Richard Deacon (May 14, 1921 – August 8, 1984) was an American television and motion picture actor, best known for playing supporting roles in television shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It To Beaver, and The Jack Benny Program along with minor roles in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Deacon often portrayed pompous, prissy, and/or imperious figures in film and television. He made appearances on The Jack Benny Program as a salesman and a barber, and on NBC’s Happy as a hotel manager. He made a brief appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963). He played a larger role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) as a physician in the “book-end” sequences added to the beginning and end of the film after its original previews.
In Billy Wilder’s 1957 film adaptation of Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis, Deacon portrayed the chairman of the Columbia Aircraft Corporation, Charles A. Levine.
His best-known roles are milksop Mel Cooley (producer of The Alan Brady Show) on CBS’s The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966) and Fred Rutherford on Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963), although Deacon played Mr. Baxter in the 1957 Beaver pilot episode “It’s a Small World”. He co-starred as Tallulah Bankhead’s butler in an episode of The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour called “The Celebrity Next Door”. Deacon played Roger Buell on the second season of TV’s The Mothers-in-Law (1967–1969), replacing Roger C. Carmel in the role. He played Principal “Jazzbo” Conroy in The Danny Thomas Show (1958). He also appeared in the 1960 Perry Mason episode The Case of the Red Riding Boots as Wilmer Beaslee.
In Carousel (1956), the film adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical, Deacon had a bit role as the policeman who admonishes Julie and Mr. Bascombe about Billy Bigelow in the “bench scene”. It was one of the few films in which he did not wear glasses, as were his roles in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), and the 1954 costumer Désirée, where he played Jean Simmons’ elder brother, an 18th-century Marseilles silk merchant. Philadelphia native Deacon played the role of Morton Stearnes’ butler, George Archibald, whose courtroom testimony is a turning point in The Young Philadelphians (1959), starring Paul Newman. He played an imbibing justice of the peace, Reverend Zaron, in the classic 1957 Budd Boetticher western Decision at Sundown.
Deacon appeared in many sitcoms, including It’s a Great Life, The People’s Choice, How to Marry a Millionaire, Guestward, Ho!, Pete and Gladys, The Donna Reed Show, The Real McCoys (in the episode “The Tax Man Cometh”, he clashes with series star Walter Brennan over property tax assessments in the San Fernando Valley), Get Smart, Bonanza (a deceitful character who cheats the Cartwrights during their visit to San Francisco in the episode “San Francisco”), and The Rifleman (episode “The Hangman”, in an uncredited role). In episode 5 of the first season of The Munsters, “Pike’s Pique”, he plays water district commissioner Mr. Pike, buying the underground rights to lay pipe. In The Addams Family, he administers Cousin Itt a battery of psychological tests in the episode “Cousin Itt and the Vocational Counselor”. In 1966, he appeared on Phyllis Diller’s short-lived television sitcom, The Pruitts of Southampton. He also guest starred in the NBC family drama National Velvet, and in the ABC/Warner Bros. crime drama Bourbon Street Beat, and played Mr. Whipple on The Twilight Zone in the 1964 episode “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”. In 1967, Deacon played Ralph Yarby, director of security for lumber baron D.J. Mulrooney, in Disney’s The Gnome-Mobile. In 1968, he played Dean Wheaton in the Walt Disney film Blackbeard’s Ghost. He was also an occasional panelist in the 1970s/early 1980s versions of Match Game. In 1970, he appeared in four episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies as a psychiatrist treating Granny.
In 1971, Deacon co-starred, along with Elaine Joyce, in the final episode of Green Acres which was a backdoor pilot for a proposed sitcom titled “The Blonde” or “Carol”. Joyce played Oliver’s former dizzy blonde secretary, Carol Rush, who now lives in Los Angeles with her sister and brother-in-law. Deacon played her no-nonsense boss, Mr. Oglethorpe, who Carol manages to save from a real estate scam. The pilot was not picked up.
In 1969, he co-starred on Broadway as Horace Vandergelder in the long-running musical Hello, Dolly!, reuniting him onstage with Diller, who played the title character.
Deacon appeared on the Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour in 1983 as a game show participant / celebrity guest star.
In 1983, Deacon reprised his role of Fred Rutherford in the television movie Still the Beaver, a sequel to the original TV series. When the television movie spawned a series of the same name on The Disney Channel, he was to reprise the role but died weeks before the series began production.
In 1984, Deacon had a cameo role in the teen comedy film Bad Manners.
Although he was born in Philadelphia, he and his family later moved to Binghamton, New York, living on the west side of that city. He attended West Junior High and Binghamton Central High School, where he met fellow Binghamton resident Rod Serling.[self-published source?]
During World War II, Deacon served in the United States Army medical corps. In 1946, upon completion of his service, he returned to Binghamton where he resumed living with his parents. He worked in occupations such as laboratory technician and intern at Binghamton General Hospital. He later attended Ithaca College, first as a medical student, but later developed an interest in acting, engaging in some nighttime radio announcing.[self-published source?]
Deacon was a gourmet chef in addition to working as an actor. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote a series of cookbooks and hosted a Canadian television series on microwave oven cooking.
While not widely known during Deacon’s lifetime, he was a charitable man. At his memorial service, a number of people previously unknown to Deacon’s friends and colleagues spoke of how Deacon had provided for needy people and charitable organizations during his life.
Deacon never married. According to academic writers David L. Smith and Sean Griffin, Deacon was gay, and was among “a number of actors and actresses who were closeted homosexuals” working in Hollywood and often employed in Disney films. His obituary, published in The New York Times, listed only his father, a nephew and niece as survivors.”
Deacon died of cardiovascular disease on August 8, 1984, at age 63. His remains were cremated and the ashes scattered at sea.