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Parley Baer, 88; 64-Year Career Spanned Radio, TV, Movies

Obituaries

November 24, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Parley Baer, a durable character actor whose six-decade career encompassed more than 60 motion pictures, 1,600 television shows and an amazing 15,000 radio programs including the original version of "Gunsmoke," has died. He was 88.

The actor, who worked steadily from the early 1930s to the mid-1990s, died Friday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills of complications from a stroke suffered Nov. 11. A resident of Tarzana, Baer had had a major stroke in 1997 that affected his speech and ended his acting career.

Baer's name never became a household word, but his face and voice were familiar to millions of listeners and viewers over several generations. A burly, balding man of substance, he played authority figures such as judges, lawmen and mayors -- he was Mayor Stoner of Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show."

But he was also the voice of the Keebler cookie elf in television commercials and from 1955 to 1961 appeared as Ozzie Nelson's neighbor Darby in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."

Although Baer appeared in the 1995 film "Last of the Dogmen" starring Tom Berenger, his last memorable big-screen role was as the Senate majority leader in the 1993 film "Dave," starring Kevin Kline as a presidential look-alike.

That same year, Baer began a long-running role as senior citizen Miles Dugan on the daytime soap "The Young and the Restless." Baer and other veterans were brought in when producers realized their afternoon audiences included increasing numbers of elderly viewers.

"I admire them for doing this," Baer, then 78, told The Times in 1993, "and I hope it will bring to light the fact that people who have reached the zenith of 65 or more are not through."

On television, Baer most recently had a role in a segment of "Star Trek: Voyager" shown in 1996. But he was also on the small screen in the early days in such series as "Dragnet," "Lassie," "Father Knows Best," "I Love Lucy," "You Are There" and "Perry Mason."

But for Baer, radio came even before films and television. He first went on the air in 1933.

"Radio is the most nearly perfect medium for an actor," Baer told The Times in 1994 when he was playing Tweedledum opposite William Windom's Tweedledee in a production of "Alice in Wonderland" by the California Artists Radio Theatre. "It's kind of a hackneyed phrase, 'Theater of the mind,' but it really is: If you have an audience of 5 million people listening to you, you're giving 5 million performances."

From 1952 to 1961, Baer was the voice of Chester Proudfoot, deputy to William Conrad's Marshal Matt Dillon on radio's "Gunsmoke." (When the western sauntered to television in 1955, Dennis Weaver played the deputy to James Arness' Dillon.)

Baer was the manservant Rene to Carleton Young's Edmond Dantes on late-1940s radio's "The Count of Monte Cristo," and among his other credits were such radio standards as "Lux Radio Theater," "Screen Directors' Playhouse," "Cisco Kid," "Red Ryder," "My Friend Irma" and "My Favorite Husband," starring Lucille Ball.

Born in Salt Lake City, Baer studied drama at the University of Utah and began working as an actor, director and producer for local radio station KSL.

As a sideline, he served as publicist and ringmaster for circuses, traveling with Circus Vargas and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1946, he met and married aerialist and bareback rider Ernestine Clarke. She died two years ago.

Baer, who served in the Army Air Force during World War II, moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and the next year was a founding actor in Peggy Webber's anthology show for KFI-TV.

The actor kept in touch with circus folk and with animals as a participant in the Paul Eagles' Circus Luncheon Club, which raised money to entertain patients at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey. Baer also trained and worked with lions and tigers for a time at the now-defunct Jungleland compound in Thousand Oaks, served on the board of the community L.A. Circus, and was a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo.

He is survived by two daughters, Kim Baer and Dale Sloan; and three grandchildren.

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