William Schallert's one shot at stardom was this shelved animated Sixties sitcom
The early TV attempt at mixing live-action and animation had help from The Pink Panther cartoonists.
William Schallert rose to fame playing the dad Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show from 1963 to 1966.
When that sitcom ended, Schallert knew exactly what he wanted his next move to be.
The actor felt he had put his time in as the second lead on popular shows, and now he was ready to move into the spotlight by starring in his own show.
"The success or failure of [The Patty Duke Show] never depended on me," Schallert told the Los Angeles Times in 1966. "The guys on Bonanza all have an equal load to pull. On our series, Patty played both the first and second lead (her lookalike cousin)."
He viewed not pulling an "equal load" onscreen as a setback in his career that he fully intended to overcome.
"You become disappointed at times," Schallert said. "I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to do better, of course. It would be of no value to me to do another series as a second lead."
Naturally, then, he jumped at the chance to star in the first show he was offered, which happened to be one of the Sixties’ most innovative pilots.
Schallert filmed the pilot for this wild new sitcom and everything, but the show was unfortunately not meant to be, and Schallert said in the end, it was because he wasn’t a big enough star.
"There was a pilot I made for a series called Philbert," Schallert said. "I played a cartoonist whose little character comes to life and sort of takes over guiding my destinies. The people who created that great animation for The Pink Panther were behind the idea."
Philbert was positioned to be one of the first hit TV shows that mixed live action with animation, and it had a lot of heavyweights involved.
To direct the pilot, one of the biggest brains behind action blockbusters Richard Donner paired up with top animators including Academy Award-winning Looney Tunes cartoonist Friz Freleng.
For Schallert, this was a major production, and the studio agreed, dumping thousands into the pilot before realizing that building a big-budget TV show might not be sustainable with just Schallert pulling the load onscreen.
"When they figured production costs would be $75,000 per episode, they decided a top name was needed in the lead to assure success," Schallert said. "So they gave up the project. For me, it was a hard pill to swallow."
Eventually it was decided to air the pilot in movie theaters as an animated short, so you may have been among the very few who ever saw Schallert’s true star potential on display, if you happened to catch it in theaters.
But Schallert’s career didn’t flounder after this disappointment.
He never joined another TV cast, but he did soldier on with acting as a cherished guest star.
Through the Sixties, he became a dependable character actor who appeared on hit shows like Star Trek, Gunsmoke, Get Smart and The Carol Burnett Show. He also became one of the few actors to appear in both the movie and TV versions of In the Heat of the Night.
In the Seventies and Eighties, Schallert continued to be a major presence on TV, cast in both live action and animated shows, with a recurring role on The Waltons and even doing voice work on the new Pink Panther and Sons. That surely reminded him of his starring role that never was meant to be, but Schallert had long written off the disappointment of Philbert.
Meanwhile in the Sixties, there was another unsuccessful attempt to launch a live action-animated series called My World and Welcome to It.
That series starred another lesser-known actor William Windom, who won an Emmy for portraying a cartoonist based on real-life animator James Thurber.
Even critical acclaim didn’t keep that show on air, though, seeming to prove that huge production budgets at that time just couldn’t be sustained for a show without real star power.
Although Schallert never got to be the leading man he always hoped to be, he did end up leading other actors in a different way, becoming the president of the Screen Actors Guild.
He acted on TV until 2014, then passed away in 2016, just a few weeks after we lost Patty Duke.
Schallert may have been wrong about what would happen when The Patty Duke Show ended, never becoming the star he intended, but he said that being wrong was in his nature, and he could admit when he was wrong.
Of his most famous character Martin Lane, he told the New York Daily News in 1964, "I find it easy to identify myself with the role."
"Dad is not an idiot," Schallert said. "However, he is not always right. Sometimes he is wrong and makes mistakes. But he’s able and willing to admit it."