November 3 marks Ken Berry's 82 birthday. The actor is best known as a lead in MeTV favorites like F Troop, Mayberry R.F.D. and Mama's Family, but did you know that the skilled singer and dancer also has ties to I Love Lucy, Star Trek and The Brady Bunch? Throughout his long career, the Illinois native has worked alongside Andy Griffith, Carol Burnett, and Abbott and Costello. It's time to salute a man who should be spoken of as a legend himself.
Here is a heaping handful of intriguing truths about Ken Berry.
1. He served under Leonard Nimoy in the Army
After some time in Artillery, Berry served under Sergeant Nimoy in the Special Services Corp, the entertainment branch of the Army. Berry kept his tap shoes by his side in the service and won talent contests. After serving, as a contract player at Universal, he utilized the GI Bill to study ballet, jazz dance, singing and acting.
2. He opened for Abbott and Costello in Vegas
In 1956, Universal released Berry, who headed into the desert to perform alongside Abbott and Costello at the Sahara. Berry opened for the iconic duo and appeared in sketches. It was the twilight of their collaborative career. In 1957, the comedy team sadly split for good.
3. The Billy Barnes Revue led to multiple big breaks
Berry next landed a spot in the revue of musical composer Billy Barnes, which jumped from Los Angeles to Off Broadway to Broadway. The cast recording offered Berry his first chance to cut a record. Both Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball spotted Berry performing in the L.A. revue. Burnett pushed producers on her Garry Moore Show to hire the young talent. Ball signed Berry to Desilu, where he scored a role as a bellboy in The Ann Sothern Show. Berry also performed a duet with Ball on The Lucy Show.
4. He played two different sons of "Mama"
Berry frequently appeared as a guest on The Carol Burnett Show. The reoccurring skit "The Family" featured Vicki Lawrence's unforgettable "Mama" and her clan of five children, including Burnett as Eunice Harper. In 1982, CBS aired a made-for-TV movie spin-off entitled Eunice. In that, Berry played the son Phillip Harper. When "The Family" spun-off again as Mama's Family for NBC, Berry was cast as youngest son Vinton Harper.
5. He starred in a failed Brady Bunch spin-off
Mama's Family aired from 1983 to '90. Not all his spin-offs were quite as successful. In 1974, Berry appeared on The Brady Bunch in the final season as family friend Ken Kelly. Kelly and his wife are adopting a child — and decide to adopt his two minority friends as well. The backdoor pilot failed to get picked up as a full series, although creator Sherwood Schwartz used the same premise with Elliott Gould in the 1980s for Together We Stand.
6. He showed off his song and dance skills in shoe commercials
As we have mentioned often, Berry relied on his formidable song and dance skills. In the 1970s and 1980s, he became the spokesman — well, singsman and danceman — for Kinney Shoes stores. In the ads, he did everything from tap to disco to playing a quick-footed football coach.