Gale Gordon (born Charles Thomas Aldrich, Jr., February 20, 1906 – June 30, 1995) was an American character actor perhaps best remembered as Lucille Ball's longtime television foil—and particularly as cantankerously combustible, tightfisted bank executive Theodore J. Mooney, on Ball's second television situation comedy, The Lucy Show. Gordon also had starring roles in Ball's successful third series Here's Lucy and her short-lived fourth and final series Life with Lucy.
He is remembered for his role as school principal Osgood Conklin in the early 1950s television hit show Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden. Gordon was also a respected and beloved radio actor. He also co-starred as the second Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace.
Born Charles Thomas Aldrich, Jr., in New York City to vaudevillian Charles Thomas Aldrich and his wife, English actress Gloria Gordon, Gale Gordon's first big radio break came via the recurring roles of "Mayor La Trivia" and "Foggy Williams" on Fibber McGee and Molly, before playing Rumson Bullard on the show's successful spinoff, The Great Gildersleeve. Gordon and his character of Mayor La Trivia briefly left the show in December 1942 when Gordon enlisted in World War II and the storyline followed. He was the first actor to play the role of Flash Gordon, in the 1935 radio serial The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. He also played Dr. Stevens in Glorious One.
From 1937–39, he starred as "The Octopus" in the Speed Gibson adventure series. In 1949, Gordon recorded the pilot for The Halls of Ivy, starring in the program's title role of Dr. Todhunter Hall, the president of Ivy College. The pilot led to a radio series that aired from 1950–52, but with Ronald Colman in the title role; Gordon later joined the cast as a replacement for Willard Waterman in the popular role of John Merriweather. (Waterman and Gordon both died in 1995.)
In 1950, Gordon played John Granby in the radio series Granby's Green Acres, which became the basis for the 1960s television series, Green Acres. Gordon went on to create the role of pompous principal Osgood Conklin on Our Miss Brooks, carrying the role to television when the show moved there in 1952. In the interim, Gordon turned up as Rudolph Atterbury on My Favorite Husband, which starred Lucille Ball in a precursor to I Love Lucy.
Gordon and Ball had previously worked together on The Wonder Show, starring Jack Haley, from 1938–39. The two had a long friendship as well as recurring professional partnership. Gordon also had a recurring role as fictitious Rexall Drugs sponsor representative Mr. Scott on yet another radio hit, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, staying with the role as long as Rexall sponsored the show.
The widely acknowledged master of the "slow-burn" temper explosion in character, Gordon was the first pick to play Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, but he was committed to Our Miss Brooks as well as being a regular on several other radio shows and declined the offer with William Frawley chosen for the role. He appeared in three guest shots on the show: twice as Ricky Ricardo's boss, Alvin Littlefield, owner of the Tropicana Club where Ricky's band played, and later as a judge on a Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episode.
In 1958, he appeared as a regular in the role of department store co-owner Bascomb Bleacher, Sr., on the NBC sitcom Sally, starring Joan Caulfield and Marion Lorne. He also appeared on the Walter Brennan ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys. Gordon had a co-starring role in the CBS television comedy Pete and Gladys. At this time, he guest starred with Pat O'Brien in the ABC sitcom, Harrigan and Son, the story of a father-and-son lawyer team. He also appeared on the CBS/Desilu sitcom, Angel, with Annie Fargé. On The Danny Thomas Show, he guest starred in seven episodes. In five, he played the landlord of the building where the Williams family lived. In 1962, Gordon appeared as different characters on two episodes of another ABC sitcom, The Donna Reed Show.
In 1962, Ball created The Lucy Show and planned to hire Gordon to play Theodore J. Mooney, the banker who was first Lucy Carmichael's executor and subsequently her employer, when she went to work in his bank. Gordon was under contract to play John Wilson (after the death of Joseph Kearns, who played George Wilson) on Dennis the Menace. Prior to Gordon's replacing Kearns on Dennis the Menace, the two had worked together on an old radio show, The Cinnamon Bear.
When Dennis the Menace ended in spring 1963, Gordon joined The Lucy Show as Mr. Mooney for the 1963-64 season. (In the interim, Charles Lane played the similar Mr. Barnsdahl character for the 1962-1963 season.) The somewhat portly Gordon was adept at physical comedy and could do a perfect cartwheel. He did this on The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy, and again as a guest on The Dean Martin Show.
After the sale of Desilu Studios, Ball shut down The Lucy Show in 1968 and retooled it into Here's Lucy and became her own producer and distributor. She used Gordon again, this time as her irascible boss (and brother-in-law) Harrison Otis 'Uncle Harry' Carter at an employment agency that specialized in unusual jobs for unusual people. In reality, it was just a continuation of the Lucy Carmichael/Mr. Mooney relationship, but with new names and a new setting.
Gordon had all but retired when Here's Lucy ended (he reprised the Mr. Mooney role in the first episode of Hi Honey, I'm Home!), but in the 1980s he came out of retirement to join Ball for the short-lived Life With Lucy. When Lucille Ball ended her career, Gordon was the only actor to have co-starred or guest-starred in every weekly series, radio or television, she had done since the 1940s.
Beginning in 1949, Gordon and his wife lived in the tiny community of Borrego Springs, California (pop. 1,500) where he had a ranch and seven dogs. He was also honorary mayor of the town and commuted approximately 160 mi (260 km) to Los Angeles every day when working for Ball.
Author, painter and rancher
In addition to acting, Gordon was an accomplished author, penning two books in the 1940s entitled Nursery Rhymes for Hollywood Babies and Leaves from the Story Trees, and two one-act plays. After he and his wife purchased 150 acres (61 ha) in Borrego Springs, Gordon did much of the construction of the house and his art studio himself. He also built and restored his own furniture on the property and used the land to become one of the few commercial carob growers in the United States.
"Gale Gordon: From Mayor of Wistful Vista to Borrego Springs," by Jim Manago, published by BearManor Media in 2016, is the first biography of Gordon. A blog dedicated to him and the author's other books is found at http://galegordonstory.blogspot.com
Gordon died of lung cancer on June 30, 1995, at the Redwood Terrace Health Center in Escondido, California, aged 89. Virginia Curley, his wife of nearly 60 years, had died in the same facility one month earlier. The couple had no children. Gordon was survived by a sister.
In 1999, Gordon was inducted posthumously into the Radio Hall of Fame, and for his contribution to radio he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6340 Hollywood Boulevard.