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Orson Bean, a free-spirited stage and screen actor, dies at 91

After finding success on television and Broadway, he founded a progressive school and later wandered around America as a late-flowering hippie.

The actor and comedian Orson Bean in 1980.

By Robert D. McFadden

Orson Bean, the free-spirited television, stage and film comedian who quit his picture book life to found a progressive school, move to Australia, give away his belongings and, in the 1970s, was a late-blooming hippie through turbulent America stripes. was killed in a traffic accident in Venice, California on Friday. He was 91 years old.

His death was confirmed on Saturday by the Los Angeles County Coroner Office. It was said to be investigating his death as a car accident. Mr. Bean was hit and killed by a car crossing the street on Friday. Captain Brian Wendling of the Los Angeles Police Department has been cited as a reporting reporter.

At the beginning of his career, in the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Bean, a subtle comic that looked like a naive peasant boy, was omnipresent on TV. He appeared on all networks as one of the main actors in the advertising game show (a mainstay of "To Tell the Truth"), a frequent guest of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson in "The Tonight Show", a series that appears regularly in the drama anthology and in 1954 the moderation of his own CBS variety series "The Blue Angel".
He also played on and off Broadway, made Hollywood films, founded a company of laurel and hardy lovers, raised a fortune, and was briefly blacklisted as a suspect communist.

In 1964 he founded a small school in Manhattan, 15th Street School, which was tied to a progressive educational theory and shared lessons and most of the rules so that the children could do pretty much anything they wanted. For the rest of the decade, Mr. Bean went to school, paid her bills, covered her deficits, and worked harder.

 Mr. Bean in 1964 at the 15th Street School in New York, which he founded with the goal of teaching self-reliance by making lessons and most rules optional.

He was often seen on five television shows a week, was involved in nightclubs and a Broadway show, got married (for the second time) and added more children to his growing family. But he felt overwhelmed by the consequences of success and the turmoil in a nation that was involved in conflicts over the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the murder of leaders, and a political shift to the right.

"We had babies and the money rolled in so fast we had to push it out," he recalled years later in an interview with the New York Times. “We had a four-story town house and a maid. We loved it but I started freaking out. I was convinced that the country would become fascist. "

Believing that the generals of America were planning an impending coup, Mr. Bean gave up his thriving career and moved to Australia with his family in 1970. He became a student of the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and wrote a book about his psychosexual theories: “I and the orgone. “(Orgone is a concept of a universal life force originally proposed by Reich.)

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When the book was published in 1971, Mr. Bean returned to America with his wife and four children. For years he lived a nomadic life as an aging hippie and "house man" and threw off material possessions in search of self-realization.

"We were so sure that we didn't want to be obsessed with things and were so careful not to have them that we gave up almost everything we had," he wrote in an op-ed in The Times in 1977. “We entered the so-called late hippie stage. We threw the kids in the van, drove across the country, washed up our friends and brought the kids to school wherever we lit by accident. "

In his early school leaving years, he found, as he recalled in a memoir, that he experimented with psychedelics, shared sex, and other excursions into self-discovery. His family collected driftwood and books and read aloud at night. If need be, Mr. Bean made a living advertising and voice-overs for animated films.

Top theater personalities joined a protest in Times Square, New York, against the resumption of nuclear testing in 1962. From left: Maureen Stapleton, Manning Gurian, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Mr. Bean, Milton Kramer, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.


In 1980 he was bored with inactivity. He returned to public focus and appeared in television films, soap operas, game shows and episode series. Over the next three decades, he performed recurring roles in "Murder, She Wrote", "Normal, Ohio" and "Desperate Housewives". He also appeared in many films, particularly "Being John Malkovich" (1999).

While he eventually appeared in around 50 television series and 30 films, he is often remembered for early panel shows, which, in contrast to the culture of greed, crackle, and kitsch of modern game shows, were reserved, relatively funny and sophisticated.

"We were a lot smarter back then," Kitty Carlisle Hart, a frequent panelist at Mr. Bean, told The Times in 1999.

Mr. Bean was born on July 22, 1928 in Burlington, Vt., The son of George and Marian (Pollard) Burrows in Dallas Frederick Burrows. His father, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was a police officer on the Harvard campus. His mother, a cousin of President Calvin Coolidge, killed himself as a teenager.

After graduating from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 1946, Mr. Bean was drafted into the post-war army and served with occupation forces in Japan. He was an accomplished magician and after he was released he changed his name to Orson Bean and worked in Boston nightclubs with tricks and gags that became comedy routines.

Mr. Bean, center, with Cameron Diaz in “Being John Malkovich” (1999), one of his best-known film roles.

He was blacklisted for attending two Communist Party meetings, but that passed away and barely slowed his career. Working in nightclubs in Baltimore and Philadelphia eventually took him to New York City to the Blue Angel and the village vanguard, where the pantheon included Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Woody Allen.

Fame followed him on the shows by Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Merv Griffin. He was on The Tonight Show so often that he became a vacation agent for Mr. Couple and Mr. Carson. He has appeared on "Playhouse 90", "Studio One" and other television series and played on Broadway with Jayne Mansfield in the comedy "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" From 1955 and with Melina Mercouri in the musical "Ilya Darling" from 1967.

Mr. Bean married actress Jacqueline de Sibour in 1956. They had a daughter, Michele, and were divorced in 1962. He and his second wife, Carolyn Maxwell, were married in 1965 and had three children, Max, Susannah and Ezekiel, and he married actress Alley Mills in 1993 and lived in Venice, California for many years. His son-in-law was Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who died in 2011.

His wife and four children are survivors.

Mr. Bean and his wife, Alley Mills, in Los Angeles in 2018.

Recorded with the unorthodox ideas of A.S. Neills Summerhill School in England, Mr. Bean, who never got beyond high school, bought a building in Chelsea in 1964, hired four teachers and opened 15th Street School with 40 students in kindergarten, kindergarten and lower elementary school classes. It taught self-employment by making lessons and most of the rules optional, in the hope of taking responsibility.

In 1964, Mr. Bean also helped found the Sons of the Desert, an international fraternal organization dedicated to the films and life of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Named after the film of the duo from 1933, the Latin motto is: "Duae tabulae rasae in quibus nihil scriptum est" ("Two blank boards on which nothing was written").

Mr. Bean wrote a treatise entitled "Too Much Is Not Enough" (1988) and a humorous book entitled "25 Ways to Cook a Mouse for a Gourmet Cat" (1994), the Recipes for Corned Mouse and Cabbage, Burritos con contained Raton, Mouse Bourguignon and Souris Printemps.

Elian Peltier and Yonette Joseph reported.

Robert D. McFadden is a high-profile author at the desk for obituaries and the winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for spot news. He joined The Times in May 1961 and is the co-author of two books.