22 April, 2009
Gale Gordon was an American character actor. Remembered best as Lucille Ball's longtime television foil — and particularly as cantankerously combustible, tightfisted bank executive Theodore J. Mooney, on Ball's second television situation comedy, The Lucy Show — Gordon was just as respected for his earlier career in classic American radio, where he was once the highest-paid actor in the medium, even though he was never a top-billed radio star.
Born Charles T. Aldrich, Jr. in New York City, the son of British actress Gloria Gordon and her vaudevillian husband Charles Aldrich, Gordon's first big radio break came was the recurring role of Mayor La Trivia on Fibber McGee and Molly, before playing Rumson Bullard on the show's successful spinoff, The Great Gildersleeve. Gordon and his character of Mayor La Trivia briefly left the show in December of 1942, both had enlisted in World War 2.
Gordon was the first actor to play the role of Flash Gordon, in the 1935 radio serial The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. In 1950, Gordon played John Granby in the radio series Granby's Green Acres, which became the basis for the 1960s television series, Green Acres. Gordon went on to create the role of pompous principal Osgood Conklin on Our Miss Brooks, carrying the role to television when the show moved there in 1952.
In the interim, Gordon turned up as Rudolph Atterbury on My Favorite Husband, which starred Lucille Ball in a precursor to I Love Lucy. Gordon and Ball previously worked together on The Wonder Show, starring Jack Haley, from 1938 to 1939. The two had a long-term friendship as well as recurring professional partnership. Gordon also had a recurring role as fictitious Rexall Drugs sponsor representative Mr. Scott on yet another radio hit, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, staying with the role as long as Rexall sponsored the show.
The widely acknowledged master of the "slow-burn" temper explosion in character, Gordon was actually the first pick to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but he was committed to Our Miss Brooks and had to decline the offer in favor of William Frawley. But he did make two guest shots on the show as Ricky Ricardo's boss, Alvin Littlefield, owner of the Tropicana Club where Ricky's band played, and he later played a judge on a The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episode. Gordon also had a co-starring role in the television comedy Pete and Gladys. At this time, he guest starred with Pat O'Brien in the ABC sitcom Harrigan and Son, the story of a fictitious father-and-son pair of lawyers.
In 1962, Ball created The Lucy Show and planned to hire Gordon to play Theodore J. Mooney, the banker who was first Lucy Carmichael's executor and subsequently her employer, when she went to work in his bank. Gordon, however, was still under contract to play the second George Wilson neighbor, (after the death of Joseph Kearns) on Dennis the Menace. When that show ended in spring 1963, Gordon joined The Lucy Show as Mr. Mooney for the 1963-64 season. In the interim, Charles Lane played the similar Mr. Barnsdahl character for the 1962-63 season. The somewhat portly Gordon was not only adept at physical comedy but could do a perfect cartwheel. He did this once on The Lucy Show and again as a guest on The Dean Martin Show.
After the sale of Desilu studios, Ball shut down The Lucy Show in 1968 and retooled it into Here's Lucy. She used Gordon yet again--this time as her irascible boss (and brother-in-law) Harry Carter at an employment agency that specialized in unusual jobs. It was really the Lucy Carmichael/Mr. Mooney relationship continued with new names and a new setting.
Gordon all but retired when Here's Lucy ended (although he did reprise his role of Mr. Mooney in the first aired episode of Hi Honey, I'm Home!), but in the 1980s he came out of retirement to join Ball one last time, for the short-lived Life With Lucy. When Lucille Ball finally brought an end to her career, Gordon turned out to be the only actor to have co-starred or guest-starred in every weekly series, radio or television, she had done since the 1940s.
Gordon died of lung cancer at age 89 in Escondido, California