Our favorite character actors: Ted Knight

Ted Knight as a Mafia hit man in a first-season episode of The FBI, “An Elephant Is Like a Rope.”

One in an occasional series.

Ted Knight (1923-1986) is best known as goofy anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or the pompous judge in 1980’s Caddyshack. But he spent years as a character actor before either of his breakout roles.

Knight had small roles in The Twilight Zone, Psycho and Gunsmoke among many acting credits. He even played a criminal mastermind in The Night of the Kraken, an episode of The Wild Wild West airing during the 1968-69 season.

In one of his appearances on The FBI (The Executioners Part I), he played the head of a Cosa Nostra “gun drop” in New York City. He (unwisely) tries to shoot it out with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Inspector Lewis Erskine.

Knight also played a part in a con job. Knight was a friend of Filmation co-founder Lou Scheimer. Filmation in 1965 was seeking the license from DC Comics to do Superman cartoons. But DC executives wanted to see a busy studio hard at work.

Scheimer arranged for artists from Hanna-Barbera to show up, pretending to be working on cartoons. Knight also was recruited, pretending to be a film editor.

The con worked and Filmation got the job. The New Adventures of Superman in the fall of 1966 on CBS. The show consisted of two Superman cartoons with a Superboy cartoon in-between. Knight was the narrator of the Superboy cartoon and did other voices.

Knight soon got work on other Filmation shows, including Fantastic Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Aquaman. In 1968, Filmation came out with a Batman cartoon where Knight was narrator and voiced most of the male villains.

Knight became a bigger name once The Mary Tyler Moore Show came along. It turned out that Ted Baxter was one of the hardest parts to cast. Allan Burns described what happened in an interview for the Archive of American Television around the 5:05 mark. From then on, things were never the same for Knight.

2 Responses

  1. One thing abut the huge vault of Classic TV character and supporting actors is that they had range! We spotlight quite a few on them on our website as well! Although I wasn’t really a fan of Ted Baxter (as written, no fault of Ted Knight) I like the humanity he brought to the role of Henry Rush (in Too Close for Comfort), playing opposite the talented Nancy Dussault. Of course it was another typical family sitcom (in the vein of DVD), but the series pushed quite a few storylines in his favor. I think it was difficult to shine on the MTM show, being up against a stellar ensemble (like Grant and White) But he did make that role tragically self-absorbed (as intended) and therefore unforgettable! Kudos go to his talent!

    Very interesting profile. Thank you!

  2. Ted Knight did everything he could to succeed in show business, including radio and a ventriloquist act. He was a natural for radio and cartoons, because he possessed the perfect voice. I am sure that his portrayal of Ted Baxter was influenced by those he met while working in radio.

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