LOS ANGELES – Tom Poston, a familiar comedic presence on television since the 1950s when he was an Emmy Award-winning regular on “The Steve Allen Show” but who might be best remembered as the bumbling handyman on the popular comedy “Newhart,” has died. He was 85.
The husband of actress Suzanne Pleshette, Poston died Monday at his home in Los Angeles after a brief illness.
Poston launched his career in 1947 in Jose Ferrer’s Broadway production of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” He later appeared in live television dramatic anthologies such as “Studio One” and “Goodyear Television Playhouse.”
But he soon established himself as a comedic actor who gained national exposure on Allen’s comedy-variety show, which ran from 1956 to 1961, first on NBC and then ABC.
In the 1970s, Poston made occasional guest appearances on “The Bob Newhart Show” as Newhart’s college chum but earned lasting recognition playing handyman George Utley on “Newhart” throughout the sitcom’s 1982-1990 run.
In a statement Tuesday, Newhart described Poston as a “versatile and veteran performer and a kind-hearted individual” who “was always the go-to guy on ‘Newhart.’ “
Poston had appeared in Broadway comedies such as “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter” in the ‘50s. But it was his work as host of “Entertainment,” a local daily comedy-variety show in New York, that caught the attention of two writers for “The Steve Allen Show,” whose comedic stock company included Don Knotts and Louis Nye.
In Allen’s famous “Man-in-the-Street” sketches, Poston was the man who could never remember his name.
When Allen was auditioning for the sketch, Poston recalled in a 1982 interview with the Newhouse News Service, “I was, naturally, scared to death.”
“He asked me my name, and darned if my mind didn’t go blank. I sat there like a big dope and held my head. Steve thought I was kidding. He said, ‘Hey, that’s great! We’ll use it.’ From then on, I was a regular.”
Among his other TV credits are “Mork & Mindy,” on which he played Franklin Delano Bickley. He also was a regular panelist on the game show “To Tell the Truth.” His film credits include “Soldier in the Rain,” “Cold Turkey,” “Christmas with the Kranks” and “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.”