7 classic TV actors who got famous from their very first role

These stars all hit a home run on the first swing.

The journey for most actors isn’t an easy one. Just being able to work steadily as a performer is tough to achieve. But for a lucky few, breaking into Hollywood happens almost immediately.

Here are seven classic TV actors who landed big roles as their very first gigs. Whether they were a child star without much experience or a 30-year-old switching careers, these famous faces hit it big right away.

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1. Jim Nabors

Besides one appearance doing a comedy bit on The New Steve Allen Show in 1961, Jim Nabors' first acting role was the one that made him famous — Gomer Pyle. Andy Griffith saw him performing at a club in Los Angeles and thought his Southern drawl would be perfect for The Andy Griffith Show. Gomer's first appearance came in the 1962 episode "The Bank Job." After Barney gets locked in the safe, Gomer uses a torch from the filling station to try to break open the door. Nabors' performance as Gomer proved so popular that he not only turned a one-time character into a recurring one, he headlined his own successful spinoff!

2. Ted Cassidy

Ted Cassidy also technically had one gig before playing Lurch but it doesn't really count as a first role. He did uncredited voice work as a Martian in the 1959 film The Angry Red Planet. That aside, Lurch was Cassidy's very first onscreen character and it became his most famous. The former college basketball player quit his job in radio to pursue acting at the not-so-young age of 30. Luckily, he hit the jackpot on the first try.

3. Tom Lester

Tom Lester broke into Hollywood the way many actors dream of. A farm boy from Mississippi, he moved to California and try to make it in show business and landed a part in a soon-to-be successful sitcom. As the story goes, he beat out hundreds of other actors for the role of friendly farmhand Eb Dawson on Green Acres because he didn’t have to fake milking a cow — he already had plenty of experience doing it!

4. Burt Ward

Holy successful first try, Batman! Burt Ward was only 20 years old when Batman premiered in January of 1966. It soon garnered high ratings and has since become one of the most beloved takes on the comic book character. Ward's role as Robin, his very first Hollywood acting job, has become iconic — especially his exclamatory catchphrases.

5. Vicki Lawrence

Vicki Lawrence catapulted straight from high school senior to television variety star. She sent Carol Burnett a fan letter and noted their resemblance. Burnett was casting her show at the time and was particularly interested in someone that could play her little sister. Lawrence won a spot as a regular performer alongside Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show — after auditioning, of course, she didn't get the job just from a fan letter —  and the rest is history.

6. Mike Lookinland

It might not seem that out of the ordinary for a child actor's most famous character to be their very first role, but Mike Lookinland was actually the only Brady kid to not have any prior TV show experience before getting cast on the series. His TV brothers and sisters had played small parts on programs like Bewitched, The Big Valley and Adam-12. Even Susan Olsen had been in Gunsmoke and Ironside before playing youngest Brady sibling, Cindy. Though he hadn't played any TV show roles, Lookinland was a veteran of many TV commercials by the time he was cast as Bobby Brady at 8-years-old.

7. Tony Dow

Tony Dow became Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver without any real TV experience at all, unlike Jerry Mathers who had appeared in multiple movies and shows before he became the Beaver. Dow grew up in Los Angeles and his mom was a stunt woman in Westerns but he was more of an athlete than an actor as a child. His sports prowess served him well for his first acting role that made him a household name.

 
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JesseJames 8 days ago
I liked Gomer Pyle on TAGS. But hated him on his own show USMC...On TAGS his character was humble. But on USMC he was obnoxious
Moriyah JesseJames 7 days ago
What?! I actually prefer Gomer as a marine! Besides, it's my favorite show as well.
scp 9 days ago
It's funny to think that of the Cleaver brothers, Beaver was the old acting pro. It still kind of boggles my mind to think that Jerry Mathers worked with Hitchcock.
biscuit2013 9 days ago
I love MeTV, especially Perry mason. I also watch the morning line up while we were on stay at home order. I have seen shows I’ve never seen before or knew they existed. Now I watch every Saturday to see some of those westerns❤️
zman47240 10 days ago
Don’t forget Vicky Lawrence’s radio hit The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.
vinman63 10 days ago
Vicky Lawrence is multi faceted along with Jim Nabhors. They each had a spin-off sitcom from characters they played. Tom Lester went into politics.Burt Ward creates dog food which increases life expectancy. Tony Dow does art. Mike Lookinland is into concrete. Ted Cassidy acted occasionally till he died of surgical complications.
Pilaf vinman63 9 days ago
I'm sorry to hear of Ted Cassidy's passing.
BATSCHOLAR 10 days ago
Back in 1978 I conducted one of the last interviews with Ted Cassidy. Up until the time of the Addams Family, he had been a disc jockey in Dallas Tx. That was in 1964. Angry Red Planet was made in 1958 and released in 1959. Ted had nothing to do with dubbing in the voice of the Martian. He wasn't acting then. The voice which does sound a bit like Ted was actually performed by a voice actor named Don Lamond. He had done voiceover work for several sci-fi films during the 1950's including this one. The film was produced by Norman Maurer, (the son in law of 3 Stooges actor Moe Howard, who used him in a number of Stooge projects including Have Rocket Will Travel, as the voice of the alien machine), Lamond was the son in law of Stooge actor Larry Fine. It was incorrectly reported in the IMDB.com database and has never been removed. For the record Ted Cassidy did not work on Angry Red Planet. Lurch was his first acting job.
ACcountryFan BATSCHOLAR 10 days ago
Ted Cassidy had a prolific career at Hanna-Barbera voicing an assortment of animated characters throughout the latter half of the '60s and into the '70s. One of his final voice acting roles was Brainiac in 1978 on "The Challenge of the Super Friends". One of his earliest voice roles was as Meteor Man on "The Galaxy Trio" in 1967...a year earlier he voiced Frankenstein, Jr. on the series "Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles".
JHP 10 days ago
#4 and #2 my fave hands down
JHP 10 days ago
tom lester - a bible thumping good guy - love the show - many a day I think of me as Oliver
StrayCat 10 days ago
On one episode of Carol Burnett she brought up her real sister from the audience to introduce her. Interestingly, Vicki Lawrence had a far greater resemblance to Carol than her actual sister did.
vinman63 11 days ago
Honorable mention should go to Bobby Buntrock after some bit parts he ended up on Hazel as Howard “Sport” Baxter.
Catman1968 vinman63 10 days ago
He really wasn't a big star
ETristanBooth 11 days ago
That photo of Tony Dow sure doesn't do him justice.
He has the hat on because of the episode. Wally cuts Beaver’s hair and it’s so bad they wear their hats pretending it’s for a club they belong to.
I read somewhere that Tony Dow had come along with a friend who was testing for Wally, and Tony was cast instead. Anyone else recall that or am I totally off on this?
Adanor 11 days ago
And none of them ordered a coke at Schwab's.
Andybandit 11 days ago
Cool story. Thank you MeTv for putting on good shows. It is nice to escape from watching stupid reality shows and other show.
JHP Andybandit 10 days ago
hit one like - can I do it 1000 times?

society is going that way - in the big green stinky file cabinet they take away once a week
Croft1 11 days ago
Study up Newbies (AKA Snowflakes) After all, this IS a classic television channel. If you can't run with the big dogs stay on the porch. Crack open a book sometime. Duh.
ScoobyDoo169 11 days ago
Those are pretty cool stories. I've always wanted to be an actress, these days it would be even harder to get a role you would want to play.😔
daDoctah 12 days ago
How about a story featuring actors who got so identified with a role that they started using the character's name in place of their real name? You could have Al Lewis, who wanted to run for governor of New York as "Al Grandpa Lewis". Danny Bonaduce was credited when he was working in radio as Danny Partridge. You could probably make a case for Pee Wee Herman, Captain Kangaroo, and (remember this guy?) Buzz Belmondo; I saw the latter on a streaming channel a couple of months ago on Norm Crosby's "Comedy Store" under his real name Lorenzo Matawaran, and used the Buzz Belmondo name during his standup act for a Filipino airline pilot. Years later on the syndicated series "Out of This World", he was simply credited as Buzz Belmondo.
LoveMETV22 daDoctah 11 days ago
I agree, Also it would be nice if they could air some of the programs they have in the past as well.
ncadams27 daDoctah 11 days ago
How about Charley Weaver (Cliff Arquette)? Think Hollywood Squares.
JHP ncadams27 10 days ago
you know - even re-runs of the Squares would be a good fit-in (I know - game show network)
vinman63 daDoctah 10 days ago
Adam West relished in the joy of being Batman.
bsantaniello daDoctah 9 days ago
Actor Gig Young. His real. name was Byron Barr. He played the character Gig Young in a movie The Gay Sisters (1942) and the name stuck!
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