For nearly 30 years, if a TV show was in need of a quirky and/or spunky senior citizen, they could call on Burt Mustin.
According to IMDB, he racked up 199 credits between 1951 and 1979, a feat that wouldn’t be too remarkable if he hadn’t made his first onscreen appearance at age 67. As fate would have it, Mr. Mustin’s retirement as a salesman gave birth to a second career that has blessed us all.
Mr. Mustin had recurring roles on several series including portraying Arthur Lanson on Phyllis, Jud on The Andy Griffith Show, Grandpa Jenson on Petticoat Junction, and Gus the Fireman on Leave It to Beaver. He also frequently made repeat appearances on shows as different characters, including Our Miss Brooks, Adam-12, My Three Sons, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Texan, Dragnet 67, and The Monkees.
It’s the last two shows that contain my favorite Burt Mustin performances.
In the Dragnet 67 episode “Homicide: DR-22”, he plays Calvin Lampe, who is at first thought to be a nosy neighbor of and then a possible suspect in the murder of a career girl. It’s later revealed that he’s a retired chief of detectives and friend of Friday and Gannon’s boss. He ends up helping the two whippersnappers solve the homicide. Calvin Lampe has an unmatched attention to detail and his insinuation in the case is at first a source of a bit of annoyance before Friday and Gannon realize how valuable it is. One of my favorite scenes is Lampe talking to Friday and Gannon while a uniformed officer in the background (played by Jack Webb favorite Marco Lopez) gives them a yikes look.
Mr. Mustin appeared in two episodes of The Monkees that I love. He was the butler in the classic “The Christmas Episode” and he portrayed a Tarzan knock-off by the name of Kimba in “Monkees Marooned”. The bit in which Peter translates for him is a hoot.
He stuck to The Andy Griffith universe, appearing in both Gomer Pyle: USMC and Mayberry RFD and even popped up on The New Andy Griffith Show; spent some extra time in the Henningverse on a couple of episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies; completed the Jack Webb odyssey with a couple of episodes of Emergency!; and appeared on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda.
He turned up on Westerns like Maverick, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Virginian, and Alias Smith and Jones; hung out with Lucille Ball on both The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy; and cut up on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Laugh-In, The Brady Bunch, Sanford and Son, All in the Family, and Love, American Style. He got mysterious on Mr. Lucky, Surfside 6, and 77 Sunset Strip; saw some action on The Girl from UNCLE, Batman, The Fugitive, and Get Smart; got spooky on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Outer Limits; and he even did a couple of medical stints on Ben Casey and Marcus Welby MD.
There wasn’t a television genre that Burt Mustin couldn’t shine in. He’s a delight in everything he appears in, elevating a generic senior citizen into something more memorable and cementing his face into the good graces and fond memories of generations.
Not bad for an old guy, huh?