Bernard Fox Makes Fans Merry, Whether He's In Mayberry Or Elsewhere!

If you knew he was from "somewhere's else" and guessed that he was from Heckondwike, England, you wouldn't be far off. Bernard M. Fox was born in the town of Portalbot in South Wales on May 11, 1927.

With Ron Howard on The Andy Griffith Show

Bernard is the fifth generation of his family to follow a career in acting. His actor parents were Gerald Lawson and Queenie Barrett. She was involved primarily in theater, while he performed on stage and in films and also managed theaters. "He did quite well in England," Bernard says, "until the Depression." Just before Bernard was born, the family moved to South Wales. "Unfortunately, the miners [the main workforce and potential ticket-buyers of the area] weren't doing much better."

For Bernard and older sister Mavis (an actress now living in Sidney, Australia), acting was a life they were born to be a part of. In fact, Bernard says, "I was carried onstage at 18 months." He adds, "I began at a very early age - before I could really memorize lines."

As Bernard grew up, he continued to get child roles in productions such as Richard III (in which he portrayed the little prince) and Two Little Vagabonds. Then, he says, "I went to work with my mother in Ireland, but eventually came back to London." By the age of 14, Bernard was not only acting but serving as assistant stage manager for a repertory theater.

Into early adulthood, Bernard further honed his theater skills. Then World War II broke out, and in 1943 duty called Bernard to service in the Royal Navy. While there were opportunities for Bernard to do some entertaining for his fellow servicemen in far-flung places, such as Burma, Ceylon, Singapore and Australia, much of his time in the Navy was spent doing deadly serious work aboard a minesweeper.

After the war was over, Bernard returned to acting and soon worked his way up to the prominent York Repertory company. When he eventually started doing one play every two weeks---giving us the luxury of two weeks to rehearse, as opposed to the scramble of one week to rehearse," Bernard says, "it was Nirvana for all of us that had been learning lines for once-a-week."

In 1952, Bernard was asked to join London's Whitehall Farce Players. Among the productions in which Bernard performed were Reluctant Heroes, Simple Spymen, and Dry Rot. Bernard quickly learned that London audiences had different expectations than those in, say, South Wales. "You come to London and you find out that you've got some rough edges. You trot out your little bag of tricks, and they don't work and you realize you'd better drop all that lot, and more or less start from scratch--relying on the scripted situations and developing a more sophisticated technique."

Following his stint at the Whitehall, Bernard performed in such other London productions as Shaw's Misalliance (with Roger Livesey, Alan Webb and Donald Pleasance), Saturday Night at the Crown and a musical adaptation of The Bells.

His London stage work eventually dovetailed into film work (for example, he played the man in the crow’s nest who spots the iceberg in 1958’s A Night to Remember, which has been called "the best Titanic film ever made," and at whose premier Bernard first learned that his father had been a Titanic steerage passenger who had tried to guide other passengers to safety) and work for the BBC. "Finally," Bernard recalls, "I ended up in a television series called 'Three Live Wires,' which was produced by Ray Saffian Allen, who wrote, with Harvey Bullock some of the Mayberry scripts. And Ray said to me, 'if you come to the U.S., I promise you a couple of shots.'

The time came when that suggestion sounded like a jolly good idea to Bernard and his wife, Jacqueline, who's also an actress (they met doing The Amorous Prawn in Rome in 1959; she played a Cockney maid and he played a butler), so they loaded up their figurative bicycle and headed to Hollywood.

Bernard's first performance in Hollywood was for a 1962 Stan Sieden/Zev Buffman production of Write Me a Murder at the Civic Playhouse. Word quickly spread about Bernard's performance in the bullying role of Charlie Sturrock.

Ray Allen also noticed that Bernard was in Hollywood. In 1963, true to Ray's word, Bernard says, "he got me on 'The Danny Thomas Show' with a 'Malcolm Merriweather' character (an inept waiter named Alfie), and that was on the lot where they did 'The Andy Griffith Show' And then I found myself on 'Andy Griffith."' (Harvey Bullock Ray Allen's old writing partner wrote that first Malcolm episode, "Andy's English Valet," as well as the two later TAGS episodes starring the lovable English butler who loves America.

Bernard recalls a touch of Britain that was a favorite pastime with a couple of the TAGS cast members. "There was a dart board on the set," he says, "and Andy and Don used to play and bet a quarter, and Don always used to lose. I said, 'Let me show you the right way to throw to hit the target.' Andy never won a game after that," Bernard laughs. Malcolm Merriweather was such a popular Mayberry visitor that he pedaled back into Mayberry again in 1964 for "The Return of Malcolm Merriweather" (Episode #124). That same year also found him appearing in his first episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (as Laura Petrie's writing instructor) and in "McHale's Navy" and "Twelve O'Clock High."

With Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show

When Malcolm was scripted to pretend to be drunk in "The Return of Malcolm Merriweather," Bernard recalls that the assistant prop man, who just happened to be from the Old Country (Liverpool), took him back into his prop room and found a bottle of whiskey. "He gave me a stiff shot to help me with the scene," Bernard says, chuckling at the extra dollop of authenticity for the scene.

The next year saw Bernard in a couple of more "Dick Van Dyke" episodes, an "F Troop" and his final trip through Mayberry, where a guarded Malcolm and Ernest T Bass came to a crossroads. He also performed in an episode of "Perry Mason," in three episodes of "The Farmer's Daughter" (as three different characters) and in an "I Spy," which, like "Dick Van Dyke," was produced by TAGS executive producer Sheldon Leonard.

So, not only was Bernard bicycling through Mayberry but he was rotating from TV show to TV show, which show biz folks also call bicycling. "That was a great time," Bernard says. "You were likely to run into the same camera crew and a lot of other people at each show. That was the pleasure of working back then. You knew everybody."

After helping the "Man From U.N.C.L.E." with two missions ("one a two-parter and one 'The Mother Muffin Affair' with Boris Karloff in drag as Mother Muffin') in 1966, Bernard became one the busiest men in Hollywood in 1967. He not only became a regular on "Bewitched" as eccentric warlock Dr. Bombay, but also he began his recurring role as Col. Crittenden on "Hogan's Heroes." ("He was such a blathering idiot," Bernard laughs.) Bernard continued with both highly rated series until their final seasons-1970-71 for "Hogan's" and 1971-72 for "Bewitched."

Sprinkled among those regular series, Bernard found time to guest star on numerous other shows, ranging from such cutting edge Sixties series as "The Monkees" (1968) and "The Wild, Wild West" (I 969) to Seventies mainstays such as "Love, American Stvle" (1970, 1972 and 1973) and "The Partridge Family” (1971). Along the way, Bernard also appeared in a couple of "Columbo" episodes (1972 and 1975), plus "Barbary Coast" (1975), "M*A*S*H" (1978), Lou Grant (1980), "Simon & Simon" (1984) and "Murder, She Wrote" (1986).

Bernard starred in "Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo" in 1977

Also look for Bernard in re-emerging reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie," "Love Boat," "Riptide Fall Guy," "Hart to Hart," "The Jeffersons," "Night Rider," "Barnaby Jones" and "What's Happening." And "General Hospital" fans will remember Bernard as Nigel Pennyfeather.

In addition, Bernard has appeared in two made-for-TV films: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972), in which he plays Dr. Watson to Stewart Granger's Holmes, and Gaugin the Savage with David Carradine and Lynn Redgrave (1980).

He also has appeared in a slew of feature films, including Home and Away (1956), The Safecracker with Ray Milland (1958), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Strange Bedfellows with Gina Lollobrigida and Rock Hudson (1964), Quick, Before It Melts with Robert Morse (1965), Hold On! with Herman's Hermits and Shelley Fabares (1966), Munster, Go Home (1966, directed by occasional TAGS director Earl Bellamy), Star with Julie Andrews and Richard Crenna (1968), The Bamboo Saucer (1968, on video), $1,000,00O Duck with Dean Jones and SandyDuncan (1971) and Bigjake with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara (1971).

Bernard contributed to a string of hilarious and hair-raising hits during the rest of the 1970’s and throughout the 1980's. Among his successes of that era are Arnold with Stella Stevens and Roddy McDowall (1973, on video), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo with Don Knotts and Dean Jones (1977, on video), The Rescuers with the voices or Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor (1977, on video), Zone of the Dead(1978), The Private Eyes with Don Knotts and Tim Conway (1980, on video), Yellowbeard with Marty Feldman and Madeline Kahn (1983, on video), 18 Againwith George Bums and Red Buttons (1988, on video) and The Rescuers Down Under with fellow voices by Bob Newhart and George C. Scott (1990, on video). Also, if you ever run across an independent film called House of Death, look for Bernard as the star.

And still, as busy as Bernard has been with television and film work since arriving in America, he has never strayed far from the family tradition of the stage. In the late '80s and early '90s, Bernard starred in three productions for Canada's acclaimed Stage West Theatres: First in One for the Pot in Calgary, then in Sextet in Edmonton and then in Season's Greetings in Toronto.

He also has starred on the 1978 Broadway (and earlier Chicago) production of 13 Rue de L'Amour with Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron. Other theater productions include Flea in Her Ear at the Mark Taper in 1982, What the Butler Saw at the Union Plaza in Las Vegas, Little Old Broadway at the Variety Arts in Los Angeles and Rattle of a Simple Man at Hollywood's Ivar Theatre.

In addition, Bernard starred with old "Hogan's Heroes" pal Bob Crane in a production of Beginner's Luck that toured the U.S., and he has performed in U.S. productions of Waltz of the Toreadors, Bald Soprano and Heartbreak House.

But one of the most interesting productions that Bernard has been involved with was A Night in an English Music Hall, a re-creation of a Victorian Music Hall at Santa Monica's Mayfair Theatre. Bernard acted, was master of ceremonies, directed and wrote for the production, which ran from 1973-78. (Bernard says that, believe it or not, the nation's gasoline shortage during that period eventually spelled the demise of the show. Reminiscent of the plight of coal miners in Wales hurting Bernard's father's theatrical productions during the Depression, fossil fuel costs contributed to people's not being able to afford to drive as far to see shows, and in sprawling California, in particular, that meant bad news.)

Bernard later took a few portions of the production that he had written and distilled them into a one-man show called Miniature Music Hall, which he performed in venues ranging from the Queen Mary to the M.G.M. Grand in Reno and from California's largest British clubs to an arts festival in Santa Fe. He's even done an evening's show at sea for Princess Cruise Lines.

Mayberry fans were treated to several delightful bits from this one-man show during the three cast events Bernard attended in 1995 (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Oxford, Ala.). And you can be sure that, when Sarah calls again, Bernard will gladly head to the shoeshine shop and spit and polish the act for another round.

But Bernard knows the realities of Hollywood today all too well. Echoing sentiments expressed by Jackie Joseph (in the "Emmett's Fix-It Shop Talk" column in this year's February issue), Bernard says, "There is a big thing in Hollywood about the older actor and the older writer and the older director. I can't for the life of me see why, because a writer is in his sixties, he's forgotten all the humorous things he wrote and learned when he was a young man. And [the same] for the skills of the older actors."

Bernard recreates a portion of his Musical Hall show during the 1995 cast even in Oxford, Alabama

And you won't find a more avid historian of the acting profession and actors - especially concerning those performers with roots in British theater. He can trace his family's performances back for generations. And while about all that most of us know about clowns begins with Emmett Kelly and ends with Bozo and Ronald McDonald, Bernard knows that one old performer he watched and learned from as child was an apprentice with renowned l8th/19th century British clown Grimaldi (who lived from 1778-1837, for those wishing to expand their knowledge of clown history). I certainly lapped up, as a child, a lot of his timing," Bernard says.

In addition to his avid study of theater, Bernard and wife Jacqueline enjoy gardening (we tore him away from his tiller for an interview for this profile), oil painting ("mostly landscapes") and listening to classical music, including favorites such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, Hoist's Planets and any trumpet concerti by Teleman.

The couple's two daughters live in California. Older daughter Amanda is manager of a debt-collection agency, and Valerie, who is married with two children, is assistant manager for a hospital supply firm.

For his part, Bernard strives to give both daughters as little direct business as possible, and he stays in demand for voice-over work for commercials and animation. And you can be sure that Bernard's always eager to seize whatever opportunities are ahead for him in the next stage of his brilliant career.

The same ability, in fact, that allows Bernard to maintain a steady course through the shifting tides of show business also has him ever ready with an appropriate line or lyric that's likely steeped in theater history.

For example, as he signs off from our interview to return to his tilling, he offers a little taste of his music hall show: "The Mayfair Hall was near the ocean in Santa Monica - I used to close the show by singing to the audi- ence - thanking them for being such a wonderful audience and saying, 'Don't forget: [singing now] if you're ever down by the ocean, won't you please drop in."

Bernard Fox likewise is someone folks in Mayberry and fans everywhere are always pleased to see drop in. And one other thing is certain: If anybody understands the cycles of show business, it's Bernard Fox, Mayberry's favorite pedaler of goodwill.

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