Film and television actor Sidney Clute amassed well over 100 big- and small-screen credits across a career lasting just over 30 years. As a result of his personal popularity and the friendships borne of his professionalism, Clute's credits extended for three years beyond his death in 1985. Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1916, he began working professionally in summer stock productions, and didn't make the leap to film work until shortly after World War II. His movie debut came in an uncredited role in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing a drugstore clerk. His next appearance on film was on the small screen, in an uncredited role in the first-season Adventures of Superman episode "Czar of the Underworld", first seen in 1953. None of the five film and television roles he had in 1953 -- in the series Racket Squad, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, and Russell Rouse's Wicked Woman -- were credited, but they opened a three-decade career. He was busier in 1954, on the sitcom I Married Joan, the crime dramas Waterfront and The Lineup, and small roles in feature films, including Douglas Sirk's ancient-world costume drama Sign of the Pagan, playing a monk. And that was the shape of Clute's career for the next 25 years, individual days of work on series ranging from Westerns to melodramas, broken by the occasional feature-film role. He did have a recurring role on Steve Canyon as Crew Chief Sergeant Gerke, and producer/director Jack Webb used him in three episodes of Dragnet during the 1950s, but it was the action/adventure series Whirlybirds that kept Clute the busiest over its two seasons from 1957 through 1959. His bald head and hangdog features seemed to register well with audiences no matter which side of the law his characters were on, and his Brooklyn accent (which he could hide effectively) even worked well in Westerns. Directors and producers appreciated his ability to nail a character or a line in short order, as well as his genial personality behind the scenes.
Clute was working more often in the 1960s, on Dick Powell Theatre, Wagon Train, Hogan's Heroes, Mannix, Ben Casey, Perry Mason, That Girl, and dozens of other series, though he was probably most visible in the revived series Dragnet, which used him in key supporting roles in seven episodes. His best part in that series was in "Public Affairs: DR-07", as a gun nut on a television talk show who takes an open microphone to express his opposition to California's licensing and registration laws. But his chameleon-like ability as an actor was showcased that same year with an appearance on Iron Horse, in the episode "Wild Track", as a duplicitous 19th century businessman involved in a high-stakes poker game on a train besieged by outlaws -- even those familiar with his work elsewhere could forget that it was the familiar face from Dragnet. Clute was just as active in the 1970s, jumping between theatrical thrillers such as Breakout and Executive Action and dozens of television series. Toward the end of the 1970s, he settled into recurring work on Lou Grant as the newspaper's national editor, and finally, in 1982, he landed a co-starring role in a successful series when he was cast as Detective Paul La Guardia in Cagney and Lacey. As the oldest member of the detective squad -- and the most sympathetic to the two female detectives of the title, played by Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless -- Clute was a memorable presence on the series for its first three seasons. He died suddenly in the fall of 1985 from an especially fast-moving form of cancer. In tribute to the actor, producer Barney Rosensweig, a good friend of Clute's, left his name and image in the credits and continued to have his character referred to as an active member of the squad for the remaining four seasons of the show.