RICHARD DEACON was an American television and motion picture actor born on this date (d: 1984), best known for playing supporting roles in television shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It To Beaver, and The Jack Benny Program along with minor roles in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Deacon often portrayed pompous, prissy, and/or imperious figures in film and television. He made appearances on The Jack Benny Program as a salesman and a barber, and on NBC’s Happy as a hotel manager. He made a brief appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. He played a larger role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a physician in the “book-end” sequences added to the beginning and end of the film after its original previews.
In Billy Wilder’s 1957 film adaptation of Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis, Deacon portrayed the chairman of the Columbia Aircraft Corporation, Charles A. Levine.
His best-known roles are milksop Mel Cooley (producer of The Alan Brady Show) on CBS’s The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966) and Fred Rutherford on Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963), although Deacon played Mr. Baxter in the 1957 Beaver pilot episode “It’s a Small World”. He co-starred as Tallulah Bankhead’s butler in an episode of The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour called “The Celebrity Next Door”. Deacon played Roger Buell on the second season of TV’s The Mothers-in-Law (1967–1969), replacing Roger C. Carmel in the role. He played Principal “Jazzbo” Conroy in The Danny Thomas Show (1958). He also appeared in the 1960 Perry Mason episode The Case of the Red Riding Boots as Wilmer Beaslee.
During World War II, Deacon served in the United States Army medical corps. In 1946, upon completion of his service, he returned to Binghamton where he resumed living with his parents. He worked in occupations such as laboratory technician and intern at Binghamton General Hospital. He later attended Ithaca College, first as a medical student, but later developed an interest in acting, engaging in some nighttime radio announcing.
This writer can personally confirm that Deacon was a gourmet chef having dined with him on numerous occasions in addition to working as an actor. In the 1970s and 1980s, he wrote a series of cookbooks and hosted a Canadian television series on microwave oven cooking. He was a delightful dinner companion.
While not widely known during Deacon’s lifetime, he was a charitable man. At his memorial service, a number of people previously unknown to Deacon’s friends and colleagues spoke of how Deacon had provided for needy people and charitable organizations during his life.
Deacon was gay and was among a number of actors and actresses who were closeted homosexuals working in Hollywood. Often employed in Disney films Richard always said it would kill his career. Given Disney’s track record in that time, there is little doubt he was correct. His obituary, published in The New York Times, listed only his father, a nephew and niece as survivors.