major Bragg / Captain
1964–1965 No Time for Sergeants Joe Dalrymple 3 episodes
1965 Rawhide Lt. Tendall
1965 The Hollywood Palace Himself
1966 Carol & Company Himself
1967 Dateline: Hollywood Himself
1967 Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In Himself
1967 The Danny Thomas Hour Skip
1967 The Woody Woodbury Show Himself
1967 You Don't Say! Himself Game show
1968 The Andy Griffith Show Sam Jones 4 episodes
1969 Allen Ludden's Gallery Himself
1969 The Ed Sullivan Show Himself
1969 The Leslie Uggams Show Himself
1969 Wake Me When the War Is Over Lt. Roger Carrington Made-for-TV movie
1969–1971 The Andy Williams Show Himself Guest performer
1971 The First Nine Months are the Hardest First husband
1971 The Reluctant Heroes Lt. Parnell Murphy
1971 This Is Your Life: Andy Griffith Himself
1971–1973 Love, American Style Various roles
1972 Arthur Godfrey's Portable Electric Medicine Show Himself
1972 Every Man Needs One David Chase Made-for-TV movie
1972 Once Upon a Mattress Dauntless the Drab
1972 The Julie Andrews Hour Himself
1973 Letters from Three Lovers Jack
1973–1974 Miss Teenage America Pageant Himself, Master of Ceremonies
1973 Mitzi — The First Time Himself
1973 The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Wilt Chamberlain Himself
1973 The Mouse Factory Himself
1974 The Brady Bunch Ken Kelly Backdoor pilot (episode used as the pilot) for Kelly's Kids (which went unsold)
1974 Stand Up and Cheer Himself
1974 Tattletales Himself Game show/5 episodes during one week with wife Jackie
1974 The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour Himself
1975 Medical Center Allan Ronston
1975 Mitzi and a Hundred Guys Himself
1975 The Jim Stafford Show Himself
1976 Ellery Queen DJ Paul Parker / Buddy
1976 Mitzi — Roarin' in the Twenties Himself
1976 Over and Out Capt. Paddy Patterson
1977 Dinah! Himself
1977 The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams Will Boker
1977 The Love Boat II Dr. Jim Berkley
1977 Valentine's Second Chance Jimmy Valentine
1978 Apple Pie Salesman
1978 CBS: On the Air Himself
1978–1982 Fantasy Island Various
1979 Featherstone's Nest Dr. Charlie Featherstone
1979 Little House on the Prairie London
1979 The Love Boat Robert Noble
1980 CHiPs Kelly
1980 The Big Show Himself
1982 Eunice Phil Harper
1983 Just Men! Himself Game show hosted by Betty White
1983 Texaco Star Theatre: Opening Night Himself
1985 Late Night with David Letterman Zeetron Skit about a family in the future
1985 Gimme a Break! Dave
1986 Small Wonder Buddy O'Conner
1992 The Golden Girls Thor Anderson
1992 Vicki!: Mama's Family Reunion Himself
1997 The New Batman Adventures Seymour Grey
1999 Maggie Winters Sheriff Riley (final appearance)
List of film credits
Year Title Role Notes
1962 Two for the Seesaw Larry Dancing with Shirley MacLaine, Uncredited
1964 The Lively Set Hotel room service waiter Uncredited
1969 Hello Down There Mel Cheever Alternative title: Sub-A-Dub-Dub
1974 Herbie Rides Again Willoughby Whitfield
1976 Guardian of the Wilderness Zachary More [16]
1978 The Cat from Outer Space Dr. Frank Wilson [17]
1981 Peter-No-Tail Peter-No-Tail Voice, US version
List of theater credits
Year Title Role Notes
1957 In League with Ivy Himself
1958 Billy Barnes Review Himself
1960 Billy Barnes' People Himself
1960 Vintage '60 Himself
1961 Billy Barnes' Hollywood Himself
1961 Little Mary Sunshine Captain 'Big Jim' Warington
1961 The Billy Barnes Review Himself
1963 Billy Barnes' LA Himself
1964 The Best of Billy Barnes Himself
1974 The Music Man Prof. Harold Hill
1975 Gene Kelly's Salute to Broadway Himself
1984 Run for Your Wife John Smith
1993 From the Top Various characters With Carol Burnett
Multiple years George M! George M. Cohan
Multiple years I Do! I Do! Michael Snow
Multiple years Sugar Joe


  1. ^ "Actor Ken Berry from 'F Troop' and 'Mama's Family' dies at 85". December 2, 2018. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  2. ^ "Stub Hub: Diary of a Concert-Crazed Teenager". Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ken Berry". Archive of American Television (Interview). Interviewed by Stephen Abramson. North Hollywood, California. March 7, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  4. ^ I personally saw the film and it is also posted under its own Wikipedia entry
  5. ^ a b Craft, Dan. "Ken Berry — Still Making 'em Laugh", August 13, 1993
  6. ^ Zolotow, Sam (July 22, 1959). "Revue Will Move to Golden Theatre". The New York Times, p. 2.
  7. ^ "9 things you never knew about Ken Berry of Mayberry R.F.D."
  8. ^ "Always remembering my first child, Baby Joseph Larson Berry, living 6 days in 1962, high on a hill, I promised him I would live a life that would make him proud. John always thought of him as a brother ... together now, quite a force of nature".
  9. ^ "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers". Chicago Tribune.[full citation needed]
  10. ^ "My son: The coming and going of John Kenneth Berry". Archived from the original on August 16, 2017. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  11. ^ "Jennifer Kate Berry, Daughter of Jackie Joseph and Ken Berry, Passes Away".
  12. ^ Barnes, Mike (December 1, 2018). "Ken Berry, Star of 'F Troop' and 'Mama's Family,' Dies at 85". The Hollywood Reporter.
  13. ^ "Ken Berry, TV Actor in 'Mama's Family,' 'F Troop,' 'Mayberry R.F.D,' Dies at 85". December 2, 2018.
  14. ^ "Ken Berry, star of 'F Troop,' 'Mama's Family' and 'Mayberry R.F.D.,' has died at 85".
  15. ^ "9 things you never knew about Ken Berry of Mayberry R.F.D."
  16. ^ "'Mama's Family' Actor Ken Berry Dead At 85". December 3, 2018.
  17. ^ "RETRO REVIEW: THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE". March 31, 2020.


  1. ^ One biological child and two adopted children. All children are deceased.

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