Monday, July 4, 2011

RIP Billy Beck

Billy Beck, Character Actor and Clown, Dies at 86
Though he was known for his character acting, Beck was also a gifted cartoonist, painter, photographer and clown.

Billy Beck, one of the greatest of the great sad clowns, is gone. And an era is over.

He’s one of those guys you’ve seen in movies and TV for years and likely never knew his name. Most recently he appeared in the forgettable Zombie Strippers, but you’ve seen him in famous movies like Irma La Douce, The Fortune Cookie and Micki and Maude, as well as in hundreds of TV shows through the decades, including Bewitched, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Twilight Zone, The Monkees, E.R., and The King of Queens. He was a regular on several shows, including Lou Grant, playing the photo editor on several episodes, Falcon Crest (as Charles) and also on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, on which he made many return appearances as the quirky Lt. Trask.

But to many of us, he’ll be most fondly remembered as a sad clown, the character he invented in the streets of Paris in the 1940s and portrayed on the stage of the famed Cirque Medrano, along with Buster Keaton and other legendary sad clowns.

He died just nights ago on June 29 at the age of 86. Though he became famous for being one of this town’s most resonant character actors, he was also a gifted cartoonist, painter, photographer and, of course, clown.

During World War II, he was stationed in France, and whenever he had the opportunity, would go to Paris to see Buster Keaton and other legends and who performed at the Cirque Medrano. It was while he was still in the army that he fashioned his own Emmett Kelly-inspired tramp costume and make-up, and when the war was over in 1945 he stayed in Paris. Asked why, he said, “The city is beautiful, the language is beautiful, the women are beautiful – why would I leave?”

He started as a street performer and also a street artist in Paris, doing sketches and painted portraits. Soon he was performing on the stage of the famed Cirque Medrano, which led him to perform at venues and celebrations throughout Paris for the next 15 years.

But his love of cinema created in him a yearning to go to Hollywood and act in movies. And in 1960 he made the move, buying a small house on Robinson Street in Silver Lake, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In Hollywood, though he never intended to be a TV actor, he was steadily employed as an actor, appearing in every kind of show TV created, as well as soon landing his first big film role, that of Office DuPont in Irma La Douce (1963), which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.

Billy appeared in one Euro-western 1993's "Silent Tongue" with the late actor River Phoenix.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea Billy Beck was a clown. Thanks for letting me know that, Tom Betts.