Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Legacy of Bob Hastings

Bob Hastings epitomized the oft-quoted phrase, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Hastings, who died on June 30th, would take the smallest role and treat it as if it were the lead. As soon as he had his script, he’d take his pencil and mark it. And he’d mark the WHOLE script, making little notes to himself as he went. He’d pay particular attention to his own lines, of course, underlining, circling, arrowing and sometimes even minimally rewriting his dialogue as he continued his read-through. When his scenes came, he was almost always letter-perfect with or without a rehearsal. When he did break down for whatever reason, he’d toss off an off-the-cuff quip and jump right back in.

On radio, Bob started out as a singer at a very young age. After serving in World War II, he became radio’s second and most memorable ARCHIE ANDREWS for several years, playing opposite Harlan Stone as Jughead and Rosemary Rice as Betty. The three would remain life-long friends. After a good run of several seasons, Bob became quite the utility man on radio, appearing in all kinds of roles on all kinds of shows. His voice is heard prominently in many episodes of X MINUS ONE, the classic sci-fi series that aired in the 1950’s.

Having made his film debut as an uncredited singer in 1938, Bob returned to movies as radio died off, and also added television. He played various roles in THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW in the late 1950’s and popped up on other hit series like THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE REAL MCCOYS, GUNSMOKE and THE DONNA REED SHOW. Once again, he appeared in a number of different roles on DENNIS THE MENACE.

He’s uncredited in 1962’s feature, MOON PILOT, the first of several Disney appearances.

That same year, he got perhaps his most memorable role, that of Lt. Elroy Carpenter, the nervous, conniving, sycophantic sidekick to Joe Flynn’s high strung Captain on TV’s McHALE’S NAVY. He would play the role throughout the hit series’ four year run and go on to reprise it in the two feature film spinoffs.

An odd role he took right after that was that of the voice of the raven in the clock on THE MUNSTERS, a role also played sometimes by Mel Blanc. A couple of decades later, Bob would return to THE MUNSTERS playing their Phantom of the Opera cousin in a TV reunion movie of the original cast.


His next prominent role, though, returned him to his roots in a way as he provided the voice of Clark Kent/Superboy on 1966’s Filmation TV series, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (in spite of his obvious East Coast accent). He told me once that it was his part in a long-running dispute over having voice actors play multiple parts without multiple paychecks that led to his NOT getting to reprise his role as Archie when Filmation brought America’s favorite teenager to Saturday Mornings at the end of the decade.

Bob Hastings became “that guy” for the remainder of the decade and beyond. Nobody could remember his name but he was always a welcome, recognizable presence. “Hey, it’s that guy again!” He appeared on BATMAN, GREEN ACRES, HOGAN’S HEROES, THE FLYING NUN, MY THREE SONS, NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR and HERE’S LUCY.

The latter featured Bob as a man with a prop doll that was supposed to do something but didn’t. In the episode commentary for the DVD, Lucie Arnaz said that her mother, Lucille Ball, completely blamed Bob for screwing up the scene and that it had to be done over and over and over. I asked Bob about that and he said he was ready to punch out Lucy as she kept talking about him that day as if he wasn’t even there. He said various people tried the prop and couldn’t get it to work. It wasn’t just him. In the end, the scene was finished but he said he never worked with Lucy again, probably by mutual consent.

It didn’t hurt his career one bit as he continued into the new decade with more Disney flicks including THE BOATNIKS, CHARLEY AND THE ANGEL, a number of appearances on the anthology comedy series, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE and a return to cartoon voice work on CLUE CLUB and CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS.

The role of Tommy Kelsey, owner of Kelsey’s Bar on ALL IN THE FAMILY, was a semi-regular role on the hit CBS series, ALL IN THE FAMILY. Bob told me he would have loved to have stayed with that show but they didn’t use the character regularly enough to allow that so by the time “Kelsey” sold the bar to Archie Bunker, to become “Archie Bunker’s Place,” it was all off-screen and Bob long gone. A lifelong Republican, he told me that amongst all the liberals on the ALL IN THE FAMILY set, he always felt like the “token conservative.”

Bob appeared in two Don Knotts pictures, THE LOVE GOD? and HOW TO FRAME A FIGG. He then had a brief but pivotal role in the megahit movie, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. He's the guy counting down the seconds until New Year when the ship hits an iceberg. AIRPORT 1975 was another disaster film where you could find Bob in a brief appearance.

In 1978, Bob was one of many great character stars to appear in HARPER VALLEY PTA, a hit independent film shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, an area to which he would return many times in later years as the guest of the Greater Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

He appeared on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and also WONDER WOMAN! In later years, his association with superheroes would continue as he became the voice of Commissioner Gordon on the game-changing BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and its various spinoffs.

Along the way, there was also a starring role as a satanic game show host on the religious series, INSIGHT. Bob had earlier tried his hand as a real game show host on a series called DEALER’S CHOICE that was shot in Las Vegas.

THE DUKES OF HAZARD, REMINGTON STEELE, MURDER SHE WROTE and MAJOR DAD kept Bob’s face before the public in the 1980s and 1990s but not as often as before. He did have a long-running role on the classic soap opera, GENERAL HOSPITAL during this period, though.

His association with the Commissioner Gordon character led to his voicing the role in a video game as well and that led to his appearing in other video games such as JAK AND DAXTER and MAFIA II. He asked me once, since he didn’t play video games, to play JAK AND DAXTER, videotape his character’s part, and send it to him.

Every role was important to Bob. As he began to appear at nostalgia events around the country in the 1980s, he was at first called on to re-create his famous radio roles. In time, though, he appeared in THE LONE RANGER, MICHAEL SHAYNE and many other roles he had never played before, each one given the full script treatment.


The first time I worked with Bob, in 1990, he was actually directing me in a re-creation of an episode of ESCAPE, where I had a miniscule role as a British ship’s passenger. As a director, he was a little too hands-on, running around in front of the stage during the show, gesturing wildly and distracting the audience from what was going on up on the stage.

The following year was the first of two times I played Jughead to Bob’s Archie. After that they brought in Harlan Stone to re-create his own role. Quite frankly, Bob and Hal just sniping at each other out of character would have been worth the cost of admission. Two old friends with wicked wits, each of whom loved nothing more than to go after the other one with a jab.

Over the years, I was privileged to work with Bob perhaps two dozen times onstage with him in an incredibly diverse selection of roles. My favorite was where I played a talking mouse that Bob’s scientist character discovers working in a nuclear facility.

Most years, we found some time to talk, just one on one, often onstage before rehearsals. He talked of his family that he loved so much (many kids, grandkids and great grandkids!), his bad back, his hearing issues, show biz anecdotes, the cancer he beat a few years ago...

The latter returned this past year and this time, this week, inevitably I suppose, it won. Or did it? Bob Hastings, on the surface a minor character actor, leaves us with a long and diverse legacy of performances, all of which he treated like Shakespeare. At 89, he lived long enough to have been rediscovered by fans, many of whom traveled great distances just to meet him at some of these events! He may never have had the recognition or the money but he knew he was appreciated and, in fact, adored by fans, friends and pretty much anyone who ever met him who would tell you he was a genuinely nice guy in a business that tended to eat nice guys alive. Not a bad run at all. In spite of the cancer, I’d have to say it was Bob Hastings who won in the end. I’ll really miss you, sir. Rest in peace.



3 comments:

Jerry Smith said...

Very nice write-up Steven. Sorry for the loss of your friend, an actor I always enjoyed seeing.

billy said...

i only began reading this because of the batman logo at the top,but thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece-very few of the other american shows mentoned were faves or even known to me but that didn't affect my enjoyment of reading about the little but big guy

Darci said...

HI Steve,
I concur, it's a nice tribute to Bob.

Re: "He's the guy counting down the seconds until New Year when the ship hits an iceberg."
That's another film. The Poseidon was overturned by a tsunami.

Re: "His association with the Commissioner Gordon character led to his voicing the role in a video game as well and that led to his appearing in other video games such as JAK AND DAXTER and MAFIA II."
Bob was the Mayor in Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy.
Thanks!