This was a rough week for baby boomers , as we lost three of the favorite actors from our youth. Don Knotts, who won five Emmys as the inimitable Barney Fife, Andy Taylor's deputy on the "Andy Griffith Show", and later played Mr. Furley, the second landlord of the "Three's Company" group, was the first to go. News of his death was followed quickly by the death of Darren McGavin. I first remember McGavin as the captain of the riverboat on the TV show "Riverboat." He also starred as Carl Kolchak in "The Night Stalker", a cult favorite TV show which was redone this year and disapperaed quickly from the prime-time schedule. McGavin played a gambler/game fixer in one of my favorite films, 1984's "The Natural" , and also did an Emmy-nominated guest turn as Murphy Brown's father on the show of the same name ("Murphy Brown", that is).
McGavin's most famous role, however, is one that lives on with repeated annual showings of the greatest Christmas film ever, "The Christmas Story", in which he plays Ralphie's father. Leg lamp, anyone? Or how about an Oriental Christmas Dinner? No Red Ryder b.b. gun, though - you'll shoot your eye out!
Finally, Dennis Weaver, who played not one, but two, long-running and memorable TV characters, was the third member of this esteemed trio to go to his eternal resting place this week. Weaver, like Knotts, first gained fame as a sidekick deputy to a strong lawman. In his case, of course, Weaver played Chester Good to James Arness' Marshal Matt Dillon. Who can forget Chester's limping gait , as he called out for "Mr. Dillon" in the long-running TV Western "Gunsmoke" ? A few years later, Weaver took on a new role, but this time he had grown a mustache, gotten a promotion, and changed his name to Sam McCloud, starring in the show "McCloud."
A not-to-be forgotten role on Weaver's resume, howver, is the starring role in an exciting TV movie called "Duel" , in which he is pursued in his car by a semi driver for some unknown reason throughout the entire ninety-minute film. This landmark TV movie was the first directorial effort of one Steven Spielberg.
Barney, Chester, "Ralphie's Dad" - rest in peace- your work will live on forever, thanks to reruns, videotape and DVDs.