Orson Bean

Active - 1955 - 2021  |   Born - Jul 22, 1928 in Burlington, Vermont, United States  |   Died - Jul 2, 2020   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

"My name is Orson Bean. Harvard '47, Yale Nothing." Actually, that oft-repeated introduction is a double deception: actor Orson Bean didn't go to Harvard, and his name isn't really Orson Bean. As a boy magician, Dallas Frederick Burrows borrowed the first half of his stage name from another prestidigitator of note, Orson Welles. Bean made his legitimate stage bow in 1945, then worked up a nightclub comedy act which premiered in New York at the now-defunct Blue Angel (in 1954, he hosted a summer-replacement TV series emanating from this celebrated nightspot). Landing on Broadway in the 1953 production Men of Distinction, Bean won a Theatre World Award for his work in the 1954 revue John Murray Anderson's Almanac, and Critics' Circle Awards for his performances in Mister Roberts and Say Darling. His later stage credits included Broadway's Subways are for Sleeping (1962) and Never too Late (1964) not to mention his extensive tours in the Neil Simon-Burt Bacharah musical Promises, Promises. In films from 1955, Bean's best-received screen performance was as the testifying army physician in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959). An inescapable presence on TV, Bean has participated in virtually every quiz show known to man, from the familiar (To Tell the Truth, I've Got a Secret) to the obscure (Laugh Line). He was also a regular as the ineffectual Reverend Brim on the Norman Lear syndicated series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1977) and Forever Fernword (1978), and more recently was seen on a weekly basis as cranky general store owner Loren Bray on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Women (1993- ). Outside of his showbiz activities, Bean has proven a difficult subject to categorize: blacklisted for his outspoken liberal views in the early 1950s, he was an ardent supporter of Richard M. Nixon in 1968. A man of many interests, Orson Bean was the founder of the arts-oriented 15th Street School of New York, the author of the oddball 1971 volume Me and the Orgon, and one of the charter members of The Sons of the Desert, the famed Laurel & Hardy appreciation society.

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  • Was of Irish and Scottish descent.
  • When he was born, his first cousin twice removed, Calvin Coolidge, was the president of the United States.
  • Was an amateur magician at a young age performing for his neighbors.
  • Started as a comedian at nightclubs.
  • In 1954, he made his debut on Broadway.
  • Was one of the co-founders of the Pacific Resident Theatre, non-profit actors collective in Venice, California.