Character actor Norm Alden referred to himself as "the familiar face nobody
knows" and "America's favorite unknown actor." Chances are you've seen the
Fort Worth native's face, even if you don't know the name.
Mr. Alden appeared or did voice work in about 2,500 movies, TV series and commercials, his family told T he Hollywood Reporter.
He played the owner of Lou's Diner in Back to the Future and Cameraman Bill in Tim Burton's Ed Wood; did the voice of Aquaman (among others) in Super Friends and The All-New Super Friends Hour; and played Lou the Mechanic in a series of AC Delco commercials. Not to mention scores of sheriffs, outlaws, cabbies, cops and crooks in a credit roll the includes projects as diverse as the original Dallas and Love, American Style, as well as appearances in seemingly every cop show of the late '60s and '70s.
Mr. Alden died Friday in Los Angeles of natural causes, his family said. He was 87.
Mr. Alden, who as born Norman Adelberg on Sept. 13, 1924, in Fort Worth, had a Hollywood career that spanned five decades. But he never forgot his roots.
"He's a TCU, Paschal High School, purple-and-white person," Linda Thieben, his longtime partner, said by phone from the L.A. area. "A few years ago, everybody from Fort Worth was here for the Rose Bowl, and we got to meet with a lot of his friends."
Mr. Alden returned to Fort Worth frequently and was often spotted at the Colonial National Invitation Tournament by people who recognized his face but couldn't place where they'd seen him. He also came back to play stage parts such as the sheriff in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Casa Manana and the Stage Manager in a 1995 production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town at Mr. Alden's alma mater, Paschal High School. Mr. Alden told the Star-Telegram at the time that he made his acting debut on the same stage in 1936 or '37, playing Mexican Gen. Santa Anna.
After serving in World War II, Mr. Alden went on to attend TCU and to perform in local radio on Fort Worth's KXOL-AM, where he was the first voice heard when the station signed on in 1947. He played a hillbilly character called Epod -- dope spelled backward. When he left for Hollywood, he began a steady career that lasted close to 50 years but had few starring roles.
According to his Internet Movie Database biography, his first role was as "The Air Force Captain" in a 1957 episode of the comedy The Bob Cummings Show. Hundreds of screen credits followed.
Ed Wallace, a Star-Telegram car columnist and host of Wheels With Ed Wallace show Saturday mornings on KLIF/570 AM, was a longtime friend of Mr. Alden. Wallace said Mr. Alden was unaffected and without ego.
"From Aaron Spelling to Fred MacMurray to Bob Hope," Wallace said. "You would never meet anyone in the business -- and I'm talking about lunch with Mel Brooks at 20th Century [Fox] -- that did not know him on a first-name basis and absolutely love him."
Although Mr. Alden was usually a supporting actor, he played the lead in the 1965 film Andy, in which he starred as a mentally challenged man. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther expressed many reservations about the film's content, but said that Alden gave "a throbbing sense of the great, gross energy and the pitiful childishness and inadequacy of the man."
Wallace said that Mr. Alden screened the movie for him in 2002. "He pointed that his mother was in New York when they were filming, so he got her a walk-on," Wallace said. "He couldn't wait to point out his mom to me."
One of Mr. Alden's most famous scenes was in the 1976-77 soap-opera satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, in which he played curmudgeonly coach Leroy Fedders, who drowns in a bowl of chicken soup meant to help him get over the flu. Mr. Alden said his acting in the scene, which is available on YouTube (search for "Mary Hartman-chicken soup"), was inspired in part by a Fort Worth experience.
"The scene was called the funniest five minutes in television by TV Guide," Alden told the Star-Telegram in 1995. "I just began improvising, with my face in a bowl of soup and making these crazy motions. I remembered some funny stuff that this very tall lifeguard used to do at the old Forest Park swimming pool when I was a kid, and I used some of that."
Thieben said Mr. Alden was not concerned with stardom
"Whatever somebody's idea of 'Hollywood' is, that was not Norman," she said. "He was a kind, loving person who was very into charities. On Thanksgiving, he'd walk around the streets and give $5 or $10 to homeless people. That was Norman."
In addition to Thieben, Mr. Alden is survived by a son, Brett Alden; a daughter, Ashley Alden; and one grandchild.
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