Parley Edward Baer (August 5, 1914 – November 22, 2002) was an American actor in radio and later in television and film.
Early life and radio work
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Baer had a circus background, but began his radio career at Utah station KSL. With a fairly high pitched voice often accompanied by a Western twang, he became one of the busiest radio performers in the late 1940s and 1950s.
His first network show was The Whistler which was soon followed by appearances on Escape (notably narrating "Wild Jack Rhett" and as the title patriot in an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet's "A Tooth for Paul Revere"), Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers (as various local sheriffs),Dragnet, The CBS Radio Workshop, Lux Radio Theater, The Six Shooter, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, to name a few.
In 1952, he began playing Chester, the unofficial deputy to Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, eventually ad-libbing the character's full name, “Chester Wesley Proudfoot”. (The character's name was changed to “Chester Goode” in the television series, which featured an entirely different cast.) Baer's portrayal of Chester was generally considered his finest and most memorable role and, as he often said, the one he found most fulfilling. Baer worked on several other radio shows produced by Norman MacDonnell, including the situation comedy The Harold Peary Show (akaHonest Harold) as Pete the Marshal, Rogers of the Gazette (loosely based on the early life of Will Rogers) as Doc Clemens, Fort Laramie, and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.
Other recurring roles included Eb the farm hand on Granby's Green Acres (the radio predecessor to television's Green Acres), Gramps on The Truitts, and Rene the manservant on the radio version of The Count of Monte Cristo. His later radio work included playing Reginald Duffield and Uncle Joe Finneman on the Focus on the Family series Adventures in Odyssey in the 1980s and 1990s.
Films and television
As an on-camera performer, Baer was recognizable by both his voice and his balding, paunchy appearance, often as fussy or obstinate officials or neighbors. Extended television roles included obnoxious by-the-book Mayor Stoner on The Andy Griffith Show, the neighbor Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, frequent guest appearances on The Addams Family as insurance man and city commissioner Arthur J. Henson, and in the late 1990s, Miles Dugan on The Young and the Restless.
Baer guest starred in the 1950s on NBC's The Dennis Day Show and It's a Great Life, on CBS's Hey, Jeannie!, on ABC's The Law and Mr. Jones with James Whitmore, on the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight with Edmond O'Brien, and on the NBC children's western series, Fury with Peter Graves and Bobby Diamond. He made six guest appearances on Perry Mason during the last five seasons of the CBS legal drama.
He appeared as well on the ABC sitcom Harrigan and Son, on the ABC/Warner Brothers crime drama, The Roaring 20s, on NBC's crime drama Dan Raven starring Skip Homeier, and on the NBC family drama, National Velvet. Baer was cast twice on Walter Brennan's sitcom, The Real McCoys. He also guest starred on the CBS sitcoms, Dennis the Menace, with Jay North, and Angel, starring Annie Fargé. In the latter, he carried the lead as Dr. Mathews in the single episode "The Dentist", with Maudie Prickett as his dental secretary.
In 1961, Baer guest starred on Marilyn Maxwell's short-lived ABC drama series, Bus Stop. On April 13, 1962, he appeared, along with Frank Ferguson and Royal Dano in ABC's crime dramaTarget: The Corruptors in the episode "Journey into Mourning". He was cast as hotel owner Mr. Kringelein in the 1962 film, Gypsy, opposite Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell.
In 1963, Baer appeared with Charles Aidman and Karl Swenson in the three-part episode "Security Risk", a story of international blackmail and intrigue, on the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb.
In 1964, Baer was cast as a sheriff in an episode of Mickey Rooney's short-lived Mickey sitcom. He was seen in four episodes of Hogan's Heroes and eight episodes of Bewitched in various roles as advertising clients of McMann and Tate.
Later guest appearances included Three for the Road, Three's Company (as a cooking competition judge), The A-Team, Star Trek: Voyager, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Dukes of Hazzard,Night Court, Little House on the Prairie, The Golden Girls, and Mad About You. He also played the role of the minister who married J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing for their second marriage on Dallas.
Baer's film roles included parts in several live action Disney features, including Follow Me, Boys! (again as a mayor), The Ugly Dachshund, and Those Calloways. He also appeared in Two on a Guillotine and Dave (as the Senate majority leader).
He also voiced Ernie Keebler in the cookie commercials before he suffered a stroke in 1997 which affected both speech and movement. He recovered sufficiently to make a handful of appearances at old-time radio conventions before he died from related complications on November 22, 2002 at the age of eighty-eight.
In perhaps his greatest theatrical performance, Baer was especially proud of his brief appearance in a little known film, White Dog, a powerful story about racism. Baer plays a character seen at first as a kindly grandfather only to reveal himself as a hateful bigot who has trained the title character to attack black skin. Baer remarked, "Often racism, like true evil, presents itself with a smile and a handshake".
In 1946, he met and married circus aerialist and bareback rider Ernestine Clarke. They were together for fifty-four years until her death. They had two daughters, Kim and Dale.
Baer was a long-term member of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Encino, California, where he served in many capacities, including head usher.