7 classic TV actors who got famous from their very first role

These stars all hit a home run on the first swing.

The journey for most actors isn’t an easy one. Just being able to work steadily as a performer is tough to achieve. But for a lucky few, breaking into Hollywood happens almost immediately.

Here are seven classic TV actors who landed big roles as their very first gigs. Whether they were a child star without much experience or a 30-year-old switching careers, these famous faces hit it big right away.

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1. Jim Nabors


Besides one appearance doing a comedy bit on The New Steve Allen Show in 1961, Jim Nabors' first acting role was the one that made him famous — Gomer Pyle. Andy Griffith saw him performing at a club in Los Angeles and thought his Southern drawl would be perfect for The Andy Griffith Show. Gomer's first appearance came in the 1962 episode "The Bank Job." After Barney gets locked in the safe, Gomer uses a torch from the filling station to try to break open the door. Nabors' performance as Gomer proved so popular that he not only turned a one-time character into a recurring one, he headlined his own successful spinoff!

2. Ted Cassidy


Ted Cassidy also technically had one gig before playing Lurch but it doesn't really count as a first role. He did uncredited voice work as a Martian in the 1959 film The Angry Red Planet. That aside, Lurch was Cassidy's very first onscreen character and it became his most famous. The former college basketball player quit his job in radio to pursue acting at the not-so-young age of 30. Luckily, he hit the jackpot on the first try.

3. Tom Lester


Tom Lester broke into Hollywood the way many actors dream of. A farm boy from Mississippi, he moved to California and try to make it in show business and landed a part in a soon-to-be successful sitcom. As the story goes, he beat out hundreds of other actors for the role of friendly farmhand Eb Dawson on Green Acres because he didn’t have to fake milking a cow — he already had plenty of experience doing it!

4. Burt Ward


Holy successful first try, Batman! Burt Ward was only 20 years old when Batman premiered in January of 1966. It soon garnered high ratings and has since become one of the most beloved takes on the comic book character. Ward's role as Robin, his very first Hollywood acting job, has become iconic — especially his exclamatory catchphrases.

5. Vicki Lawrence


Vicki Lawrence catapulted straight from high school senior to television variety star. She sent Carol Burnett a fan letter and noted their resemblance. Burnett was casting her show at the time and was particularly interested in someone that could play her little sister. Lawrence won a spot as a regular performer alongside Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show — after auditioning, of course, she didn't get the job just from a fan letter —  and the rest is history.

6. Mike Lookinland


It might not seem that out of the ordinary for a child actor's most famous character to be their very first role, but Mike Lookinland was actually the only Brady kid to not have any prior TV show experience before getting cast on the series. His TV brothers and sisters had played small parts on programs like Bewitched, The Big Valley and Adam-12. Even Susan Olsen had been in Gunsmoke and Ironside before playing youngest Brady sibling, Cindy. Though he hadn't played any TV show roles, Lookinland was a veteran of many TV commercials by the time he was cast as Bobby Brady at 8-years-old.

7. Tony Dow


Tony Dow became Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver without any real TV experience at all, unlike Jerry Mathers who had appeared in multiple movies and shows before he became the Beaver. Dow grew up in Los Angeles and his mom was a stunt woman in Westerns but he was more of an athlete than an actor as a child. His sports prowess served him well for his first acting role that made him a household name.

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RedSamRackham 22 months ago
* Burt Ward in his early 20's was offered the role of 21 going on 22 Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate & he wanted to do it BUT couldn't get out of his "Robin the boy wonder" contract which turned out to be a big break for 30-something actor Dustin Hoffman.
TonyClifton 22 months ago
Ted Cassidy was the voice you hear in the opening credits of "The Incredible Hulk" from 1977. He also did the Hulk growls as well. But he was also a director and writer as well. If you ever saw his interviews he was very well spoken and highly intelligent...far away from his Lurch character.
JesseJames 38 months ago
I liked Gomer Pyle on TAGS. But hated him on his own show USMC...On TAGS his character was humble. But on USMC he was obnoxious
Moriyah JesseJames 38 months ago
What?! I actually prefer Gomer as a marine! Besides, it's my favorite show as well.
RedSamRackham Moriyah 22 months ago
* I also enjoyed Gomer Pyle USMC even if it was a bit silly at times.
scp 38 months ago
It's funny to think that of the Cleaver brothers, Beaver was the old acting pro. It still kind of boggles my mind to think that Jerry Mathers worked with Hitchcock.
RedSamRackham scp 22 months ago
* The lad who played Beaver's summer camp buddy Chopper had also worked for Hitchcock!
biscuit2013 38 months ago
I love MeTV, especially Perry mason. I also watch the morning line up while we were on stay at home order. I have seen shows I’ve never seen before or knew they existed. Now I watch every Saturday to see some of those westerns❤️
zman47240 38 months ago
Don’t forget Vicky Lawrence’s radio hit The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.
vinman63 38 months ago
Vicky Lawrence is multi faceted along with Jim Nabhors. They each had a spin-off sitcom from characters they played. Tom Lester went into politics.Burt Ward creates dog food which increases life expectancy. Tony Dow does art. Mike Lookinland is into concrete. Ted Cassidy acted occasionally till he died of surgical complications.
vinman63 38 months ago
I'm sorry to hear of Ted Cassidy's passing.
RedSamRackham vinman63 22 months ago
* Mike Lookinland's younger brother was 1 of the 3 lads in that Brady Bunch "Kelly Kids" episode. ☺
BATSCHOLAR 38 months ago
Back in 1978 I conducted one of the last interviews with Ted Cassidy. Up until the time of the Addams Family, he had been a disc jockey in Dallas Tx. That was in 1964. Angry Red Planet was made in 1958 and released in 1959. Ted had nothing to do with dubbing in the voice of the Martian. He wasn't acting then. The voice which does sound a bit like Ted was actually performed by a voice actor named Don Lamond. He had done voiceover work for several sci-fi films during the 1950's including this one. The film was produced by Norman Maurer, (the son in law of 3 Stooges actor Moe Howard, who used him in a number of Stooge projects including Have Rocket Will Travel, as the voice of the alien machine), Lamond was the son in law of Stooge actor Larry Fine. It was incorrectly reported in the IMDB.com database and has never been removed. For the record Ted Cassidy did not work on Angry Red Planet. Lurch was his first acting job.
ACcountryFan BATSCHOLAR 38 months ago
Ted Cassidy had a prolific career at Hanna-Barbera voicing an assortment of animated characters throughout the latter half of the '60s and into the '70s. One of his final voice acting roles was Brainiac in 1978 on "The Challenge of the Super Friends". One of his earliest voice roles was as Meteor Man on "The Galaxy Trio" in 1967...a year earlier he voiced Frankenstein, Jr. on the series "Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles".
JHP 38 months ago
#4 and #2 my fave hands down
JHP 38 months ago
tom lester - a bible thumping good guy - love the show - many a day I think of me as Oliver
StrayCat 38 months ago
On one episode of Carol Burnett she brought up her real sister from the audience to introduce her. Interestingly, Vicki Lawrence had a far greater resemblance to Carol than her actual sister did.
vinman63 38 months ago
Honorable mention should go to Bobby Buntrock after some bit parts he ended up on Hazel as Howard “Sport” Baxter.
Catman1968 vinman63 38 months ago
He really wasn't a big star
ETristanBooth 38 months ago
That photo of Tony Dow sure doesn't do him justice.
bsantaniello ETristanBooth 38 months ago
He has the hat on because of the episode. Wally cuts Beaver’s hair and it’s so bad they wear their hats pretending it’s for a club they belong to.
I read somewhere that Tony Dow had come along with a friend who was testing for Wally, and Tony was cast instead. Anyone else recall that or am I totally off on this?
Adanor 38 months ago
And none of them ordered a coke at Schwab's.
Andybandit 38 months ago
Cool story. Thank you MeTv for putting on good shows. It is nice to escape from watching stupid reality shows and other show.
JHP Andybandit 38 months ago
hit one like - can I do it 1000 times?

society is going that way - in the big green stinky file cabinet they take away once a week
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