Ken Berry, amuch-loved actor and dancer, died Saturday, December 1 at Providence St. JosephMedical Center in Burbank.
Born in Moline, Illinois, Ken was the son of Darryl and Bernice Berry and the brother of Donna Rae Harder. After being inspired by dancers in a grade school carnival, his parents supported the dream to be a dancer. As a teen, he won a Horace Heidt dance contest and was invited to tour with Heidt’s Youth Opportunity Program. While serving in the U.S. Army, he won the All Army talent contest and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and his then-Sargent, Leonard Nimoy, guided him towards a move to California.
Ken became a “Little Godfrey” after appearing on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts and tap-danced on the radio (which amused him). From 1958 through 1964 Ken’s career took off when he was a member of the “Billy Barnes Revue” where he met fellow performer Jackie Joseph and they were married in 1960.
Lucille Ball came to see him and invited Ken to join her Desilu Workshop and Ken had his first reoccurring role on The Ann Southern Show. He was also a regular intern-pal of Dick Chamberlain on Dr. Kildare. When Carol Burnett saw the Billy Barnes show, she arranged for Ken to do a guest appearance on The Garry Moore Show. And when starting her historic CBS variety show, Carol invited Ken to join her, Rock Hudson and Frank Gorshin in a special Carol and Company. From that appearance, manager Richard Linke (who managed Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors) signed him up.
After Ken’s successful turn as the bashful, bumbling but good-hearted Captain Wilton Parmenter in TV’s F Troop, Ken landed his dream role, taking over for Andy Griffith in the retooled Mayberry R.F.D.
While doing special guest starring on all the great variety shows of the day and performing in some spectacular Kinney Shoes commercials, Ken spent many years on the road starring in musicals. And then came his very happy time on Mama’s Family. In between all this, he starred in films like, Herbie Rides Again! and The Cat From Outer Space.
Ken loved cars and car magazines; he also loved riding on his motorcycle into the wilderness. He was a quiet man. He was a kind man. He was proud that his daughter Jennifer was a teacher. He loved his now-deceased son John Berry. And it was important to him for his friends to know that even if he didn’t get out a lot to visit, that he had so much love for them. He also had a deep affection for the Walsh family who sincerely loved him back.
Jackie and Ken were married for 17 years and remained dear friends. He is survived by his daughter Jennifer Kate Berry, his nieces Candy Sue Harder and Bonnie Rae Harder and his partner of 26 years, Susie Walsh.
A tribute giftdonation to the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Ken’s honor would be verymuch appreciated. Visit mptf.com/tributegift.