Marvin Kaplan Dies: ‘Alice’ & ‘Top Cat’ Actor Was 89

UPDATE Friday, 4:50 PM: SAG-AFTRA released a statement this afternoon paying tribute to Kaplan. “Marvin was one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation, and he was a proud union activist and leader. We are forever grateful for the gift of his work and his service to our members,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. The Full statement is below.

Comic character actor and writer Marvin Kaplan died Thursday at the age of 89. Kaplan, a former member of the national boards of both Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, served four terms as president of AFTRA’s Los Angeles Local from 1989–95 and 2003–05, and on the SAG board from 1975–84, including a two-year term as 9th vice president.

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “Marvin was the face that everyone recognized. He was your kindly neighbor; your favorite uncle or, as he was on the sitcom Alice, a ‘regular guy’ phone company employee and the favorite coffee shop customer. Marvin was one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation, and he was a proud union activist and leader. We are forever grateful for the gift of his work and his service to our members.”

Son of a physician, Dr. Isidore Kaplan and his wife, Ruth, Marvin Kaplan graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 and soon headed for California. Like something out of a movie, his film career was launched at age 22, after film star Katharine Hepburn discovered him by seeing his comic turn in Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself in a Los Angeles Circle Theater production. The next afternoon, Kaplan was on the MGM lot auditioning for one of the best directors in the business, George Cukor, winning a role in Adam’s Rib and a lifelong career in film, television, radio, commercials and animation.

He made his TV debut in 1953 as a co-star of the comedy series Meet Millie, and appeared in popular TV programs through the next four decades, including Becker, Charlie’s Angels, CHiPS, ER, The Fall Guy, Gidget, Gomer Pyle: USMC, I Dream of Jeannie, Julia, Love American Style, MacGyver, McHale’s Navy, The Mod Squad, Petticoat Junction and as the voice of the cat Choo-choo in the 1960s animated series Top Cat. In 1978, he began a seven-year run as telephone repairman Henry Beesmire in the award-winning comedy Alice. Kaplan also added his unique comic touch to feature films like The Great Race, Freaky Friday and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

As Kaplan aged, he became involved in the cause of promoting and encouraging senior performers. As he expressed it, “There’s a real ageism prejudice about old people these days. But older actors are damn good. I love good actors. I worship good actors and actresses. But older actors have a rough time getting jobs these days, me included, because the business is youth oriented.”

In 2004, Kaplan was honored with a special award from the Tri-Union Equal Employment Opportunity Committee of Actors’ Equity, SAG and AFTRA for his work with senior performers and his service to performing arts unions. He was also highlighted in the 2010 documentary Troupers, which focused on actors over the age of 80 and, in recent years, was an active member of California Artists Radio Theater and served on the board of Theatre West.

Original post, Thursday PM: Marvin Kaplan, a prolific character actor best known for his recurring role as Henry Beesmeyer on the 1976-85 sitcom Alice and as the voice of Choo-Choo on the cartoon Top Cat has died. He was 89 and died from natural causes in his Burbank home.

Marvin Kaplan

Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Kaplan’s first film role came in 1949’s Adam’s Rib. His next major role was as a regular on the sitcom Meet Millie, on which he played Alfred Prinzmetal. He was with the show in its radio incarnation from 1951-54 and on television from 1952-56. He went on to appear in a range of films including Angels in the Outfield, The Nutty Professor, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Freaky Friday, Midnight Madness, and more.

Kaplan’s voice became familiar to generations of children thanks to his work on the cartoon series Top Cat from 1961-62. Voicing Choo-Choo, the pink, turtleneck-clad cat, he reprised the role for 1987’s Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats. He also voiced characters on Garfield and Friends, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Johnny Bravo, and 2011’s The Garfield Show among others.

In 1977, he was cast in as Henry Beesmeyer, a telephone lineman who complained about the cooking at Mel’s Diner on the Linda Lavin-starring sitcom Alice. He stayed with the show through the rest of its 9-season run and is one of the long-running show’s most remembered supporting characters. Kaplan would later hold a recurring role on Ted Danson’s sitcom Becker, playing Mr. Gordon.

Kaplan was also a playwright and screenwriter, and was a member of Theatre West for decades. A memorial service will be held at Theatre West with date and time to be announced in the coming week.

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