Sunday, December 15, 2013

Notable Guest-Stars: Bruce Gordon

I decided to go to my idea of spotlighting Bruce Gordon, guest-star in three Perry episodes.

Born in 1916, Bruce Gordon started on the stage and for several years in the 1940s, played one of the policemen in Arsenic and Old Lace. When he went to the movies, he was in Love Happy. I think I need to watch that film again. There’s quite a few Perry alumni in it, including Raymond Burr himself!

He was with television almost from the beginning, with credits as early as 1951. As with many character actors, he appeared on several of the numerous anthology series. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on many more than are listed on

Of course, he is most well-known for playing Frank Nitti on The Untouchables. Originally the character wasn’t supposed to appear semi-regularly, but Bruce did such a good job that the character became popular with fans and appeared with increasing frequency as the series went on. Long after the end of the series, Bruce operated two different eateries called Frank Nitti’s Place and greeted patrons dressed as his interpretation of the character. I bet those were interesting places to visit!

One of my favorites of his guest-starring roles is in the One Step Beyond episode The Vision, a very powerful and moving adaptation of a mysterious event that happened during World War I. He plays a defense attorney assigned to four French soldiers charged with cowardice, a charge they most vehemently deny. (One of the soldiers is played by H.M. Wynant!) It’s one of the only times I’ve seen Bruce play a protagonist, and he takes to it very well, delivering a deeply poignant performance.

On Perry, Bruce’s first role is in season 3’s Paul Drake’s Dilemma. He plays a member of a well-to-do family who is cheating on his wife with a girl he knew long before he met his wife. He married into the family pretty much only for the money and was put in charge of business matters because he’s more competent at handling them than the father’s sons. One night while driving home upset, he accidentally hits and kills a man in the road. To his credit, he feels terrible about running from the scene, but then he agrees to the cover-up when the father insists on it. He hires Paul to deliver money to the widow, money supposedly obtained from a deal up in Canada. When Paul puts the truth together, he and the son-in-law have it out in the mistress’s hotel room and Paul ends up accused of killing him.

Again Bruce plays the murder victim in season 4’s The Loquacious Liar. Although H.M. is in the cast too, this time they do not share screentime. Bruce’s character is again cheating on his wife. And he and his step-son hate each other. But he isn’t responsible for hiring someone to scare his step-son into thinking there’s an assassination attempt on his life. He is furious and puzzled and believes that his step-son is making it up. After they have a fight, he ends up dead on the floor.

He isn’t seen again until season 8’s The Blonde Bonanza, and unfortunately, I rarely see that episode and do not recall his character off-hand. Skimming through the detailed summary of the episode at Storrer’s site, it looks like Bruce plays a relative good guy, the estranged father of the defendant. Perry finds him out and wants him to reveal his identity, but he feels he cannot. Eventually it comes out, however, and in the end he tries to make good. The daughter, although having been understandably upset with him, decides to try to patch things up.

Bruce appeared on many classic television shows, including Ironside, Mannix, Adam-12, and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, and dozens of others. I don’t recall his specific characters, but I always enjoy his performances, whether he’s playing good guys or bad.

A real veteran character actor, he lived right on into 2011 and passed away just shy of his 95th birthday. With this good man went another important part of our classic movie and television legacy. But his amazing performances live on, to continue to be enjoyed and remembered for decades to come.

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