Orson Bean: Prolific Television Actor Dies in Tragic Car Accident

Orson Bean passed away today at the age of 91 after he was hit by a car in Los Angeles. During his long life, he had a prominent and varied career. Here’s a look back at his work as an actor.

Orson Bean attending the premiere of The Equalizer 2 | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

How Orson Bean got his name

According to Yahoo! Finance, Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows. At the age of 16, prompted by his mother’s death, he left home. He started using the stage name Orson Bean.

He explained the origins of his stage name to The Hollywood Reporter. “One night in a club in Boston, I tried the name Roger Duck. No laughs. The next night, I tried Orson Bean, putting together a pompous first name and a silly second name.”

He continued “I got laughs, so I decided to keep it. Orson Welles himself came into the Blue Angel one night, summoned me to his table. I sat down. He looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘You stole my name!’”

Anyone who’s seen Welles’ films knows he had an odd sense of humor. In this instance, Welles wasn’t joking. Bean recalls “[He] meant it. Then he dismissed me with a wave of his hand.”

Orson Bean attending the premiere of America | Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

How communism almost ruined his career

Beans’ career suffered greater hardships than that. During the 1950s, Hollywood blacklisted communists and suspected communists. Bean was blacklisted simply for associating with a communist.

Bean explained “The reason I got blacklisted was not because I was a communist but because I was horny for a communist girl and she dragged me to a couple of meetings. After I got elected to vice president of the New York local, I got a call from Ed Sullivan. I could feel the blood draining out of my face.”

Bean recalled Sullivan, the most prominent television host of his day, telling him “‘I have to cancel this Sunday.’ I had been on the show seven times. Overnight, I went from being the hot young comic at CBS to not working. Luckily I got a play that ran for year, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter.”

Orson Bean’s career since the blacklist

Orson Bean on Laugh Line | Paul W. Bailey/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Bean was able to procure other Broadway roles. Although he was never quite a major actor, he had longevity. Bean appeared on a number of successful shows in more recent years, including Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother, and Modern Family.

Despite this, Bean grew frustrated with modern Hollywood. He told The Hollywood Reporter “In the film business, it appalls me that when I was 12 years old I was reading Spider-Man and Captain America. They’re making f*cking Godzilla again, c’mon. I don’t care how well they blow up the bus, it’s still the bus blowing up. I think people are afraid to be original.”

Sadly, Bean was walking in Los Angeles on Feb 7, 2020, when he was hit by one vehicle, then another. The second hit killed him. Bean left behind his wife of 27 years, Alley Mills. Though his death was tragic, he left behind a long legacy on the stage and the screen.

Also see: What Were Robert Evans’ Most Acclaimed Films at the Time of His Death?