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'Mary Tyler Moore Show' Newscaster : Actor Ted Knight Dies of Cancer at 62

August 27, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Ted Knight, whose egomaniacal pyrotechnics as a newscaster proved a particular delight to audiences but a perennial horror to other characters on television's fabled "Mary Tyler Moore Show," died Tuesday afternoon in his Pacific Palisades home.

The self-styled patrician of the mythical newsroom where boss Lou Grant alternately chided and confided in Miss Moore, was 62 and had cancer.

Born Tadeus Wladyslaw Konopka in Terryville, Conn., where he was called "Sausage" because of his Polish blood, Ted Knight and newscaster Ted Baxter became indelibly mixed in the minds of TV viewers from the day "Mary Tyler Moore" went on the air, Sept. 19, 1970.

He was the pompous, overbearing sage of the WJM-TV news department--the on-the-air presence for the words written by Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod) as edited by Miss Moore's Mary Richards under the direction of Grant (portrayed by Ed Asner, who went on to star in his own "Lou Grant" series).

Won Two Emmys

Baxter found himself constantly surrounded by a group of co-workers who never could comprehend what he perceived as his dramatic sensitivities. Their attempts to bring him back to the real world of news broadcasting generally ended in angry frustration on both sides.

He was the strutting, immaculately garbed popinjay who swept into the newsroom for each evening's broadcast hollering "Hi guys," much like a monarch greeting his subjects.

It was a job, he said when the show went off the air in 1977, "that gave me more happiness than I ever had in life."

It also led to two supporting actor Emmys, for the 1972-73 and 1975-76 seasons and his own program, "The Ted Knight Show," which survived only a month in 1978. Most recently he had been the middle-aged, hard-pressed father on "Too Close for Comfort," ranked No. 1 among situation comedies currently in first-run syndication.

It was a long way from Terryville for the son of a Polish immigrant bartender and a housewife.

Tadeus Konopka became Ted Knight sometime after dropping out of high school to fight in World War II, where he became one of the first soldiers to enter Berlin.

He entered a Hartford, Conn., drama school and became a minor celebrity in that city as a disc jockey, ventriloquist and puppeteer before moving to New York City for television and radio roles in the mid-1950s.

Knight then came to Hollywood, where he appeared in more than 300 roles, among them the 1981 film "Caddyshack."

But the public persona always remained the embarrassingly exuberant anchorman Ted Baxter, who between shows courted and eventually wed the simple but well-meaning Georgette Franklin.

Knight even developed a nightclub act around Baxter, who was the sole survivor in the final script when Mary Tyler Moore took her show off the air after eight seasons.

Ironically, new management opted to keep only Baxter from the mythical Minneapolis crew--the anchor whose histrionics caused the newscast's low ratings.

Larry Bloustein, vice president for publicity at Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises, said there would be no comment from Miss Moore.

"We are terribly private about this sort of thing," said Bloustein.

"I really loved Ted Baxter and Ted Knight altogether," Grant Tinker, producer of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, said. "I loved them both. They gave so many of us so many great laughs."

Knight, survived by his wife of 36 years, Dorothy, a daughter and two sons, said he patterned Baxter after "all the prima donnas around the radio and TV stations where I'd worked."

"I was one myself," he admitted of his early years in the business.

Services will be private, and the family is asking contributions to the Price-Pottenger Foundation for the Ted Knight Memorial Fund, a financial source for films on children's nutrition and natural life styles. The address is P.O. Box 2614, La Mesa, Calif. 92041.

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