( b. Aug 30, 1923 New York, USA - d. Dec 22, 2011 New York, New York, USA ) Male
William Duell, a diminutive character actor whose puckishness and understated comic flair enlivened Broadway shows, television series and Hollywood films, has died.
The cause was respiratory failure, his wife, Mary Barto, said. Mr. Duell, who was less than five and a half feet tall and weighed not quite 140 pounds, was never a star, but he had a slyly roguish and perpetually boyish mug that always added spice to the roles of cabdrivers, shoeshine men, butlers and desk clerks he often played. He brought a kind of perky oddity even to serious roles.
In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), Milos Forman’s adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel set in a mental institution (starring Jack Nicholson), Mr. Duell played Sefelt, an epileptic inmate who fears his medication. In the early 1980s, he had a regular role as Johnny, a snitch, in “Police Squad!,” the spoof of police dramas, starring Leslie Nielsen, created in the mold of the hit film “Airplane!”
In 1969, in the original Broadway production of the historical musical 1776, Mr. Duell played Andrew McNair, the custodian of the Continental Congress and the man who rang the Liberty Bell to announce the nation’s independence; he repeated the role in the 1972 film version.
And in the 1996 Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Mr. Duell played Erronius, a man in search of his sons who has been dispatched by a soothsayer to circle the seven hills of Rome seven times. At intervals during the show he would appear from backstage, trotting in from the wings, and announce the lap; by the third time he was so winded that he could only signal.
“The audience adored him,” Nathan Lane, who starred in the show, said in an interview. “The first time around he’d get a huge laugh. The second time he’d get a huge laugh. The third time, he’d just hold up his fingers — and it brought the house down.”
George William Duell was born on Aug. 30, 1923, in Corinth, N.Y., and named for his father, George Leon Duell, who worked for the International Paper Company. His mother, the former Eliza Janet Harrington, with whom William spent a good deal of his life — he lived with her until her death in 2001 — decided at some point that she didn’t like her son’s first name and legally changed it to Darwin. Mr. Duell never used it.
He attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, where he began acting, playing his first role, a detective, in Arsenic and Old Lace.
Mr. Duell was a Navy medic during World War II, serving stateside. He finished his undergraduate career at Illinois Wesleyan University and earned a master’s degree from Yale Drama School. One classmate there, Paul Newman, helped him get a role as a pool player in the 1961 film “The Hustler,” in which Newman starred.
During the 1950s, Mr. Duell appeared on many live broadcasts of television dramas. His last Broadway appearance was in a revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Mr. Lane, in 2000.
Source: The New York Times