I could (and probably should) write guest star posts about both Don Calfa and Oliver Clark, and maybe one day I will, but since it’s their work on Barney Miller that thrills me so, I figure that deserves its own post.
Don Calfa appeared on the show seven times; Oliver Clark appeared six times. Funnily enough, their paths only crossed on the show once, but it was a glorious meeting.
Don Calfa’s first appearance in Season 4 sort of set the tone for all of his appearances. He tended to play guys who were operating on their own level and as a result ended up in the 12th precinct. In “Group Home”, Mr. Calfa portrays a man who blames the military conducting experiments in the subway for his various illnesses, so he threatens to blow up a recruiting station. He’s only in the end of the episode for a few memorable moments, but considering George Murdock (who I should also write about) has spent most of the episode building up to his appearance, he makes the most of it. As explained to the police sketch artist, James Cromwell (talk about an all-star guest cast), the most memorable thing about him is his cough. And while his cough was spectacularly disgusting, truly the most memorable thing about him was his obsession with those old military experiments, including blaming them for him getting VD six times.
Another memorable arrest involves Mr. Calfa playing a formerly brilliant thief reduced to a bumbling amateur thanks to a lobotomy. While there are plenty of laughs, there’s an underlying sadness to his situation. He was made so “harmless” that he can barely function. As funny as Mr. Calfa is -and he is because his timing and delivery are impeccable- he never loses that particular thread.
A criminal inspired by the TV Guide…a robber in witness protection up to his old tricks…a displaced resident…an inventor who believes a company is stealing his inventions…Don Calfa portrayed a wide-range of oddities.
Oliver Clark’s appearances were a little more varied. He played a man swindled out of a ticket on a space shuttle (arrested for causing a disturbance when they wouldn’t honor his ticket) and a pharmaceutical employee who isn’t thrilled that the company he works for won’t market his cure for a disease because not many people are affected by it, holding the distinction of being one of the last people to be arrested by the detectives of the 12th in the series finale.
He also played a couple of sex pests, including a groping dentist and a flasher. The latter is one of my favorites of his guest spots. Mr. Clark’s character is a member of a flasher support group and he falls off the indecent exposure wagon with newest 12th precinct addition, Detective Batista (June Gable). His lawyer ends up being a fellow flasher played by Ron Feinberg, reprising his role as Mr. Farber, the flasher who attempted to kill himself via men’s room electrocution in “Snow Day”. He goes from being embarrassed about his lack of willpower to increasingly excited as the episode progresses, even going for a ride on the cell door when Battista opens it to allow him to use the men’s room. He ends up declaring that he’s going to come out of the bathroom nude, but ultimately emerges fully clothed –well as clothed as an overcoat dressed flasher can be– much to everyone’s relief and his own satisfaction. After all, wasn’t it exciting just talking about it? He’s the only one who thinks so. But it’s fun watching his almost Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde progression during the episode.
His first appearance on the show in the Season 2 episode “The Layoff” is very different from his other appearances. Mr. Clark tends to bring an almost nervous quality to most of the characters he plays on the show, however his turn as a fur thief shows him as one cool customer with an answer for everything. He’s so confident that he even makes a love connection with a fellow 12th precinct detainee played by Candy Azzara.
The one episode in which Don Calfa and Oliver Clark cross paths brings in the oddity of Mr. Calfa’s characters and the nervousness of most of Mr. Clark’s characters.
In the Season 4 episode “Hostage”, Don Calfa plays Leo Bedell, an armed robber looking at life for being a habitual criminal. He makes his one phone call to his brother Vern, played by Oliver Clark, who chooses to throw away his own life away in order to help Leo break out of the 12th precinct. Vern enters the squad room under the pretense of being Leo’s lawyer and when Leo gives the word, Vern shakily pulls a gun out of his bag. The two brothers then proceed to take everyone in the squad room, including Barney, the detectives, Levitt, Inspector Luger, a ventriloquist and his dummy, and the woman the dummy insulted, hostage, eventually locking them all in the cell.
The Bedell brothers then spend the episode trying to figure out how to escape the mess they’ve made as there are 137 uniforms downstairs. Both men are jumpy as hell, but where Leo is committed to the plan, Vern’s dedication wanes (“If you’re going to lose your enthusiasm, give me the gun.”). Ultimately, Vern decides that it’s hopeless and gives the gun to Barney (“Wrong person!”). Oliver Clark and Don Calfa don’t look very much alike, but with their interactions and their chemistry, you totally buy that they are two brothers of the non-criminal mastermind variety. They play off of each other beautifully, working that chemistry to the very end. It’s really a shame that the two men weren’t in more episodes together.
But the combined twelve episodes Don Calfa and Oliver Clark appeared in on Barney Miller are pretty good compensation.
One thought on “Rerun Junkie Guest Stars–Don Calfa and Oliver Clark on Barney Miller”
Pingback: Rerun Junkie Guest Star–George Murdock | aka KikiWrites