6 surprising things Ronnie Schell did beyond Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
From beatnik clubs to space cartoons.
Image: The Everett Collection
Ronnie Schell has been making us laugh through television for six decades. The stand-up comic made his debut in the late 1950s, tickling audiences with his quick wit, big smile and spot-on impressions. His scattered TV screen appearances earned him his tongue-in-cheek nickname, "America’s Slowest Rising Comedian."
Of course, that slow build up led to an adored role on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., on which he played Gomer's pal Duke Slater. He was the city-bred yin to Gomer's rural yang. Schell left the series in the fourth season, only to return in the fifth and final season.
From there, he continued to pop up all over television. As recently as this year, he served as a comedy advisor to Richard Dreyfuss on the Netflix series The Last Laugh.
Let's take a closer look at the brilliant Schell.
1. He honed his comedic skills in one of the hippest clubs of San Francisco.
In the 1950s, the hungry i was a beatnik hangout that offered the cutting-edge comedy of Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers and Woody Allen, as well as new sounds from folkies in The Kingston Trio and hip jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. In other words, the club was one of the key breeding grounds for the American counter-culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Schell performed there, not to mention in other happening joints like The Purple Onion. Puts Gomer episodes like "Duke Slater, Night Club Comic" into a new perspective.
2. He got his big break alongside Groucho Marx.
"Never in the course of human events have so many comedians gotten so few laughs from such a big audience," Groucho Marx quipped. He was talking to a young Ronnie Schell on You Bet Your Life. It was May 1959, and Schell was making his first appearance as a comedian on television. "Are you a TV comedian, Ronnie?" Groucho asked. "No, Groucho," he said. Of course, he would prove all that wrong. And he did get big laughs later in the episode.
Image: You Bet Your Life
3. He voiced some of your favorite '70s and '80s cartoon characters.
Schell has a massive voice-over work resume. He did a lot of work for Hanna-Barbera. He was Gilly (the one with glasses) in the Scooby-Doo-ish Goober and the Ghost Chasers. He was Rudy 2 in The Jetsons Movie. He voiced characters on The Smurfs, Captain Caveman, The Flintstones Kids and more. One of his biggest cartoon jobs was the voice of the hero Jason on Battle of the Planets, seen here.
Image: Battle of the Planets / Sandy Frank Film Syndication
4. He was also the educational voice of Peter Puck for the NHL.
In the 1970s, the NHL helped explain its rules and promote its games to viewers with an animated character named Peter Puck. The voice was none other than Ronnie Schell!
5. He teamed up with other classic TV stars in commercials.
Schell was a regular face in commercials throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He pitched both Toyotas and Fords — and that's just talking about cars. We particularly enjoyed seeing him alongside other legends like Florence Henderson (selling Wesson) and Don Adams (selling Coors Light). He did a spot-on Maxwell Smart impression for Adams.
Images: Coors / Wesson
6. He coached a celebrity softball team called The Reruns.
Schell's first love was baseball. He played in high school and gave it a go as a semi-pro. After veering into comedy, Schell kept up his diamond skills with a celebrity squad dubbed "The Reruns." The softball team included fellow comedic actors Jack Riley, Fred Willard and Chuck McCann, to name a few..
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