Al Molinaro made his TV debut on Green Acres at the age of 50
You're never too old to get your big break on an L.A. billboard.
The Green Acres episode "A Prize in Every Package" has a lot going for it. For starters, it's hilarious, arguably the best episode of season four. Lisa finds gemstones in her box of Crickly Wickly cereal. Jewel thieves dumped their loot in the factory back in Chicago, you see. Alan Hale Jr., a.k.a. the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, guest stars as the sheriff, to boot.
The episode begins with a clever opening credits sequence the breaks the fourth wall in a way that only Green Acres dared in the Sixties. The producer, writer and director credits are scrawled as graffiti on the wall behind the crooks.
Oh, and you will immediately recognize one of the robbers — Al Molinaro. The distinctive actor is probably best known as Al from Happy Days (not to mention that Weezer video). This episode, which originally aired on January 22, 1969, gave Molinaro his first TV credit. A week later, he popped up on The Name of the Game. Later that year, he turned up on Get Smart.
It's hard not to picture Al without his apron, serving the teens at Arnold's Drive-In. In reality, his big break came thanks to a chef's hat. But fist, some backstory.
Born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Molinaro was perfectly suited to playing a Milwaukee-area diner operator on Happy Days. He moved to Los Angeles as an adult, starting a collection agency before getting into the real estate game. After selling one of his properties to a shopping center development, Molinaro used the cash to fund a career in acting — and modeling.
In 1969, Molinaro was turning 50 years old. A prominent billboard in Los Angeles featured the aspiring actor dressed as a chef. According to Molinaro's Associated Press obituary (he passed away in 2015 at the age of 96), producers of Get Smart spotting the billboard alongside the road and decided to cast the guy as Agent 44 based on his looks.
His first episode of Get Smart, "Ironhand," aired in October 1969. Molinaro honed his craft in comedy improv classes, which is where he was discovered by Garry Marshall, who cast the affable fellow to play Murray Greshler on The Odd Couple in 1970.
But it all began with a jewel heist on Green Acres.