6 major TV characters that were recast after an actor died

Sometimes the show must go on.

How does a TV show react to the death of a star? In some cases, especially in television's early history, the character would simply disappear without a trace or mention. Such was the case with Nana Bryant of Make Room for Daddy and Ward Bond of Wagon Train. Other series opted to write off the characters, having them move away or die offscreen. 

However, a few bold shows took another route — recasting the character. This can be especially risky when it comes to fan reaction. Most recently, the Starz series Spartacus replaced its Spartacus after the first season.

We are looking further back. Here are some notable instances of characters being recast after a death in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. If you remember these changes, how did you react?

1. Hannibal Heyes of 'Alias Smith and Jones'


Modeled after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alias Smith and Jones was a wonderful early-'70s series with humor, grit and guns. The cast was stellar, too, including Sally Field. Pete Duel (pictured here) starred as Hannibal "Honest John Smith" Heyes. On New Year's Eve 1971, the rising TV star committed suicide. The executive producer tactfully wanted to end the series, but the network pushed forward, promoting narrator Roger Davis to the role of H. Heyes.

2. Gladys Kravitz of 'Bewitched'


As neighbor Gladys Kravitz, Alice Pearce provided brilliant comic moments on Bewitched, repeatedly dropping her jaw with a befuddled look. Pearce was diagnosed with terminal cancer before Bewitched started in 1964, a fact which the actress hid from producers. Towards the end of the show's second season, Pearce passed away from ovarian cancer. Gladys was recast, with Sandra Gould taking her place. For the show's second season, Pearce posthumously won an Emmy Award for her guest-starring role.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

3. Julie Erskine of 'Phyllis'


After a series of guest-starring roles on television in the 1970s, Colby finally got her big break as Julie on the Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Phyllis. Unfortunately, after only completing three episodes of the series, Colby was shot and killed in a parking lot by a drive-by shooter. Police concluded the shooting was random, and the killers were never found. On Phyllis, the show had to go on, and Colby was replaced by Liz Torres.

Image: 20th Television

4. Beulah of 'The Beulah Show'


Beginning as a radio program, Beulah holds a significant place in history. The story of a housekeeper and cook, the series was both the first network radio program and the first sitcom to star a black woman. Nevertheless, today it remains largely unseen, due to its woefully dated depictions of African-Americans. Ethel Waters first played the role on the television series beginning in 1950, though she quit after the first season. The production moved from the Bronx to Hollywood, and Hattie McDaniel jumped from the radio version to the TV adaptation. McDaniel fell ill after six episodes and was replaced by screen veteran Louise Beavers. The plan was for McDaniel to return to the role, but she passed away from breast cancer. Her episodes were tacked onto the end of the second season.

Image: ABC

5. Ellery Queen of 'The Adventures of Ellery Queen'


The name Ellery Queen is now synonymous with the mystery genre. The iconic name made his television debut on the DuMont network in 1950. After the first season, star Richard Hart suddenly died of a heart attack. Lee Bowman slipped into the role, and remains the far more recognized Ellery, thanks to the series hopping over to the far more successful ABC network.

Image: BJ's Records & Nostalgia / YouTube

6. Dick Powell of 'The Dick Powell Show'


If you have a show called The Dick Powell Show, the worst thing that probably could happen is losing Dick Powell. While he is not a "character," the movie veteran hosted his anthology series on NBC. Imagine The Twilight Zone without Rod Serling. Midway through its second and final season, Powell sadly succumbed to lung cancer. Some rather famous friends stepped in to host the show, which was retitled The Dick Powell Theatre. How famous? How's this for a lineup: Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Milton Berle, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Steve McQueen and John Wayne were just some of the pals who stepped in to help the show.

Image: NBC



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ScarlettKaiju 50 months ago
In the wonderful 1970's ELLERY QUEEN series, there is an episode where Ellery and his father, Inspector Richard Queen are watching a film being made from one of Ellery's novels. While bemoaning the casting of the actors playing them, the Inspector comments, "I hear Lee Bowman turned it down."
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