John Richard Basehart (August 31, 1914 – September 17, 1984) was an American actor. He starred in the 1960s television science fiction dramaVoyage to the Bottom of the Sea, in the role of Admiral Harriman Nelson.
One of his most notable film roles was the acrobat known as "the Fool" in the acclaimed Italian film La Strada (1954), directed by Federico Fellini. He also appeared as the killer in the film noir classic He Walked by Night (1948), as a psychotic member of the Hatfield clan in Roseanna McCoy (1949), as Ishmael in Moby Dick (1956), and in the drama Decision Before Dawn (1951). He was married to Italian Academy Award-nominated actressValentina Cortese, with whom he had one son, the actor Jackie Basehart, before their divorce in 1960. Cortese and Basehart also costarred in Robert Wise's The House on Telegraph Hill (1951).
On December 25, 1958, Basehart appeared in the episode "Medal for Valor" on CBS's Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. Basehart plays David Manning, a man with an ill wife who is in need of medical treatment. To finance her treatment, Manning agrees to serve as the substitute in the Union Army for Stewart's son, Adam, portrayed by Richard Anderson. Manning wins a Medal of Honor in the American Civil War and returns three years later with an affidavit certifying that he was a military substitute and can therefore qualify for free western land. Rufus Stewart reneges on the promise because the son, the local sheriff, is running for the United States House of Representatives. Oddly, Rufus Stewart winds up being shot to death in a confrontation that he caused, and Adam, who did not know the circumstances of his having avoided military service, agrees to provide the affidavit to Manning. The episode does not reveal if the sheriff was elected to Congress but considers the political liability of the situation.
From 1964 to 1968, Basehart played the lead role, Admiral Harriman Nelson, on Irwin Allen's first foray into science-fiction television, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Although Basehart started his career as a film actor, he became best known for his role on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Basehart was also noted for his deep, distinctive voice and was prolific as a narrator of many television and movie projects ranging from features to documentaries. In 1980, Basehart narrated the mini-series written by Peter Arnett called Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War that covered Vietnamand its battles from the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945 to the final American embassy evacuation on April 30, 1975. He appeared in the pilot episode of the television series Knight Rider as billionaire Wilton Knight. He is the narrator at the beginning of the show's credits.
He starred as Hitler in the 1962 film of that name. In 1971, Basehart played "Captain Sligo", a comical Irishman with a pet buffalo who negotiates a flawed but legal cattle purchase and unconventionally courts a widow with two children, played by Salome Jens, in CBS's western series, Gunsmoke, with James Arness. Basehart appeared in "Probe 7, Over and Out", an episode ofThe Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, and as Hannibal Applewood, an abusive schoolteacher in Little House on the Prairie in 1976.
In 1972, he appeared in the Columbo episode Dagger of the Mind in which he and Honor Blackman played a husband-and-wife theatrical team who were loose parodies of Laurence Olivier andVivien Leigh. In the feature realm, he played a supporting role as a doctor in Rage (1972), a theatrical feature starring and directed by George C. Scott. He made a few TV movies including Sole Survivor (1970) and The Birdmen (1971). Both were based on true stories during World War II.
Basehart was married three times. After the death of his first wife Stephanie Klein, he wed Italian actress Valentina Cortese (whose name was spelledCortesa in American films). After their divorce, Basehart married Diana Lotery, with whom he founded the charity Actors and Others for Animals.
Basehart died at age 70 following a series of strokes. One month before his death, Basehart was an announcer for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Legacy in popular culture
He had a notable fan in the character of Gypsy from the cult cable television program Mystery Science Theater 3000. Basehart is mentioned in the song "The Radio Is Broken" on the 1983 Frank Zappa album The Man from Utopia. Basehart was well known for his sole appearance as millionaire andphilanthropist Wilton Knight on Knight Rider. Basehart guested in the series premiere episode "Knight of the Phoenix"(1982). Basehart also provided thenarration at the end of the episodes and Basehart contributed voiceover to the show's credits.