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OBITUARIES : Bill Idelson, 1919-2007

Actor, writer on episodic TV got his start in radio

January 06, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Bill Idelson, an actor, television writer and producer who as a teenager played the son on the classic radio show "Vic and Sade" and later played the recurring role of Rose Marie's mother-dominated boyfriend on TV's "The Dick Van Dyke Show," has died. He was 88.

Idelson, who had been hospitalized since June after breaking his hip, died of complications from the injury Monday at a Los Angeles hospital, said his wife of 56 years, actress Seemah Wilder.

Idelson appeared in episodes of dozens of television series, including "Dragnet," "Perry Mason," "The Twilight Zone," "My Favorite Martian," "The Odd Couple," "Happy Days" and "Will & Grace."

But he may be best remembered by TV fans for his role as Herman Glimcher, the mama's-boy boyfriend of Rose Marie's Sally Rogers character on several episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

"Herman never could marry because his mother wouldn't sign off on it yet, and when he had a date with Sally Rogers he brought his mother a couple of times," Carl Reiner, the show's creator, told The Times last week.

Reiner, who knew of Idelson before casting him in the role, said he was "a very subtle actor."

"He made no big movements, and every time you cut to him you could get a laugh," Reiner said.

"He was so in-character, you knew he was a loser just by his attitude and his physical being -- the way he walked and moved."

At the time Idelson was appearing on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and other TV programs, he was also carving out a successful career as a television writer.

In addition to writing a couple of episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," he wrote for other TV series, including "The Twilight Zone," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Get Smart," "The Odd Couple," "The Bob Newhart Show," "MASH" and "Happy Days."

Idelson twice won the Writers Guild Award for best episodic comedy -- for an episode of "Get Smart" and for an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Among his credits as a television producer are "The Bob Newhart Show," "Anna and the King," "The McLean Stevenson Show" and "Love, American Style."

For the latter show, he shared an Emmy nomination in 1971 for outstanding comedy series.

The son of Russian immigrants, Idelson was born in Forest Park, Ill., on Aug. 21, 1919.

He launched his acting career in 1931 playing Skeezix on WGN's radio version of the "Gasoline Alley" cartoon strip, "Uncle Walt and Skeezix."

A year later, he was cast as Rush, the adopted son of unpretentious kitchenware company bookkeeper Victor Rodney Gook (Art Van Harvey) and his homebound wife, Sade (Bernardine Flynn) on "Vic and Sade," which became a long-running serial.

Created and written by Paul Rhymer, the humorous, idiosyncratic show depicted the three-member family that lived on Virginia Avenue -- in "the small house halfway up in the next block."

Described by Time magazine in 1943 as "a soap opera in which nothing much ever happens," the five-times-a-week, 15-minute show presented a world in which Vic was once asked to deliver a speech at the Missouri State Home for the Tall and the garrulous Rush enjoyed going down to the YMCA to "watch the fat men play handball."

"He was a luminary," legendary golden-age-of-radio writer Norman Corwin said of Idelson's work on "Vic and Sade."

"He stood out among the radio comedians, and he stood out because of very good writing by Paul Rhymer and very good acting by himself," said Corwin, who wrote the foreword to Idelson's recent book "The Story of Vic & Sade." "I had nothing but admiration for this fellow."

Idelson, who appeared on many other radio series broadcast from Chicago during the 1930s and early '40s, remained on "Vic and Sade" until he joined the Navy during World War II.

He flew night fighter missions over Japan and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals.

After the war, he moved to Hollywood, where he enrolled in the Actor's Lab and resumed his acting career, which included stints on the radio and TV versions of "One Man's Family."

Over the last two decades, Idelson taught a popular script-writing class and was considered a mentor by many writers in Hollywood.

He also wrote three other books, "Writing for Dough," "Gibby" (an autobiographical novel about a World War II fighter pilot) and "Bill Idelson's Writing Class."

In addition to his wife, Idelson is survived by his three sons, Paul, Howie and Jonathan; and three grandchildren.

His daughter, TV writer and actress Ellen Idelson, died in 2003.

A memorial service is pending.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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