Gale Gordon

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The Independent Online
Gale Gordon was not only Lucille Ball's long-time friend, but her favourite comic foil, appearing with her in four television series. He specialised in choleric windbag roles, and could always draw uncued applause by buffing and puffing his way through a comic tantrum. Eve Arden, who acted with him in the radio, television and feature film versions of Our Miss Brooks, wrote in her autobiography: "The ferocious Mr Gordon was a pussycat - a really shy but loving man. He was also very relaxed."

Gordon's father was a vaudeville quick-change artist, his mother, Gloria Gordon, an actress, and the family lived for some years in England.

Returning to the United States in 1923, the 17-year-old Gale Gordon met a member of the Rothschild family on the voyage. Impressed by the young man's mature voice and bearing, the Rothschild gave him a letter of introduction to the Broadway impresarios the Shubert brothers.

After appearing in various plays in New York and in the famous Duffy stock company in San Francisco, Gordon drifted into radio in the early 1930s, basing himself in Los Angeles and playing mainly English roles. In 1933 he was signed as resident leading man to the fading film star Irene Rich in Irene Rich Dramas, a series which lasted for nine years. During this period, he also played Dr Petrie in the three-times-a-week series The Shadow of Fu Manchu, and District Attorney Miller in Big Town, a "crusading reporter" series starring Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Gordon's first comedy series was The Jimmy Durante Show, and he was soon appearing in Fibber McGee and Molly (another nine-year run) and The Burns and Allen Show.

After Coast Guard service in the Second World War, Gordon returned to radio to play one of his few starring parts in the mystery series The Casebook of Gregory Hood (1946). Another of his straight roles was as the wily priest Father Leahy in Johnny Madero, Pier 23 (1947), in which Jack Webb, future star of Dragnet, played a private detective.

By the early 1950s Gordon was the busiest character actor in California radio, appearing in no less than seven top-rated series. One of them was My Favorite Husband, a sitcom starring Lucille Ball and Richard Denning. The success of the series led to I Love Lucy on television, for which Gordon was Ball's first choice to play her landlord Fred Mertz.

Unavailable because of his role in Our Miss Brooks, Gordon had to wait until 1961 and The Lucy Show before he could act with Ball on television. For seven years he appeared as the bank official Theodore J. Mooney, continually enraged by the antics of his scatty employee, Lucy Carmichael. He played similarly blustery roles in Here's Lucy (1968-74) and in the short-lived Life with Lucy (1986).

He also appeared on television in The Jack Benny Show, Pete and Gladys and Dennis the Menace, and in such feature films as Here We Go Again (1942), A Woman of Distinction (1950), Here Come the Nelsons (1952), Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1958), Don't Give up the Ship (1959), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), All in a Night's Work and All Hands on Deck (both 1961), Sergeant Deadhead (1965) and Speedway (1968).

He loved to tell people that his favourite appearance in any of the media was in the Western radio series Death Valley Days in the early 1940s. Also in the cast was the actress Virginia Curley; that first meeting led to marriage and the purchase of a ranch 175 miles from Hollywood, on which they grew carob trees. Virginia Gordon's death - in the same nursing home - preceded her husband's by a few weeks.

Gaylord Aldrich (Gale Gordon), actor: born New York City 20 February 1906; married Virginia Curley (died 1995); died Escondido, California 30 June 1995.