Parley Edward Baer (August 5, 1914 – November 22, 2002) was an American actor in radio and later in television and film. Despite dozens of appearances in television series and theatrical films, he remains best known as the original “Chester” in the radio version of Gunsmoke, and as the Mayor of Mayberry (Roy Stoner) in The Andy Griffith Show.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Baer had a circus background, but began his radio career at Utah station KSL. He studied drama at the University of Utah.
Early in his career, Baer was a circus ringmaster and publicist. He left those roles for military service in World War II. In the 1950s, he had a job training wild animals at Jungleland USA in Thousand Oaks, California. Still later, he served as a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Baer was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, attaining the rank of Captain. He served from 1942 to 1946 in the Pacific Theater, earning an Army Presidential Unit Citation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and seven service stars.
Baer in the 1930s served on radio as director of special events for KSL. His first network show was The Whistler, which was soon followed by appearances on Escape (notably narrating “Wild Jack Rhett” and as the title patriot in an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s “A Tooth for Paul Revere”), Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers (as various local sheriffs), Dragnet, The CBS Radio Workshop, Lux Radio Theater, The Six Shooter, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, to name a few.
In 1952, he began playing Chester, the trusty jailhouse assistant to Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, eventually ad-libbing the character’s full name, “Chester Wesley Proudfoot” (later changed to “Chester Goode” in the televised version of the series, which featured Dennis Weaver in the role of Chester). Baer’s portrayal of Chester was generally considered his finest and most memorable role, and as he often said, the one he found most fulfilling. Baer also worked as a voice actor on several other radio shows produced by Norman MacDonnell, performing as Pete the Marshal on the situation comedy The Harold Peary Show, as Doc Clemens on Rogers of the Gazette, and as additional characters on Fort Laramie and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.
Other recurring roles included Eb the farm hand on Granby’s Green Acres (the radio predecessor to television’s Green Acres), Gramps on The Truitts, and Rene the manservant on the radio version of The Count of Monte Cristo. His later radio work included playing Reginald Duffield and Uncle Joe Finneman on the Focus on the Family series Adventures in Odyssey in the 1980s and 1990s.
Radio playwright and director Norman Corwin cast Baer as Simon Legree in the 1969 KCET television reading of his 1938 radio play The Plot to Overthrow Christmas.
Films and television
As an on-camera performer, Baer was recognizable by his distinctive voice, his paunchy appearance, and his balding head. Often he portrayed fussy, bossy, and/or obstinate officials or neighbors. Extended television roles included blustering, by-the-book Mayor Stoner on The Andy Griffith Show, the neighbor Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, frequent guest appearances on The Addams Family as insurance man and city commissioner Arthur J. Henson, and in the late 1990s, Miles Dugan on The Young and the Restless. He also appeared as a telephone executive on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Baer guest-starred in the 1950s on NBC’s The Dennis Day Show and It’s a Great Life, on CBS’s Hey, Jeannie!, on ABC’s The Law and Mr. Jones with James Whitmore, on the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight with Edmond O’Brien, and on the NBC children’s western series, Fury with Peter Graves and Bobby Diamond. He made six guest appearances on Perry Mason during the last five seasons of the CBS legal drama, including the role of Edward Farraday in the 1962 episode, “The Case of the Captain’s Coins,” and Willard Hupp in the 1963 episode, “The Case of the Bouncing Boomerang”.
He also appeared on the ABC sitcom Harrigan and Son, on the ABC/Warner Bros. crime drama, The Roaring 20s, on NBC’s crime drama Dan Raven starring Skip Homeier, and on the NBC family drama, National Velvet. Baer was cast twice on Walter Brennan’s sitcom, The Real McCoys. He also guest-starred on the CBS sitcoms Dennis the Menace, with Jay North, and Angel, starring Annie Fargé. In the latter, he carried the lead as Dr. Mathews in the single episode “The Dentist”, with Maudie Prickett as his dental secretary.
In 1961, Baer guest-starred on Marilyn Maxwell’s short-lived ABC drama series, Bus Stop. On April 13, 1962, he appeared, along with Frank Ferguson and Royal Dano in ABC’s crime drama Target: The Corruptors in the episode “Journey into Mourning”. He was cast as hotel owner Mr. Kringelein in the 1962 film, Gypsy, opposite Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell.
In 1963, Baer appeared with Charles Aidman and Karl Swenson in the three-part episode “Security Risk”, a story of international blackmail and intrigue, on the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb.
In 1964, Baer was cast as a sheriff in an episode of Mickey Rooney’s short-lived Mickey sitcom, and as a scientist in an Outer Limits episode, “Behold, Eck!” He was seen in four episodes of Hogan’s Heroes and eight episodes of Bewitched in various roles as advertising clients of McMann and Tate.
Baer was cast as Horace Greeley, who came to Colorado in 1859 in the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, in the 1965 episode “The Great Turkey War” of the syndicated series, Death Valley Days. Michael Constantine played Pollock. In the story line, a fledgling Denver copes with vandalism and the theft of turkeys, and Greeley is determined to report the truth about the emerging settlement.
In 1967, Baer appeared as General Whitfield on the I Dream of Jeannie episode, “Fly Me to the Moon”.
Baer made two appearances on Petticoat Junction. In the 1966 episode, “Jury at the Shady Rest”, he was Bailiff Tucker. Then, in the 1969 episode, “The Glen Tinker Caper”, he was Judge Madison.
Later guest appearances included Three for the Road, Three’s Company (as a cooking competition judge), The San Pedro Beach Bums, The A-Team, Star Trek: Voyager, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Dukes of Hazzard, Night Court, Newhart, Little House on the Prairie, The Golden Girls, Hazel, and Mad About You. He also played the role of the minister who married J. R. and Sue Ellen Ewing for their second marriage on Dallas. He also made guest appearances on F Troop.
Baer’s film roles included parts in several live-action Disney features, including Follow Me, Boys! (again as a mayor), The Ugly Dachshund, and Those Calloways. He also appeared in Two on a Guillotine and Dave (as the Senate majority leader). Baer had a featured role in the 1958 war drama The Young Lions, portraying a German officer and friend of Marlon Brando.
Baer was especially proud of his brief appearance in a little-known film, White Dog, a powerful story about racism. Baer plays a character seen at first as a kindly grandfather, only to reveal himself as a hateful bigot who has trained the title character to attack black skin. Baer remarked, “Often racism, like true evil, presents itself with a smile and a handshake”.
Some 10 years earlier, Baer played a closet racist in a well-known Christmas episode of Bewitched. The episode “Sisters at Heart” aired on ABC on December 24, 1970, in which he played the role of Mr. Brockway, the owner of a toy-manufacturing firm.
Baer voiced Ernie Keebler in the cookie commercials before he suffered a stroke in 1997 which affected both speech and movement. He recovered sufficiently to make a handful of appearances at old-time radio conventions in his later years. In the 1980s he dressed in old-time garb as “Mr. S”, one of the company founders, in commercials for S&W Fine Foods.
Personal life and death
In 1946, Baer met and married circus aerialist and bareback rider Ernestine Clarke. They were together for 54 years until her death on August 5, 2000, in Tarzana, California.
Baer was a long-term member of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Encino, California, where he served in many capacities, including head usher.
In 1969, Baer gave the eulogy at the funeral of The Andy Griffith Show castmate Howard McNear. McNear had portrayed Mayberry’s Floyd the Barber and Baer had played Mayor Roy Stoner. McNear also portrayed Doc Adams in the radio version of Gunsmoke, often interacting with Baer’s character, Chester Proudfoot.
On November 11, 2002, following another stroke, Baer was taken to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. Eleven days later, at the age of 88, he died there.
The Kid from Texas (1950) as Off-Screen Narrator (voice, uncredited)
Comanche Territory (1950) as Boozer, the Bartender
Union Station (1950) as Detective Gottschalk
The Company She Keeps (1951) as Steve (uncredited)
Three Guys Named Mike (1951) as Bakery Truck Driver (uncredited)
Air Cadet (1951) as Major Jim Evans
The Fat Man (1951) as Police Detective O’Halloran (uncredited)
The Frogmen (1951) as Dr. Ullman (uncredited)
People Will Talk (1951) as Toy Store Salesman (uncredited)
Elopement (1952) as Dr. Henry (uncredited)
Red Skies of Montana (1952) as Dr. Henry (uncredited)
The Dennis Day Show (1952, TV Series)
Deadline – U.S.A. (1952) as Headwaiter (uncredited)
Fearless Fagan (1952) as Emil Tauchnitz
Something for the Birds (1952) as Refrigerator Deliveryman (uncredited)
Dragnet (1952, TV Series) as Father on Phone / District Attorney
Pickup on South Street (1953) as Headquarters Communist in Chair (uncredited)
Vicki (1953) as 2nd Detective (uncredited)
The Gambler from Natchez (1954) as Riverboat Captain (uncredited)
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1954, TV Series) as Detective Sharkey
The Loretta Young Show (1954, TV Series) as Mr. Banner
Father Knows Best (1955, TV Series) as Lyle
The Bob Cummings Show (1955, TV Series) as Wester
Our Miss Brooks (1952-1955, TV Series) as Mr Maynard / Mr Chambers / Bennett
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956, TV Series) as Police Detective Gryar
D-Day the Sixth of June (1956) as Sgt. Gerbert (uncredited)
Away All Boats (1956) as Dr. Gates
December Bride (1956, TV Series)
Drango (1957) as George Randolph
I Love Lucy (1955-1957, TV Series) as Mr. Perry / Mr. Reilly
Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre (1956-1957, TV Series) as Enos Finney / Mr. Fitch / Fitch
Official Detective (1958, TV Series) as Sam Goodwin
The Young Lions (1958) as Sergeant Brandt
The FBI Story (1959) as Harry Dakins
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1959, TV Series) as Gaunt
Zane Grey Theater (1956-1959, TV Series) as Frank Lloyd / Clem Doud / Mayor Homer Bellam / Dan Morriss
Cash McCall (1960) as Harvey Bannon
Wake Me When It’s Over (1960) as Col. Archie Hollingsworth
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) as Grangeford Man
Make Room for Daddy (1956-1960, TV Series) as Mr. Denton, Postal Inspector / Mr. Kendall / Mr. Haynes
The Real McCoys (1958-1960, TV Series) as Mr. Venable / Mr. Saunders
A Fever in the Blood (1961) as Charles ‘Charlie’ Bosworth
The Rifleman (1959-1961, TV Series) as Neff Packer / Walter Mathers
Dennis the Menace (1959-1962, TV Series) as Mr. Pindyck / Capt. Blast
The Dick Powell Theatre (1962, TV Series) as Lt. Hockberg
General Electric Theater (1954-1962, TV Series) as Harvey Seymour / Mayor Douglas / Haveman
Bachelor Father (1962, TV Series) as Dr. Whittaker
The Spiral Road (1962) as Mr. Boosmans
Have Gun – Will Travel (1959-1962, TV Series) as Reston – Townsman / Sam Thurber / John Ellsworth (ironically playing a character whose death was connected to a traveling circus schedule)
Laramie (1962, TV Series) as Fred McAllen
Gypsy (1962) as Mr. Kringelein
The Andy Griffith Show (1962-1963, TV Series) as Mayor Roy Stoner
Rawhide (1963, TV Series) as Bryant / Dinny
Dr. Kildare (1963, TV Series) as Dr. James Connors
Wagon Train (1962-1963, TV Series) as George Talley / John Maitland / Clyde Montgomery
77 Sunset Strip (1964, TV Series) as Charlie Cornwall
The Jack Benny Program (1964, TV Series) as Charlie Cornwall
The Brass Bottle (1964) as Samuel Wackerbath
Bedtime Story (1964) as Col. Williams
The Outer Limits (1964, TV Series) as Dr. Bernard Stone
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (1964, TV Series) as Leonard F. Bellack
The Joey Bishop Show (1964, TV Series) as Judge
Two on a Guillotine (1965) as ‘Buzz’ Sheridan
Those Calloways (1965) as Doane Shattuck
Hazel (1965, TV Series) as Mr. Rowland
Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965) as Jules Griswald
Fluffy (1965) as Police Captain
The Money Trap (1965) as Banker (scenes deleted)
Marriage on the Rocks (1965) as Dr. Newman (uncredited)
My Favorite Martian (1965, TV Series) as Mr. Babcock
Death Valley Days (1963-1965, TV Series) as Horace Greeley / Sager / Dr. Simon / Crowder
The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (TV Series) (1953-1965, TV Series) as Herb Darby / Attorney Hopkins
F Troop (1965, TV Series) as Colonel Watkins
Burke’s Law (1965, TV Series) as Colonel Pavlov Popoff
The Farmer’s Daughter (1965-1966, TV Series) as Mr. Rapp / Otto Olsen
The Ugly Dachshund (1966) as Mel Chadwick
Bonanza (1961-1966, TV Series) as Harry Crawford / Frank Armstead / Jack Cunningham
The Addams Family (1965-1966, TV Series) as Mayor Arthur J. Henson
Perry Mason (1961-1966, TV Series) as Frank Cummings / Ian Jarvis / Willard Hupp / David Bickel / Edward Farraday / Seward Quentin
Follow Me, Boys! (1966) as Mayor
The Fugitive (1964-1967, TV Series) as Al Cooney / Lee Burroughs
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967) as Chief Executioner
The Phyllis Diller Show (1966-1967, TV Series) as Morgan / Derwin
Laredo (1967, TV Series) as Alcott Willingham
The Gnome-Mobile (1967) as The Owl (voice, uncredited)
I Dream of Jeannie (1967, TV Series) as General Whiston
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1966-1967, TV Series) as Judson Travers / Mr. Corbett
The Lucy Show (1962-1967, TV Series) as Dr. Davis / Colonel Dietrich / Judge / Mr. Evans
Lassie (1968, TV Series) as Austin Redmond / Austin Richmond
Day of the Evil Gun (1968) as Willford
Counterpoint (1968) as Hook
Judd for the Defense (1968, TV Series) as Magistrate
Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968) as Dr. Dudley Caldwell
Ironside (1968, TV Series) as Everett Brandt / Commander Stevens
The Name of the Game (1969, TV Series) as Doctor
Land of the Giants (1969, TV Series) as Senator Obek
Young Billy Young (1969) as Bell
The Doris Day Show (1969, TV Series) as Mr. Thornby
Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1969, TV Series) as Julius Schlager / Doctor Pohlmann / Colonel Burmeister / Professor Altman
Mannix (1970, TV Series) as Archie
Petticoat Junction (1965-1970, TV Series) as Mr. Bellingham / Judge Madison / Judge Turner / Bailiff Vince Tucker / Henry Phillips
The F.B.I. (1965-1970, TV Series) as Newman / Vernon Daniels / Jake Jason
The Bill Cosby Show (1970, TV Series) as Mr. Tyler
The Virginian (1962-1970, TV Series) as Henderson / Judge Jeremiah Pitt / Pat Magill / The Senator
Green Acres (1965-1971, TV Series) as Lt. Governor / Mister Peterson / Mr. Treffinger / Mr. Webster
Skin Game (1971) as Mr. Claggart
Mod Squad (1971, TV Series) as Koger
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1959-1971, TV Series) as Mayor Hancock
Here’s Lucy (1971, TV Series) as Dr. Cunningham
Bewitched (1966-1972, TV Series) as Walter Franklin / Mr. Burkeholder / Mr. Brockway / Desk Sergeant / Mr. Nickerson / Bigelow / Dr. Matthew Kramer / James Dennis Robinson
Medical Center (1971-1973, TV Series) as Farraday / Dr. Fred Elter
Kung Fu (1973, TV Series) as Dr. Gormley
Sixteen (1973) as The Reverend
The Streets of San Francisco (1976, TV Series) as Jack Leopold
The Amazing Dobermans (1976) as Septimus, Circus Owner
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977, TV Series) as Doc Wilson
Charlie’s Angels (1978-1979, TV Series) as Grandpa / Captain Jack McGuire
The Incredible Hulk (1979, TV Series) as Raymond
B.J. and the Bear (1980, TV Series) as Mayor
Little House on the Prairie (1976-1980, TV Series) as Mr. Williams / J.W. Diamond
WKRP in Cincinnati (1980, TV Series) as Mr. Armor
Knots Landing (1981, TV Series) as Old Man
Carbon Copy (1981) as Dr. Bristol
Hart to Hart (1982, TV Series) as Constantine Wainwright
Lou Grant (1979-1982, TV Series) as Ray Elders / Carlton Stiefel / Haggerty / Sheriff Burkhardt
White Dog (1982) as Wilber Hull
Father Murphy (1982, TV Series) as Banker
Dallas (1982, TV Series) as Minister Brown
Archie Bunker’s Place (1983, TV Series) as Judge Anthony Barzini
Doctor Detroit (1983) as Judge
Three’s Company (1983, TV Series) as Bert Landers
The A-Team (1984, TV Series) as Max Klein
Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984) as Alonzo Dillard
The Dukes of Hazzard (1981-1984, TV Series) as Doc Appleby
Pray for Death (1985) as Sam Green
Simon & Simon (1986, TV Series) as Tourist Husband
Newhart (1984-1987, TV Series) as Buck
The Golden Girls (1987, TV Series) as Chester T. Rainey
Night Court (1988, TV Series) as Judge Sims
License to Drive (1988) as Grandpa Anderson
Time Trackers (1989) as Lucius
Growing Pains (1989, TV Series) as Counterman
Almost an Angel (1990) as George Bealeman
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1991, TV Series) as Al Brown
Quantum Leap (1991-1992, TV Series) as Judge Shiner / Dr. Rogers
Space Case (1992) as Bitby
Mad About You (1993, TV Series) as The Husband
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1993, TV Series) as Woodrow
Dave (1993) as Senate Majority Leader
King B: A Life in the Movies (1993) as Walter Dent
The Young and the Restless (1993-1996, TV Series) as Miles Dugan
L.A. Law (1990-1994, TV Series) as Supreme Court Judge Parker
Roswell (1994) as Civilian Advisor
Renegade (1994) as Wesley
Last of the Dogmen (1995) as Mr. Hollis
Coach (1995, TV Series) as Frank
Star Trek: Voyager (1996, TV Series) as Old Man #1
Man and Cat (2001) as Cat (final film role)
Interview with Parley Baer (following Dick Tracy episode)
Actor Parley Baer – Wikipedia