Orson Bean, whose subtle wit made him a staple on television in the 1950s and 1960s, was killed in a pedestrian traffic accident Friday in Venice, Calif. He was 91 and his death was confirmed by the Los Angeles County coroner.
Bean was struck by a car and killed while crossing Venice Boulevard in Venice at 7:35 PM. A “car coming westbound did not see him and clipped him,” Los Angeles Police Department Captain Brian Wendling told ABC7.
A second driver, who “was distracted by people trying to slow him down” then struck Bean, Wendling said.
Bean was crossing the busy street to get to the Venice Resident Theatre. His wife of 27 years, actress Alley Mills, was reportedly already at the location.
Both drivers remained at the scene and cooperated with police. Investigators have initially said they believe the crash was an accident.
Many remember Bean from his appearances on talk shows, making frequent appearances on The Tonight Show and other networks as a storyteller par excellence. He was also a game show staple (he was a frequent guest on To Tell The Truth and others).
But Bean was more than a glib guest. He also starred on and off Broadway, was part of many drama anthology shows, and once hosted his own CBS variety show, The Blue Angel.
The Artists & Representatives agency, which repped Bean for many years, issued a statement mourning his passing.
“We are devastated to hear of the sudden, tragic loss of our beloved friend and client Orson Bean. During a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he delighted audiences on radio, stage and screen while generously nurturing the artistry of his fellow performers. Our hearts go out to his wife and family during their time of grief. For all who knew him, Orson leaves a legacy of love, true friendship and powerful work. He will be deeply missed.”
There was also a politically active side to Bean. He was briefly blacklisted as a suspected Communist, and was a not-infrequent sight at political and environmental protests. He also founded the progressive 15th Street School in the 1960s, and once gave away his possessions to wander America in hippie-style fashion, exploring the turbulent times in a personal way.
For a time, he dropped out, moving to Australia and exploring the concepts of Austiran psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, writing a book about the experience. He returned to the US in 1971, but didn’t immediately return to show business. Instead, he followed a nomadic, hippie lifestyle, admitting in a memoir it was filled with psychedelic drugs, communal sex and other indulgences in a quest for self-discovery. He supported the family with commercial work and voice-overs in animated films.
By 1980, he decided to ramp up his show business activity. He again took to television movies, soap operas, game shows and film work. In his later career, he took recurring roles in such shows Murder, She Wrote, Normal, Ohio and Desperate Housewives. One highlight of his career was appearing in Being John Malkovich, a cult classic in which Bean was the owner of a mysterious company.
Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22, 1928, in Burlington, Vt.. After graduating from high school in 1946, he was drafted and served with Japan occupation forces.
Upon his discharge, he changed his name to Orson Bean and became a stage magician, working Boston-area nightclubs. Eventually, he evolved into comedy, and he began working bigger rooms in New York in a comedy era that saw such giants as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Woody Allen working.
From there, he evolved into television, becoming such a ubiquitous presence on The Tonight Show that he was often a vacation host for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. In between episodic TV stints, he also appeared on Broadway in the 1955 comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and in the 1967 musical Illya Darling.
Bean lived in Venice for many years and married three times, the last to actress Alley Mills. Survivors include his wife and his four children. No memorial plans have been announced.