A Bad Week for Supporting Players

While the big celebrity passing of last week was arguably writer/director Nora Ephron, it was also a particularly bad week for supporting actors.

Frank Cady, best known as general store owner Sam Drucker on CBS’ “hayseed” series in the 60s (The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres), passed away at 96. Doris Singleton, best known as Lucy Ricardo’s frenemy on I Love Lucy, passed away at 92. Her character was originally named Lillian Appleby and then became Caroline Appleby; the I Love Lucy writers frequently forgot characters’ names; Ethel Mertz’s middle name was variously Roberta, Louise, and May. Finally, My Three Sons son Don Grady passed away at 68.

I’m actually more interested in Cady and Singleton, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I’m a tad surprised they weren’t already dead. This is especially true for Cady, who like many wonderful character actors, looked old even when they were young (see photo). Imagine my jolt when I realized than I’m now older than Cady was when he stood behind the counter of his general store confusing the heck out of Eddie Albert.

Both Cady and Singleton had long careers as character actors, frequently popping up on television shows and occasional movies to provide a simultaneous spark of both familiarity and verisimilitude. How interesting to be reliable and recognizable, but never recognized for their contributions. Supporting actor awards were always reserved for the second leads, like Vivian Vance, not the character actors. I’ve always thought this was a grave oversight of the Academies.

The only member of this cadre whom I actually ever met was Patricia Barry, and only then because I went to college with her daughter. Barry appeared in everything from Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone to All My Children and Guiding Light, but is probably most recognizable for her velvety purr of a voice. She’s also still around, in her 90s. What impressed me most about her was that she’d taken the money she’d gotten from her acting and invested it in real estate, which supported her comfortably between roles (it didn’t hurt that her husband was a television producer and the son of playwright Philip Barry, but still, she was both prudent and practical).

I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to people after the spotlight fades. But what happens to character actors, whose spotlight was never that bright to begin with? Cady moved to Oregon in the 1990s, and died in Wilsonville, a Portland suburb. Singleton died in Los Angeles. Grady – who coincidentally worked with Singleton for a few seasons of My Three Sons got out of acting altogether and became a musician.

But as for the actors, do they end up in the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s retirement community in Woodland Hills? Or, like Barry, have they used their sporadic yet healthy paychecks to fund a comfortable lifestyle?

Though it probably rarely goes that way, I’d like to imagine that more often than not, it does. I’d like to think that these familiar faces, who brought so much enjoyment to the audience once and still do in reruns, sit around and reminisce about the old days, the people they worked with, the times they worked together. I’d like to think of Cady and Singleton reminiscing even now, wherever they are.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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