Some supporting actors become known for one role; others play the field. Suzanne Pleshette, who died Jan. 19 at age 70, will remain forever known as Bob Newhart’s first TV wife, Emily Hartley. Allan Melvin, who died Jan. 17 at age 84, was remembered (depending on your age) as Corporal Henshaw in the ’50s sitcom The Phil Silvers Show, Alice’s boyfriend on the ’70s sitcom The Brady Bunch, Archie Bunker’s pal Barney on All in the Family, or for countless semiregular sitcom roles before and after.
After a movie career that included playing opposite Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Pleshette’s throaty voice and steely gaze made her an unexpectedly perfect foil for the gentle psychologist character at the center of The Bob Newhart Show. Few TV wives were as enjoyably skeptical as Pleshette’s Emily. When she reprised her role in the 1990 series finale of her costar’s subsequent hit, Newhart — one of the greatest surprise endings in TV history — all seemed right with the world again. Melvin, by contrast, was such an endearing, ordinary-Joe type that he ably played eight different roles on episodes of The Andy Griffith Show while still imprinting our memories with Silvers’ hustling Corporal Henshaw and Brady’s affable Sam the butcher. Talk about being a go-to guy: Melvin was even the cartoon voice of Magilla Gorilla. Their charms were very different, but Pleshette’s and Melvin’s lasting legacy is this: They remind us how deeply good supporting actors can get into our hearts and minds.