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Sheldon Leonard

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sheldon Leonard
Sheldon Leonard in Another Thin Man trailer (cropped).jpg
Leonard in the trailer for Another Thin Man (1939)
Sheldon Leonard Bershad

(1907-02-22)February 22, 1907
DiedJanuary 10, 1997(1997-01-10) (aged 89)
EducationSyracuse University
  • Actor
  • writer
  • producer
  • director
Years active1934–1997
Spouse(s)Frances Bober
(m. 1931; his death)

Sheldon Leonard Bershad (February 22, 1907 – January 10, 1997), known professionally as Sheldon Leonard, was an American film and television actor, producer, director, and writer.

Biography and career

Sheldon Leonard Bershad was born in Manhattan, New York City, the son of middle class Jewish parents Anna Levit and Frank Bershad.[1] He graduated from Syracuse University in 1929.

As an actor, Leonard specialized in playing supporting characters, especially gangsters or "heavies". His trademark was his especially thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth. (He would often pronounce th as t and would say er as oi, thus he would pronounce earth as oit.) His breakthrough role was in Another Thin Man (1939), in which he played a soft-spoken but dangerous murder suspect. From then on he was typecast as smooth gangsters or streetwise guys in such films as It's a Wonderful Life (1946; as bartender Nick), To Have and Have Not (1944), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Open Secret (1948). He was a favorite of director Frank Capra, who asked him to play an executive mobster in his 1961 film Pocketful of Miracles. Leonard became so associated with tough-guy parts that he was occasionally cast against type, as a law-enforcement officer, in films like Street of Chance (1942) and Decoy (1946).

On radio from 1945 to 1955, Leonard played an eccentric racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Program and later in the TV series of the same name. His role was to salute Benny out of the blue in railroad stations, on street corners, or in department stores ("Hey, Bud. C'mere a minute."), ask Benny what he was about to do, and then proceed to try to argue him out of his course of action by resorting to inane and irrelevant racing logic. As "The Tout," he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was, "Who knows about horses?"

Leonard was part of the cast of voice actors on the Damon Runyon Theatre radio show (1948–1949). He was part of the ensemble cast of the Martin and Lewis radio show.[2] He also appeared frequently on Dragnet and The Adventures of the Saint, often playing gangsters and heavies, but also sometimes in more sympathetic roles. Leonard was also a regular on the radio comedy series The Adventures of Maisie in the 1940s. During the 1950s, Leonard provided the voice of lazy, fat cat Dodsworth in two Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoons directed by Robert McKimson.

Leonard, Sheree North and Quinn Cummings in Big Eddie, 1975
Leonard, Sheree North and Quinn Cummings in Big Eddie, 1975

In the adventure movie The Iroquois Trail (1950), Leonard played against type in the significant role of Chief Ogane, a Native American warrior, who pursues and fights the frontiersman Nat "Hawkeye" Cutler (George Montgomery) in a climactic duel to the death with knives.

Later in the 1950s and 1960s, he established a reputation as a producer of many successful television series, often in partnership with Danny Thomas. These included The Danny Thomas Show (aka Make Room For Daddy) (1953–64), The Andy Griffith Show (1960–68), Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (1964–69), and I Spy (1965–68). Thanks to his many years in show business, Leonard had cultivated a quick, shrewd capacity for pinpointing strengths and flaws in prospective projects. It was Leonard who recognized that a sitcom pilot, Head of the Family, was structurally sound but miscast. He felt that actor-writer Carl Reiner was too overbearing as the lead, and insisted that the script be refilmed with up-and-coming comic Dick Van Dyke. The result was The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66).

Sheldon Leonard also directed several TV series episodes, including four of the first eight episodes of the TV series Lassie (Season 1, 1954). Leonard also provided the voice of Linus the Lionhearted in a series of Post Crispy Critters cereal TV commercials in 1963–64, which led to a Linus cartoon series that aired on Saturday (and later, Sunday) mornings on CBS (1964–66) and ABC (1967–69). He also was briefly the star of his own television show Big Eddie (1975), where he played the owner of a large sports arena. The show lasted for only ten episodes.

The character of Andy Taylor was introduced in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series The Andy Griffith Show. Leonard is informally credited with developing the practice of using an episode of a series as a backdoor pilot episode for new series, in which a guest star is introduced as a new character with the intention of using this character as the basis for a new show. Leonard introduced the Andy Griffith spin-off Mayberry R. F. D. as the summer replacement for the Griffith show, so it would have a pre-sold audience during the regular season. He was the executive producer on Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and had an appearance on the show as a Hollywood producer who has to do 34 takes on a movie scene before Sergeant Carter gets it right ("A Star Is Not Born").

Leonard also has the distinction (along with author Mickey Spillane) of being one of the first two Miller Lite spokesmen. Using his trademark accent, he told the audience, "I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis." One of his last acting roles was a guest appearance on the TV series Cheers, in which he played Sid Nelson, the proprietor of "The Hungry Heifer," Norm Peterson's favorite eating establishment.

Leonard died on January 11, 1997, 6 weeks before his 90th birthday.[1][3] He was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.


Bill Cosby, whom Leonard cast in I Spy, described Leonard as "my last father" when he dedicated an episode of Cosby to both Leonard and his slain son Ennis Cosby. Bill Cosby included an impersonation of Sheldon Leonard in one track of his 1966 hit comedy album Wonderfulness. The track "Niagara Falls" describes Sheldon Leonard's honeymoon at Niagara Falls.

In "Monkees Marooned", the eighth episode of the second season of The Monkees, a character named Leonard Sheldon, and speaking with Leonard's accent, approaches Peter Tork on the street, much like "The Tout" and persuades Tork to trade his guitar for a treasure map.

Leonard's name served as an eponym for the characters Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter in the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory because the writers were fans of his work.[4]

Selected filmography





  1. ^ a b Frank Bruni (January 13, 1997). "Sheldon Leonard, Film Actor And TV Producer, Dies at 89". New York Times.
  2. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 438. ISBN 0-199-84045-8. Retrieved August 17, 2019. The Martin And Lewis Show,.
  3. ^ Dick Vosburgh (January 17, 1997). "Sheldon Leonard". The Independent. Retrieved January 5, 2014.
  4. ^ "'Big Bang Theory': 'We didn't anticipate how protective the audience would feel about our guys'". Variety. May 5, 2009. Archived from the original on May 25, 2012. Retrieved February 5, 2010. Q. Are Sheldon and Leonard named after the brilliant (producer) Sheldon Leonard of "The Andy Griffith Show", "The Danny Thomas Show", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "My Favorite Martian" and "I Spy"? (Binnie) A. Yep. Chuck and I are both fans. Chuck's idea.

Further reading

  • Leonard, Sheldon. And The Show Goes On: Broadway and Hollywood Adventures. Limelight, 1995, ISBN 0-87910-184-9

External links

This page was last edited on 24 November 2021, at 20:30
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