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Sheldon Leonard

Sheldon Leonard in "It's A Wonderful Life".

Sheldon Leonard (born Sheldon Leonard Bershad; February 22, 1907 – January 10, 1997) was a pioneering American film and television producer, writer, director and actor known for playing gangsters. Sheldon and Leonard are named after him.


Leonard was born Sheldon Leonard Bershad in New York City, the son of middle class Jewish parents Anna and Frank Bershad. As an actor, Leonard specialized in playing supporting characters, especially gangsters or "heavies", in films such as "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "To Have and Have Not" (1944), and "Open Secret" (1948). His trademark was his especially thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth. In the cult classic Decoy, Leonard uses his "heavy" persona to create the hard-boiled police detective Joe Portugal. In the 1950s, Leonard provided the voice of lazy cat Dodsworth in two Warner Bros. cartoons directed by Robert McKimson. Sheldon Leonard Bershad graduated from Syracuse University in 1929.

In radio, Leonard played an eccentric racetrack tout on "The Jack Benny Program" in the late 1940s and early '50s. His role was to salute Benny out of the blue in railroad stations, on street corners, or in department stores ("hey Bud, come here a minute"), ask Benny what he was about to do, and then proceed to try to argue him out of his course of action by resorting to inane and irrelevant racing logic. Ironically, as "The Tout," he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was "Who knows about horses?" Leonard was part of the ensemble cast of the Martin and Lewis radio show. He also appeared frequently on "The Adventures of the Saint", often playing gangsters and heavies, but also sometimes in more positive roles.

But he is better known as the producer of hugely popular television series, including The Danny Thomas Show (aka Make Room For Daddy) (1953–64), The Andy Griffith Show (1960–68), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66), and I Spy (1965–68). Leonard also provided the voice of Linus the Lionhearted in a series of Post Crispy Critters cereal TV commercials in 1963–64, which led to a Linus cartoon series that aired on Saturday (and later, Sunday) mornings on CBS (1964–66) and ABC (1967–69). He also was briefly the star of his own television show Big Eddie, where he played the owner of a large sports arena. The show lasted only one season (1975–76).

The character of Andy Taylor was introduced in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series of The Andy Griffith Show. Leonard is informally credited with developing the practice of using an episode of a series as a backdoor pilot episode for new series, in which a guest star is introduced as a new character with the intention using this character as the basis for a new show.

Leonard also has the distinction (along with author Mickey Spillane) of being the first Miller Lite spokesmen. Using his trademark accent, he told the audience "I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis." One of his last acting roles was a guest appearance on the TV series Cheers, in which he played the proprietor of "The Hungry Heifer," Norm Peterson's favorite eating establishment. Leonard died at 89, and was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Bill Cosby included an impersonation of Sheldon Leonard in one track of his 1966 hit comedy album Wonderfulness. The track, "Niagara Falls", describes Sheldon Leonard's honeymoon at Niagara Falls. One of his last appearances was as a guest star on The Cosby Show (1985) with Bill Cosby.

In 2007 he was given a posthumous "tip of the hat" in the situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory in which the lead characters are named Sheldon and Leonard.

Select filmography[]

  • The Andy Griffith Show
  • The Danny Thomas Show
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • I Spy
  • My World and Welcome to It
  • Gomer Pyle, USMC (he also made one on-screen appearance as a director in a Hollywood Marine movie in the Season 5 episode "A Star Is Not Born")
  • From a Bird's Eye View
  • Shirley's World
  • The Andy Griffith Show
  • The Danny Thomas Show
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • My Favorite Martian
  • I Spy
  • Another Thin Man (1939)
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome (1941)
  • Lucky Jordan (1942)
  • Hit the Ice (1943)
  • Uncertain Glory (1944)
  • To Have and Have Not (1944)
  • Bowery Bombshell (1946)
  • Decoy (1946)
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • The Gangster (1947)
  • Sinbad the Sailor (1947)
  • Jinx Money (1948)
  • Two Knights from Brooklyn (1949)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
  • Behave Yourself! (1951)
  • Money From Home (1953)
  • Guys and Dolls (1955)
  • Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
  • Stop, You're Killing Me (1952)
  • The Brink's Job (1978)

Timber QueenExternal link[]

  • Sheldon Leonard on Wikipedia