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Whit Bissell; Movie, TV Character Actor

March 07, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whit Bissell, wide-ranging character actor whose more than 200 roles spanning half a century included playing mad scientists in 1950s science fiction thrillers, has died. He was 86.

Bissell died Tuesday night at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, spokeswoman Carol Pfannkuche said Wednesday. Bissell had been confined to a wheelchair for the past few years.

A chameleon-type actor who could play heavies or heroes in any film genre, Bissell was popular with sci-fi cult audiences for his key roles in "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

His efforts earned him the Life Career Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films in 1994.

Born in New York City, the handsome Whitner Bissell appeared on Broadway and other stages, usually specializing in roles such as ineffectual or high-strung doctors or other professionals. He made his film debut in 1943 in "Holy Matrimony."

In the 1960s, Bissell was familiar in popular films that included "The Magnificent Seven," "The Time Machine," "Birdman of Alcatraz," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Hud," "Spencer's Mountain," "Seven Days in May" and "Where Love Has Gone."

His 1970s work included the films "Airport," "Soylent Green" and "Psychic Killer" and several television movies, such as "City Beneath the Sea," "Sandburg's Lincoln," "Last of the Mohicans," "Donner Pass" and "The Night Rider."

"It was a good life," Bissell told The Times in 1993. "The challenge of breathing something special into every role you played. For an actor, just being at work made you feel alive.

"And I miss it," he added. "I miss it very dearly."

He had served on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild for 18 years.

Bissell is survived by a son, Brian Forster; three daughters, Kathy Marden, Victoria Brown and Amanda Whitley, and six grandchildren.

Services are scheduled at 3 p.m. Saturday at Pierce Brothers Mortuary Chapel at Westwood Village Cemetery.

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