Sometimes, in celebrity deaths, you have to see the picture before you become sad about them. It’s awkward but true. Yesterday was a busy day for me, and while I read a couple of places that Ken Berry had died, it was always for just a second while I was in a hurry to go do something else. It wasn’t until this morning, when I was checking IMDb for who someone shares a birthday with, that I saw their headline and knew who Ken Berry was. When I did, I knew I would have to take a minute to write about him.
He didn’t do a lot of movies; his career was mostly television. That doesn’t seem to have been entirely by choice so much as just kind of what happened to him, but either way, it’s six movie credits to 54 TV ones—and that includes three in which he played a major role, plus 25 of Dr. Kildare, which I don’t know well enough to know how important his character was. And 19 of The Carol Burnett Show. Television was, for the most part, his home.
For all that, I can’t help thinking of him in one of those movies—the hapless Frank of The Cat From Outer Space. Frank is an intelligent man whose mind flows in different directions, which makes him the ideal candidate to help Zunar J 5/9 Doric 4 7, the alien cat he dubs Jake. I won’t deny it’s a silly movie and a silly role, but they’re both better than they might sound. Berry cements the film; I honestly don’t think it would’ve worked without him.
When Berry was in the Army, he’d entered a base talent contest and won—and ended up in Special Services under one Sergeant Leonard Nimoy, who helped develop his post-military career. He was working in a revue when he was seen by Lucille Ball, who hired him on at Desilu. Meaning two people associated with that particular company were responsible for the career he had, albeit one well before either ended up there. I wonder if they ever talked about that coincidence in later years.
From what I’ve seen of his career, Berry seems to have been a solid working actor. Maybe not special, particularly, but good. Capable of what he was called on to do, never the weak link in any production. There are worse things to say about someone.