The Man Of A Thousand Characters
Hollywood released what they billed as “The true story of the life and loves of Lon Chaney,” in the 1957 movie called “Man of a Thousand Faces.” Chaney was given that nickname because of the extremes he would go through to change his physical appearance for so many different film roles he played, even including those in silent movies, dating as far back as the 1920s.
If Chaney was the true Man of a Thousand Faces, then one man of the small screen definitely earned the title “Man of a Thousand Characters,” because of the many, many roles he played on television, and in a few big screen movies during his career. The character actor featured in this Voice from the Bullpen narrative was on television shows spanning five decades, and on one show he appeared eight times as a different character each time. His name was Allan Melvin.
Melvin’s career began shortly after he appeared on the radio program, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” He appeared on Broadway in the play “Stalag 17,” which led to his being cast as Cpl. Henshaw on the popular television program, “The Phil Silvers Show.” He appeared eight times on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” most of those as the same character, but often times that character had a different name in the particular episode of the series in which he performed. He played Sol Pomerantz, Guard Jenkins, Gun Drummer, Harrison B. Harding, Sam, Sam Pomerantz and Sam Pomeroy.
Throughout the run of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Melvin could be seen eight times as eight different characters. Once he played grocery clerk, Fred Plummer, who received a citation for littering from Barney and threatened to beat him up if he ever caught him out of his uniform. In another episode, he played a farmer (Neil) selling vegetables and fruits who gives Barney a hard time about moving to a different location because he and his partner were violating a city code. In a third episode, Melvin portrayed an army sergeant who was a recruiter, and was ready to sign up Earnest T. Bass, much to the advice against it given to him by Andy. In another show, he portrayed hotel detective Bardoli, who Barney confused as a jewel thief. In another episode of the Mayberry sitcom, he played Jake, a wingman to an elderly woman operating a car scam operation where Barney was a swindle victim of buying a lemon. On a couple occasions, Melvin portrayed convicted characters, one time as an escaped convict who was recaptured and brought to Mayberry while Barney was acting sheriff, and then he escaped from the Mayberry jail, and another time he played a crook (Malloy) whom a disguised Barney tried to dupe into giving up the name and location of his partner, but that resulted in Melvin’s character getting the drop on Barney and escaping from the Mayberry jail. In a later episode, Melvin played a tough guy, Clyde Plaunt, who comes to Mayberry to seek out his former girlfriend, Millie Hutchins and gets into an altercation with Howard Sprague.
Just as Gomer Pyle left “The Andy Griffith Show,” when he joined the marines in the spinoff, “Gomer Pyle USMC,” so did Allan Melvin when he was cast in the new sitcom, in the role of Sgt. Carter’s rival, Sergeant Charlie Hacker, and he appeared in numerous episodes of that show.
After his hitch on the Gomer Pyle was done, Melvin became butcher, Sam Franklin, boyfriend of Alice Nelson, of “The Brady Bunch,” which ran from 1969 to 1974. Then, following his career as a meat cutter, Melvin caught on to the sitcom, “All in the Family,” starring Carroll O’Connor. Melvin portrayed Archie Bunker’s friend, Barney Hefner, who shared many of the same feelings about life and people as Archie felt. He continued that role when the show switched titles to Archie Bunker’s Place in 1980 and ran for four more seasons.
Allan Melvin also made appearances in the shows, “Perry Mason,” “Arnie,” “Love American Style,” “Green Acres,” “The Brian Keith Show,” “Mayberry RFD,” “The Mod Squad,” “Vacation Playhouse,” “My Favorite Martian,” “Run Buddy Run,” “The Joey Bishop Show,” “Slattery’s X,” “Ben Casey,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Bill Dana Show,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Empire,” “Grindl,” “McHale’s Navy,” and “Route 66.” He also lent his voice to many cartoon characters, most notably being the voice of Magilla Gorilla, and he portrayed, Al, who solved so many clogged drain problems on the Liquid-Plumr commercials seen on TV.
Melvin’s career also saw him appear in a number of made-for-TV movies, and a few on the big screen, as well. Funny thing was, that through the first four decades he played many of these roles, he never seemed to look any different in age.
Melvin passed away in 2008. If he had a headstone for every character he played in his career, he’d probably have to be buried all by himself in the “Melvin” Cemetery, but he certainly wouldn’t be buried alone.
It could have been said of Allan Melvin, that he had a split personality. It would seem that he would have to have had one to be able to assume the number of personalities that he did during his career. One thing that can definitely be said about Melvin though, is that the “Man of a Thousand Characters” spent an enormous amount of time in living rooms during those five-plus decades that he entertained.