My first thought was that 91 is a pretty interesting age to die in a car accident—you’ll admit it doesn’t happen often. My second thought was that the accident in question is a clear reminder of the importance of traffic safety, when I read the details—he would’ve lived, had a second driver not been going too fast and not paying attention and failed to slow down when bystanders tried to signal “slow down.” He’d been “clipped,” apparently, by one car, and then a second car came along too fast and hit him while he was lying in the road, this time fatally. I’m reading between the lines a bit, but the information I found makes his death seem eminently preventable.
But let us talk instead of Bean’s life, not his death. And what a life it was. How exactly he was related to Calvin Coolidge, I’m not sure—and the site that I used for the last research I did along these lines is now demanding that I pay for the pro version, and I don’t care that much. But cousins of some sort. Also a father who was a founding member of the ACLU and who fundraised for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. And that’s all before he himself was blacklisted for having dated a Communist.
And, of course, the acting. On Broadway, off Broadway, in movies and on TV. Even when he was blacklisted from Hollywood, his career continued. Not movies, no, but still. The kind of solid acting career assorted blacklisted people managed in industries less terrified of the Red Menace, clearly. In fact, he was one of those people who was still working, even this late in his life, and I have a strong admiration for that. Makes me feel guilty for mostly remembering his face from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, really, especially given how long it’s been since I’ve seen Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Though, like so many of my generation, I also remember him as Bilbo Baggins from the animated Hobbit. All due respect to Peter Jackson, but for many of us, that’s the definitive movie Tolkien, for all it was made-for-TV. I’ve often told the story of watching that film, on film, in the library one Friday afternoon when I was a child. And when I hear Bilbo Baggins, he isn’t Martin Freeman or Ian Holm. He’s Orson Bean. That’s the voice in my head.
No matter who I write about every week, I’m still going to end up writing obituaries. That is, I suppose, an inevitability. There are so many people in the industry, and I simply cannot get to all of them. Orson Bean had an interesting career—he was Charlie Brown on the original concept album of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown—but I’m going to admit he wasn’t on the schedule. Still, a career well worth acknowledging. Weirdly enough, it was cut off too soon.