Actor Ray Walston, best known for his role as Uncle Martin on the 1960s sitcom My Favorite Martian, died at his home in Beverly Hills Monday, according to his agent. He was 86.
Harry Gold, Walston's agent of 16 years, said Tuesday that the award-winning character actor died of apparent natural causes.
The slim, craggy Walston made a career of playing wise and charismatic cranky characters. He won a Tony in 1955 for his performance as the devil in Broadway's Damn Yankees and two successive Emmys in 1995-96 for his role as acerbic Judge Henry Bone in the quirky small-town series Picket Fences.
Walston was known to younger fans as the irascible Poopdeck Pappy in Robert Altman's live-action film Popeye in 1980, and as the crusty, slacker-hating teacher Mr. Hand in the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
A Long and Varied Career
Born in New Orleans, Walston started his acting career with a local stock company.
It wasn't until the mid-1940s that Walston's stage career really started taking off, with roles in 22 productions by the famed Cleveland Playhouse.
By 1945, he had moved to New York to appear on Broadway, which later brought him the biggest break of his career — George Abbott casting him as the devil in Damn Yankees.
Walston's film debut came in the 1957 movie Kiss Them For Me with Cary Grant, and he later played the devil again in the film version of Damn Yankees. The smash musical told the story of a frustrated baseball fan who sells his soul.
He also appeared in Say One For Me with Bing Crosby and in director Billy Wilder's films The Apartment and Kiss Me, Stupid.
In addition, he had supporting roles in South Pacific, Portrait in Black, Wives and Lovers, Caprice, Paint Your Wagon, The Sting, Silver Streak and Stephen King's The Stand.
Popularity Was Almost Too Much
In My Favorite Martian, Walston played opposite Bill Bixby as a Martian explorer stranded on Earth. His antennae-sprouting alien character masqueraded as Bixby's "Uncle Martin" and spent most of the episodes trying to conceal his identity from curious Earthlings.
Walston once said he auditioned and accepted the role for the money. But after just four episodes, he recalled, "I thought, 'What am I doing here? I'm running around with two pieces of wire coming out of my head. I must be crazy.'"
Despite its popularity, the role of Uncle Martin actually slowed Walston's Hollywood career. When the series went off the air in 1966 after a three-year run, the typecast actor returned to the stage for several years before re-emerging with a succession of solid supporting roles in movies and television.
But it took Walston decades to receive award recognition from the Hollywood community: "I have 30 seconds to tell you I have been waiting 60 years to get on this stage," he said in his 1995 Emmy acceptance speech.
In 1999, Walston made a cameo appearance in the feature film version of My Favorite Martian, which starred Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Martin and Jeff Daniels in Bixby's role as the alien's beleaguered partner.
In a 1996 interview, Walston said he had recently turned down a request to appear on a television news in a report on the possibility of life on Mars.
"Would you believe they were planning a sequence featuring two of the world's most distinguished scientists evaluating this monumental discovery, and they wanted to sandwich me in as sort of comedy relief?" Walston said. "Of course, I said no."