In Praise of William Schallert

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“Hey, isn’t that whatsisname?” Chances are, if you’ve watched classic movies and TV shows, you know William Schallert. The actor, who died today at the ripe old age of 93, was never a star, but contributed many fine supporting performances in over 300 films and television episodes. He was one of those guys that, if you didn’t know the name, you certainly recognized the face.

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Schallert’s career stretches back to the late 40’s, with an uncredited role in THE FOXES OF HARROW, starring Rex Harrison and beautiful Maureen O’Hara. The young actor also popped up in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, the first of his many science fiction films. Schallert had a meaty part as greedy Dr. Mears in Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1951 THE MAN FROM PLANET X , and appeared in GOG, THEM, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and THE MONLITH MONSTERS. He would return to the genre later in his career in such features as TWIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, GREMLINS, and was a favorite of director Joe Dante (GREMLINS, INNERSPACE, MATINEE).

American actors (left to right) Richard Gautier, Patty Duke and William Schallert in a promotional portrait for 'Anywhere I Hang My Horn Is Home', an episode in the US sitcom 'The Patty Duke Show', 1966. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Schallert was ubiquitous on television. Better to ask what TV show DIDN’T he guest on! Regular roles included Lt. Manny Harris on PHILIP MARLOWE , stuffy Prof. Pomfret on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS, and dad Martin Lane on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW. He worked on all the sci-fi/horror anthologies: SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, THE TWILGHT ZONE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ONE STEP BEYOND, and THRILLER. Recently, he played the Mayor on HBO’s vampire series TRUE BLOOD.

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But he’ll probably be best remembered as Nils Baris, the authoritarian under-secretary of agriculture in the classic STAR TREK episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles”. Here, Schallert’s in top form as the pompous Federation official at odds with Captain Kirk. It’s one of the series best (definitely the funniest), and Schallert shows why he was one of the best supporting actors in the business. Rest in peace, William Schallert. They don’t make ’em like you anymore.

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