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Character Actor Allan Melvin


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Character Actor Allan Melvin

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Allan Melvin . . . Then and Now

LOS ANGELES, California -- Allan Melvin, a character actor best known for playing Sam the Butcher on "The Brady Bunch," died Thursday, January 17 of cancer at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, said Amalia Melvin, his wife of 64 years. He was 84.

During his five-decade career, Melvin made several guest appearances on numerous television shows, including playing different roles on at least eight episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" and playing Dick Van Dyke's old Army buddy on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." He also played Sgt. Charlie Hacker on "Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C."

The jowly, jovial Melvin spent decades playing a series of sidekicks, second bananas and lovable lugs, including Sgt. Bilko's right-hand man, Cpl. Henshaw on the "Phil Silvers Show." and Archie Bunker's friend, Barney Hefner, on "All in the Family" and "Archie Bunker's Place."

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Allan Melvin as Sam the Butcher on 'The Brady Bunch'

But his place in modern pop culture will probably always be fixed as Sam the Butcher, the owner of a local butcher shop and amateur bowler on the cult classic, "The Brady Bunch." Of course, his character's primary role as Sam Franklin, was to be the love interest of Brady Family maid Alice Nelson, who was played by Ann B. Davis. Melvin played the role from 1970 to 1973.

Melvin was born February 18, 1923, in Kansas City, Missouri. His family soon moved to New York City, where he graduated from Columbia University as a journalism major. After graduation he served with the U.S. Navy and married his wife, Amalia, in 1943. After launching his show business career in the sound effects department of NBC radio in New York in 1944, Melvin began acting on radio soap operas.

Melvin's career soon moved into live television. At the same time, he did movie star impressions in Manhattan in a nightclub act written by his friend Richard Condon, who later wrote "The Manchurian Candidate." Melvin's stand-up act led to his winning "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" radio show in the late 1940s.

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Allan Melvin (left) as Guard Jenkins with Dick Van Dyke (right) as

Rob Petrie in a scene from 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'

He was playing Reed in "Stalag 17," the hit 1951-52 Broadway play set in a German POW camp during World War II, when he first caught Silvers' attention. "The Phil Silvers Show," originally titled "You'll Never Get Rich," was set on an Army base in Kansas and ran from 1955 to 1959.

As Cpl. Steve Henshaw, Melvin was the right-hand man to Silvers' con-man extraordinaire, Sgt. Ernie Bilko. Mickey Freeman, who played Pvt. Zimmerman on the show, said, "He was brilliant as Henshaw." In recent years, when fans would ask Freeman how many surviving cast members were left, he would reply, "Allan Melvin and me -- that's a high mortality rate for a noncombatant unit."

Noting that Melvin "was a great mimic of voices," Freeman recalled an episode in which an officer arrived at Ft. Baxter to stop the men from gambling. One of the ways the officer did that, Freeman said, was to make them listen to his wife lecture on art. But the woman had an unusual twitch -- pulling on her skirt -- and Bilko and the other soldiers placed bets on how many times she would do that during her lecture.

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Actors (L-R) Harvey Lembeck as Cpl. Rocco Barbella, Phil Silvers

as Sgt. Ernie Bilko and Allan Melvin as Cpl. Steve Henshaw co-star

in 'The Phil Silvers Show'

Freeman recalled that Melvin, as Henshaw, was positioned outside the lecture hall with a microphone, broadcasting to the other soldiers on the base -- "'She's up to 42 now . . . 43 . . . 44, and she's not even breathing heavy.' He made a whole racetrack thing out of it," Freeman said. "He was wonderful."

According to Melvin's wife, his role as Cpl. Henshaw on "The Phil Silvers Show" was always his favorite. "He was proudest of that show," Amalia Melvin said. "I think the camaraderie of all those guys made it such a pleasant way to work. They were so relaxed."

Melvin appeared in only one movie, the 1968 Doris Day comedy, "With Six You Get Eggroll." However, his face dominated the 70s television screen with guest spots on "The Mod Squad," "Green Acres" and "Love, American Style." In other contributions to 70s pop culture, he was a Mel's Diner patron on "Alice," starring Linda Lavin.

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Carroll O'Connor (left) as Archie Bunker tends bar for Allan Melvin

(right) playing Barney Hefner in 'Archie Bunker's Place'

Melvin saw steady employment as a voice actor from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, most famously providing the voice of "Magilla Gorilla" for the Hanna Barbera cartoon of the same name and Bluto on "Popeye." He also provided several characters' voices for the show, "H.R. Pufnstuf" and the voice of Vultan, King of the Hawk Men on "The New Adventures of Flash Gordon."

Some of his most prolific work has been in television commercials, for products as diverse as Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes and Remington Electric Razors. In the latter commercial, he sang a few bars of Frank Loesser's song "I Believe in You" with a modified lyric. One of his more popular commercials included playing Al the Plumber in the Liquid-Plumr commercials for 15 years.

Melvin retired from acting about 10 years ago -- long after becoming a household face who was used to people spotting him in public and saying, "Hey, Henshaw" or "Hey, Sam the Butcher." He told People Magazine in 1996, "I've enjoyed the stuff I've done, but the one you're getting paid for, that's what you enjoy most."

In addition to his wife of 64 years, Amalia, Melvin is survived by daughter Jennifer Hanson and grandson Jon Hanson Jr. A daughter, Mya, died in 1970. Services will be private.

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