Sunday, January 12, 2014

Birthday Tribute: Mort Mills

Here is a post that is long overdue. Since I recognize recurring characters as well as the main characters, Mort Mills and his character Sergeant Landro should have been highlighted ages ago. On this, the day after his birthday, I shall finally do a proper tribute post. (Or as much of one as I can.)

I can’t seem to find much biographical information. He was born January 11th, 1919. While he appeared in some movies, including as a patrolman in Psycho, he was seen much more frequently on television.

He turns up everywhere. Most weeks, I run across him at least once on one show or another. He’s been on The Untouchables, Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Ironside, and many more. As with many character actors, I see him play good and bad guys with equal frequency, and he does both very well.

He doesn’t always appear only in a guest-star capacity. He had a steady role in the 1950s series Man Without a Gun, as the marshal and friend of the titular newspaperman. It sounds like it was an interesting series, showing how said newspaperman managed to bring criminals to justice without violence—at least most of the time. Sometimes, the marshal was needed anyway.

Another role as a main character was in a series called Dante, about a guy named Dante who opens a nightclub called Dante’s Inferno. (I am amused.) He’s supposed to be reformed, but old gangsters keep calling on him and the police think he’s probably up to his old tricks. Again, Mort played the role of the police character. The series sounds a lot like the similar-premised Mr. Lucky, which I noted moments before reading the same notation in the article.

Then there’s series such as The Big Valley, where Mort appeared in a handful of episodes as the same character—in this case, a sheriff. In one venture, Earthquake!, he interacts with fellow Perry actor Wesley Lau. Wesley plays a rather cowardly creep who can’t seem to stop having affairs with other women. When the latest venture results in the poor girl getting pregnant, Wesley’s character tries to ensure that she stays trapped under the church in the damage from the earthquake, so that his secret won’t get out. To that end, he works in the posse organized by Mort’s sheriff.

Wesley is amazing and believable in the part, somehow managing to make the character feel real and human, and it’s delicious when the truth is learned and Mort’s sheriff really gives it to him, furious over the lengths to which he went to keep his infidelity known. In the end, Wesley’s character tries to commit to being a better person, and his wife, who is really amazing, decides to adopt the child after the poor mother dies in childbirth. It makes an interesting parallel with the Barkley family and Victoria Barkley’s welcoming of Heath, the illegitimate son of her husband, into their family.

Then, of course, there’s Perry. Mort appeared in one episode before taking on the role of Sergeant Landro; in season 3’s The Slandered Submarine, he plays Barry Scott. I remember seeing him there, but I don’t recall the character’s function in the episode. I don’t think, however, that Barry was mixed up in any of the crooked goings-on.

It’s the following season, in The Difficult Detour, when Sergeant Landro makes his first appearance. An officer of the county sheriff’s department, Landro is first seen wearing a uniform instead of the suit he wears in all future appearances. (The suit surprised me, really; I didn’t think there were plainclothesmen in the sheriff’s department.) He’s pretty much a standard policeman character, kind and concerned but businesslike and efficient.

Ensuing episodes continue this characterization but also show him coming to know and remember Perry and company. While he doesn’t appreciate law-bending antics any more than the other police characters, he is generally polite and congenial to Perry. Sometimes, in later episodes, he’s somewhat weary and exasperated and resigned to see Perry appear, but never to the extent that Tragg is.

Usually, episodes with Sergeant Landro will also feature Hamilton; Landro works for Los Angeles County, as does Hamilton. He is used when cities outside of L.A. but still part of the county come into the plot. One time, however, in The Brazen Bequest, Hamilton is not used. I can’t quite remember how Los Angeles County fits into the picture in that one, as I thought the college that’s the main setting was in another county altogether. If Los Angeles County had been used, Hamilton should have been used as well. And if Los Angeles County wasn’t used, I don’t understand why Landro was there.

I don’t know why they decided to have Sergeant Landro be a recurring character, but it’s always fun when that happens. I enjoy seeing a known character pop up repeatedly. It shows continuity, which older shows weren’t always so good about.

Sergeant Landro makes the majority of his appearances in seasons 5 and 6, with three in the former and two in the latter. Those appearances are book-ended by his first appearance in season 4 and one last appearance in season 8. I wonder why we don’t see him in season 7.

I suppose it’s not a surprise Mort wasn’t asked back for season 9, since in many ways that season seemed to be revamping the Perry formula, trying both to return to its book and season 1 roots as well as to march forward into more contemporary territory. Landro could have certainly fit in, but they were probably so occupied with ideas for the new-old format that they didn’t think of calling Mort back.

Mort acted on into the 1970s, where his final appearance was on The Streets of San Francisco. Then, unless a whole bunch of credits are missing, he seemed to have retired. He lived until June 6th, 1993, when apparently a burning cigarette started a fire that killed him. What a heartbreaking and unnecessary death!

While perhaps a lot of television viewers don’t know him by name, I imagine most everyone knows him by sight. Mort Mills was certainly an important and memorable contributor to classic television, still widely seen wherever these wonderful shows are viewed.

As a side-note, apparently Mary Treen was his cousin? (Can anyone confirm this?) Wow, she also has a very impressive resumé! She sounds like she was a nice lady, too.


  1. Thank you for your interesting information

  2. I especially remember Mort Mills as Al Schwartz, a police officer, in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil."