Sam Edwards

Sam Edwards

DURANGO, COLO.--Character actor Sam Edwards, whose five-decade acting career including notable films, popular radio and TV series and theatrical roles, died here July 28 after suffering a heart attack. He was 89.

Often playing "everyman" characters, he was a familiar face on series including "Dragnet," "Gunsmoke" and "Mission: Impossible," and appeared in movies such as "Twelve O' Clock High," and "Hello, Dolly!" MSTies will remember him as "Red," one of Tony Travis' gang of hoodlums in episode 415- THE BEATNIKS.

A native of Macon, Ga., Edwards first appeared on stage as an infant, held in the arms of his actress mother, Edna Park. Sam's father was Edna's leading man, and the producer of the theater company where she worked. By the time Edwards was in his teens, the family had moved to San Antonio, Texas, and he was working in local radio drama, often with other members of his show biz family.

After Sam graduated high school, the family decided to move to the West Coast, and before long were working steadily in the radio business there. That work led to movie roles, mostly in "B" titles. For example, Sam appeared in several of the "Dead End Kids" films. The family even played themselves in a popular program called, of course, "The Edwards Family." The show ran from 1937 to 1942, when Sam was drafted into the Army. (In one of his final performances as a civilian, he provided the voice of Thumper the rabbit in the Disney classic "Bambi.")

Though he had at first hoped to become a flyer, Sam's show business background became known to his superiors and he was transferred to an entertainment unit. His unit's first assignment was to create a theatrical production to boost civilian morale. Within only a few weeks they created "Hey Rookie," the tale of a bumbling new inductee in the Army. It starred a young Sterling Holloway, with Edwards in a supporting role. (Edwards and Holloway became lifelong friends, and later collaborated again on several "Winnie the Pooh" projects for Disney.) The show ran to sold out houses in Los Angeles, and then was refitted to become a travelling show, which toured around the world for the remainder of the war, entertaining U.S. troops on three continents.

After the war, Sam returned to radio, giving notable performances in popular programs such as "Cavalcade of America," "Dr. Christian" and most memorably as perennial teenager Dexter in "Meet Corliss Archer."

When television arrived, he was soon working in that medium as well. He had guest starring roles in such series as "Adam-12," "That Girl," "Happy Days," "Hawaii Five-O," "I Love Lucy," "Mannix," "Perry Mason," "Petticoat Junction," "The Twilight Zone," and "Wagon Train." More recent TV viewers may remember him as Mr. Anderson, the town banker, on TV's "Little House on the Prairie."

He also got movie work, including 1952's "Operation Pacific" with John Wayne, "The Flying Leathernecks," "Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came" and "The Absent Minded Professor." In later years he had roles in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and Disney's "Flight of the Grey Wolf" and "Escape to Witch Mountain."

After retirement in the mid-1980s, Edwards continued to attend conventions celebrating the golden days of radio.

Edwards is survived by his wife, Beverly, his brother, three stepchildren and several step-grandchildren.