If you watched TV in the 1960s, you may remember Frank Cady as Hooterville general-store proprietor Sam Drucker in the hit sitcoms Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, or in his recurring role as Doc Williams in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. But chances are, you saw Cady, who died last Friday at age 96 in Wilsonville, Oregon, in a whole lot of other roles as well, even if you can’t quite place him.
That’s because Cady was the quintessential character actor – a workmanlike specialist in portraying the quirky, off-center idiosyncratic personalities who serve as foils for Hollywood’s leading men and ladies. Though never a star, Cady was a sought-after commodity during an acting career that stretched more than four decades. He appeared in hundreds of episodes of classic TV shows – ranging from Gunsmoke, Hazel, The Untouchables and Perry Mason to the original Hawaii 5-0. He also was in 40 films, including such classics as Rear Window (he’s the man on the balcony, tenderly cradling the dead dog), DOA, The Bad Seed and The Asphalt Jungle. Great directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and John Huston cast him in their films because he had a gift for making a subtle contribution to a film – whether it was helping to flesh out a story and move it along, or simply adding a little color.
Cady, who studied drama at Stanford University and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, got his big break at age 31 in 1946 when a Hollywood agent discovered him acting in a friend’s play. That led to his debut role as a college professor in a ‘B’ movie, Sarge Goes to College. While he had obvious talent, he had little choice but to pursue the character actor route, given his hairline deficiencies. (This was a decade or so before Yul Brynner demonstrated that a slick-pated actor could play romantic and action hero roles.) As Cady explained in a 1959 interview:
At 24, my head was as shiny as a cue ball on a billiard table. I naturally thought this meant curtains. Actually, I found it helped. When I was too young to play real character parts, they mistook me for older because of the bald noggin. I got juicy roles right from the start.
But it was really Cady’s versatility as an actor that got him his breaks. Hitchcock liked him so much that when another actor wasn’t available to play a minor role in Rear Window, the director grabbed Cady and got him to don a toupee so that he could fill in.
Another of Cady’s secrets of success, as he once told syndicated columnist Vernon Scott, was that he had enough confidence in his abilities and career prospects that he felt compelled to try stealing scenes. “I don’t make a big impact,” he explained. “I’m not a flashy guy. . . . [But] if you hang around long enough to show these people what you can do, you have a chance in this acting business.”
Cady’s skills were in such demand that at one point in the late 1960s, he juggled roles in three different shows – Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies – at the same time. It might have been four roles, had Cady gotten another role he was up for, town drunk Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show. Cady actually played that role in the series’ 1960 pilot, but as he explained in this undated interview posted on YouTube, producer Sheldon Leonard didn’t like his non-stereotypical performance, and ultimately gave the part to Cady’s friend Hal Smith instead. Cady, stoically, viewed that rare failure as an opportunity. “It left me free to do other things,” he said.
Some actors, of course, might have been frustrated that a few sitcom roles obscured a larger body of work, but not Cady. To be sure, he was proud of his film roles, especially his performance as Gene Hackman’s father in the 1974 western Zandy’s Bride. And as a retiree in the 1990s he still yearned to play Polonius in Hamlet. But as he told Portland Oregonian interviewer Kristi Turnquist in a 1995 interview:
You get typecast. I’m remembered for those shows and not for some pretty good acting jobs I did other times. I suppose I ought to be grateful for that. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be remembered at all. I’ve got to be one of the luckiest guys in the world.