9 things you never knew about Ken Berry of Mayberry R.F.D.
The actor is best known as a lead in favorites like F Troop, Mayberry R.F.D. and Mama's Family, but did you know that the skilled singer and dancer also has ties to I Love Lucy, Star Trek and The Brady Bunch?
Throughout his long career, the Illinois native has worked alongside Andy Griffith, Carol Burnett, and Abbott and Costello. It's time to salute a man who should be spoken of as a legend himself.
He toured and performed in Europe as a teenager.
At the age of 15, Berry was already getting a taste of showbiz. He was a part of Horace Heidt’s Youth Opportunity Program, a sort of precursor to reality shows like America's Got Talent hosted by the big band leader Heidt. Berry toured America and Europe as a part of the program. "It was an adventure — I wasn’t smart enough to know how difficult it was," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "I came back to Illinois and finished high school, went out to the coast and was drafted."
He served under Leonard Nimoy in the Army
After some time in Artillery, Berry served under Sergeant Nimoy in the Special Services Corp, the entertainment branch of the Army. Berry kept his tap shoes by his side in the service and won talent contests. After serving, as a contract player at Universal, he utilized the GI Bill to study ballet, jazz dance, singing and acting.
He opened for Abbott and Costello in Vegas
In 1956, Universal released Berry, who headed into the desert to perform alongside Abbott and Costello at the Sahara. Berry opened for the iconic duo and appeared in sketches. It was the twilight of their collaborative career. In 1957, the comedy team sadly split for good.
The Billy Barnes Revue led to multiple big breaks
Berry next landed a spot in the revue of musical composer Billy Barnes, which jumped from Los Angeles to Off Broadway to Broadway. The cast recording offered Berry his first chance to cut a record. Both Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball spotted Berry performing in the L.A. revue. Burnett pushed producers on her Garry Moore Show to hire the young talent. Ball signed Berry to Desilu, where he scored a role as a bellboy in The Ann Sothern Show. Berry also performed a duet with Ball on The Lucy Show.
He played two different sons of "Mama"
Berry frequently appeared as a guest on The Carol Burnett Show. The reoccurring skit "The Family" featured Vicki Lawrence's unforgettable "Mama" and her clan of five children, including Burnett as Eunice Harper. In 1982, CBS aired a made-for-TV movie spin-off entitled Eunice. In that, Berry played the son Phillip Harper. When "The Family" spun off again as Mama's Family for NBC, Berry was cast as youngest son Vinton Harper.
He starred in a failed Brady Bunch spin-off
Mama's Family aired from 1983 to '90. Not all his spin-offs were quite as successful. In 1974, Berry appeared on The Brady Bunch in the final season as family friend Ken Kelly. Kelly and his wife are adopting a child — and decide to adopt his two minority friends as well. The backdoor pilot failed to get picked up as a full series, although creator Sherwood Schwartz used the same premise with Elliott Gould in the 1980s for Together We Stand.
He showed off his song and dance skills in shoe commercials
As we have mentioned often, Berry relied on his formidable song and dance skills. In the 1970s and 1980s, he became the spokesman — well, singsman and danceman — for Kinney Shoes stores. In the ads, he did everything from tap to disco to playing a quick-footed football coach.
Berry and Andy Griffith tore up trails on dirt bikes between shooting Mayberry scenes
Berry was invited on the hunting trips Andy took any time he returned to the studio to shoot Mayberry R.F.D. episodes. According to Berry, Andy was a member of a nearby hunting club, and Andy would round up Jack Dodson and Lee Greenway (The Andy Griffith Show/Mayberry R.F.D. makeup artist) in his motor home and take them hunting as much as he could. Berry didn't hunt, but he still tagged along on these trips because he'd found his own thrill in joining the other Mayberry men on these excursions. He said, "I had a motor home, too, but [Andy] had a great big one and a rack on the back for trail bikes." Berry said in an interview, "I don’t hunt, so I just sat in the motor home and waited for them to be done and then we went and played with the motorcycles."
He would shoot hoops with Ron Howard behind the scenes.
According to Mayberry R.F.D. star Ken Berry, The Andy Griffith Show’s young star Ron Howard liked to shoot around between scenes with anybody he could get to play, so they had a backboard put in just for the child actor. Berry told the Archive of American Television: "Ron, of course, didn’t stay on with the cast of Mayberry R.F.D., but I got a chance to meet him and work with him [on The Andy Griffith Show]. And I remember they had a backboard on set, onstage, and that was put in there just for Ronny. And we shot baskets. We played H.O.R.S.E."