13 times we saw Carroll O’Connor on TV before he was a star

From a mobster to a Martian.

Carroll O'Connor is one of TV history's proudest talents. A prolific and highly esteemed actor, he trained in Ireland, then he fell in love and married an American girl and that's when New York City met one of Dublin's best new prospects. 

Once O'Connor got cast as a character actor, it seems like he was instantly welcomed to every dramatic show on air, generating a solid decade of performances before he took on the role that would define him in 1968. Before he became the All in the Family patriarch with endless pearls of "wisdom," audiences were captivated by the actor, whether he was a Martian blending in with Earthlings or a willful commanding officer demanding Festus' head.

Of course, there's never been any doubt that O'Connor is a multidimensional actor. After All in the Family ended, O'Connor rose to fame again on television, garnering attention (and Golden Globe nominations) as the star of In the Heat of the Night in 1988. But if you're less familiar with O'Connor's initial character work that landed him in Archie's armchair, this scroll's for you...

1. A dishonest bail bondsman on The Untouchables.

One of the first meaty roles O'Connor took on was as a bail bondsman on The Untouchables in its third season for the episode "Power Play." His accent he used in the show probably now sounds positively foreign to those used to hearing him as Archie Bunker. It was good enough for him to get an invite back the next year, though, this time as Chicago gangster Arnie Kutz. In "Bird in the Hand," it's not Eliot Ness who threatens O'Connor's safety most, but actually the pets his sinister character is sitting.

2. "The Boss" on Bonanza.

In the fourth season of Bonanza, O'Connor gives us a show of strength as Tom Slayden, a dirty businessman whose underhanded tactics end up getting Little Joe shot! That move lands O'Connor on the opposite side of Ben Cartwright, who sees Slayden thrown in jail - and unexpectedly throws the whole town into disarray.

3. A Martian on The Outer Limits

In the first season of The Outer Limits, O'Connor plays a Martian secretly observing Earth from a pawn shop until he's visited by another Martian. Together, they decide to try and wrap their heads around the Earthling concept of murder. Using a time-control device, they choose a random murder in a hotel to replay, but in the meantime, they unwittingly disturb the entire order of the universe.

4. A sheriff on The Fugitive.

When The Fugitive episode "Flight from the Final Demon" opens up, we see Dr. Richard Kimble disguised as a masseuse working on none other than Carroll O'Connor, playing a sheriff. When O'Connor's character recognizes the fugitive, he must run, but then, that's just another day in Kimble's life, right?

5. A brainwashing financier on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

We're not gonna say the '60s was a cushy time for Carroll O'Connor, but here he is getting another backrub, this time on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Here, he plays the villain Walter B. Brach in "The Green Opal Affair," a financier who brainwashes people to do his bidding, and his eye is on Napoleon Solo next. Fortunately, Brach's brainwashing come back to bite him in the end... [spoiler alert] when he's unceremoniously tossed into a pool of sharks by one of his brainwashed subjects.

6. A mysterious sailor on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

In the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Long Live the King," O'Connor plays Old John, a sailor who becomes a boy king's only friend when he suddenly is promoted to the throne. Everyone suspects the sailor has bad intentions, but Old John [spoiler alert] ends up being the king's savior. It's a beautiful performance by O'Connor, and one of his more unique early roles.

7. A kidnapper on I Spy.

Of course, it didn't take O'Connor long to find himself cast back as a villain. In the first season of I Spy, his character Karolyi kidnaps Kelly Robinson and, yet again, is back to brainwashing (a talent Archie Bunker probably yearned for).

8. A suspected killer on Gunsmoke.

Carroll O'Connor first shows up on Gunsmoke in a 1966 episode called "The Wrong Man." In it, he plays Hootie Kyle, a man suspected of killing another man that Hootie punched for cheating him at cards the day before. The episode title likely gives you a hint as to how this one played out.

9. "The Butcher" on The Time Tunnel.

We got two O'Connors for the price of one in the 1966 Time Tunnel episode "The Last Patrol." O'Connor plays both a hardened Civil War general known as "The Butcher" and that man's descendant, whose role is to predict what his sinister ancestor will do next. The chrononauts are, of course, at the mercy of these two sides of the same actor.

10. A mortician on The Wild Wild West

There's much more to this Carroll O'Connor role than The Wild Wild West's agents suspect, as he plays a mortician suspiciously connected to the deaths of many. In "The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse," there's much more going on behind the curtain at O'Connor's character's funeral parlor than simple murder.

11. A power-hungry prosecutor on Mission: Impossible.

In one of the most exciting episodes for costume changes by Rollin Hand, "The Trial," we meet Carroll O'Connor on Mission: Impossible as Josef Varsh. He's laid a trap for an American tourist that could help him seize power, but luckily, Daniel Briggs is willing to take his bait to try and thwart his plan.

12. A tenor who falls for That Girl.

On That Girl, we get our first glimpse of O'Connor on a sitcom! In "A Tenor's Loving Care," he played an opera singer interviewed by Ann, only to become smitten by the total sweetheart. Watch Ann squirm away from Giuseppe's advances and stream the whole episode here.

13. A commanding officer who comes for Festus on Gunsmoke.

Here's one more Gunsmoke appearance, this one from 1967. In "Major Glory," confusion leads Carroll O'Connor's character Major Glenn Vascoy to believe that Festus has killed one of his men. He forces Matt Dillon to hand him over, and it seems like a tragic fate for Festus. Fortunately, it comes out that Festus was framed. Fun fact: "Major Glory" was the first episode of Gunsmoke nominated for an Emmy for its musical score.

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TheKodakKid 11 days ago
One slight correction. “The Time Tunnel” episode was set during the War of 1812, not the Civil War. The British didn’t fight during the American Civil War.
Mike 11 days ago
A man who performs massages is a masseur.
A masseuse is a woman.
It's the French language. Look it up.
Soraya 12 days ago
The new commenting system sucks!
djw1120 Soraya 11 days ago
What does that have to do with this story?
SalIanni 12 days ago
There's one other appearence that should be on this list and it provides an excellent example of irony, coincidence, and foreshadowing. In one episode of the series"The Defenders", Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker herself) played a woman that appeared in court trying to get a dangerous criminal arrested. At one point, she looks in horror at him and yells out that he's the guilty party. And who was this man? None other than Carroll O'Connor!! I saw a brief clip of this moment during a TV special and I almost died laughing. It was hilarious!
Mark SalIanni 8 days ago
I was gonna mention that till I saw your comment!!
Pacificsun 13 days ago
Let's give some credit at least to his Agent who got him on all those shows!
cperrynaples Pacificsun 12 days ago
Yes, and let me point out that while AITF debuted in 1971, O'Connor did shoot the first of 3 pilots in 1968. See , I do give credit to METV when they get it right!
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