The character actor best known as television producer Mel Cooley on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was born today in 1921. Now WE know em

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Richard Deacon was born May 14, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He grew up in Binghamton, New York.

Deacon was stricken with polio at age 11 and took dancing lessons to strengthen his legs.

He went on to attend Ithaca College where he studied drama.

During World War II, Deacon spent four years in the Army Medical Corps.

After the War, the tall, bass-voiced young man took to acting on stage. He became an ‘actor in residence’ while attending Bennington College in Vermont from 1949 to 1951.

In the early 1950’s, Deacon went to California and worked in stock theatre, forming his own theatre at one point.

Then one day, stage legend Helen Hayes told the bald, bespectacled Deacon that he would never become a leading man but encouraged him to become a character actor.

This turned out to be great advice, and soon because of his looks and authoritative voice, Deacon began being typecast as a humorless or foul-tempered authority figure.

Soon, he had become a highly regarded supporting player in films, complimented by many of the leading actors he played opposite, including Jack Benny, Lou Costello and Cary Grant.

However, it was in television that Deacon really thrived.

Leave It to Beaver

In 1957, Deacon began playing Fred Rutherford, the father of Clarence (aka Lumpy) in the television series “Leave It to Beaver.”

Richard Deacon

 

The Dick Van Dyke Show

(left to right) Dick Van Dyke, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon, Rose Marie, Mary Tyler Moore

(left to right) Dick Van Dyke, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon, Rose Marie, Mary Tyler Moore

While still working on Leave It to Beaver in 1961, Deacon was cast as television producer Mel Cooley on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Deacon’s character was constantly harassed by Morey Amsterdam’s diminutive wisecracking character Buddy Sorrell.

It was this five year role as Mel Cooley that he is mainly remembered for today.

In 1966, Carl Reiner terminated the series in order to go out while the show was on top.

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After the Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air, Deacon co-starred on the second season of sitcom “The Mothers-In-Law” as Kaye Ballard’s husband.

Then for the 1969-1970 season on Broadway, Deacon appeared in the long running production of “Hello Dolly” as Horace Vandergelder opposite Phyllis Diller.

Deacon continued appearing on television and in the movies.

In 1983, Deacon reprised his role of Fred Rutherford in the television movie Still the Beaver, a sequel to the TV series Leave it to Beaver,

In his private life, Deacon was a gourmet chef. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote a series of cookbooks and hosted a Canadian television series on microwave cooking.

 

On the night of August 8, 1984, he was stricken by a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home. Richard Deacon was rushed to Cedars Sinai Hospital, where he died later that night. He was 63 years old.

He was cremated at Grandview Crematory.

Now WE know em

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