Allan Melvin quietly became ''one of TV's most recognizable faces''
The actor appeared regularly on major sitcoms from the 1950s to the 1980s, but he called his popularity ''a cult thing.''
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"I think we better get ahold of Andy," Gomer says urgently to Barney in The Andy Griffith Show episode "Andy's Vacation."
The inept duo has been placed in charge of the jail while Sheriff Andy takes a rare day off, and with already one dangerous prisoner in the cell, things are going just about how you'd expect: not the best!
Gesturing to the prisoner, Gomer protests Barney's decision, warning, "This feller's a mean one!"
Playing the prisoner is Allan Melvin, a character actor who today is best known for comedic roles on sitcoms like The Brady Bunch and The Phil Silvers Show.
On The Andy Griffith Show, though, Melvin frequently was cast as various tough guys, stepping in as some of Mayberry's biggest menaces.
"I didn't really play that many heavies in my career, besides a guest appearance on Route 66, but I was always a heavy on Andy," Melvin once said, according to interviews quoted on The Andy Griffith Show fan podcast Two Chairs, No Waiting.
Melvin said he got cast on the show after befriending The Andy Griffith Show co-creator Aaron Ruben, back when Ruben was writing episodes of The Phil Silvers Show (a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko).
"Aaron was very helpful in my career, and Bilko was a wonderful experience," Melvin said.
On The Phil Silvers Show, Melvin played Corporal Steve Henshaw, appearing in every episode. It was Melvin's only permanent sitcom cast role, but according to the book The Greatest Sitcoms of All Time, it helped launch Melvin's career, leading him to become "one of the finest and most recognized character actors in the history of American Television."
Melvin met Phil Silvers while both were performing in the Broadway show Stalag 17. Silvers saw him perform and asked him to be on The Phil Silvers Show, and that was that. No audition necessary.
It was Melvin's energy that drew Silvers to him. Melvin strived to match Silvers on the sitcom.
"Phil had this wonderful background in burlesque," Melvin said. "And he had this physical thing. He would crank himself up. We'd bust into a scene like we were shot from guns."
This is part of why Melvin said the comedy of Phil Silvers endures today.
"A Bilko [episode] could still be funny 50 years from now," Melvin said. "Funny is funny. It's as simple as that."
After The Phil Silvers Show ended in 1959, Melvin's next major TV role would come on Route 66 in 1961, followed by appearances on The Andy Griffith Show, starting in 1962.
Although he only guest-starred in eight episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Melvin is quoted on Two Chairs, No Waiting as saying, "It seemed like I was on it more than I was," perhaps because we saw him in different seasons, from the second to the eighth.
The Andy Griffith Show roles gave him steady work and regular visibility on one of the most popular TV shows in the country.
"I always enjoyed doing the show," Melvin said. "We had a lot of fun doing it, and they were a great bunch. Andy and I hit it off right away, and between Aaron and Andy, I never, for a moment, felt like the new kid on the block."
After The Andy Griffith Show, Melvin scooted over to Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., where he played the recurring role of Sgt. Charley Hacker. He continued doing steady work on sitcoms, moving away from dramatic roles for good, as his voicework career simultaneously picked up after voicing the popular cartoon character Magilla Gorilla.
When Gomer Pyle ended in 1969, The Brady Bunch welcomed Melvin as Sam the Butcher, who, of course, became Alice's eventual husband. "Wasn't Sam wonderful?" Ann B. Davis sighed in a Television Academy interview.
"Allan Melvin, neat guy, very tall," she described him. "He was just a nice, open, big guy, and it was fun to play with him."
Most fans of The Brady Bunch know that after Melvin retired from onscreen roles after All in the Family ended in 1983, The Brady Bunch had to find a new Sam for A Very Brady Christmas in 1988. Lewis Arquette was cast to fill in the role.
Later, Davis told the Television Academy that, for her, that reunion just wasn't the same without the original Sam.
"I don't care how I acted — I knew that wasn't Sam," she said, complaining even the actors' heights were dramatically different. Can you blame Alice for just wanting to be back in Sam's arms?
Melvin was happy with the acting career he had, deciding to retire after playing prominent roles on a variety of popular sitcoms and voicing memorable cartoons for decades. Even though he never joined another cast after his first TV show, he carved a place for himself in the heart of a great many TV fans.
"I'm a household face," Melvin said, explaining that fans approached him all his life, saying, "'Hey, Henshaw,' or 'Hey, Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch.'" He humbly called his popularity among classic TV fans "a cult thing."