Character actor began career in France

Character actor Frank Billerbeck, aka “Billy Beck,” died of congestive heart failure June 29 in Glendale, Calif. He was 91.

Born in Philadelphia, Billerbeck fought with the Allied forces in France during WWII. He returned to the country in 1948 and began his showbiz career there.

Based in Paris, Billerbeck became involved in the burgeoning street-performing scene during the 1950s. He was a regular performer at Harry’s Bar and a featured clown with Cirque Medrano.

He picked up his first TV credits in the mid-’50s for appearances in the American series “Paris Precinct” and “Sherlock Holmes,” both of which shot in France. He also began his movie career in France, appearing in Maurice Regamey’s “Crazy in the Noodle” (1957) and in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1959 film “Two Men in Manhattan” (lensed in France despite the title).

Billerbeck returned to the U.S. in 1960 and was soon seen frequently in films, on television and in commercials.

He played a French gendarme in Billy Wilder’s “Irma la Douce” and also appeared in Wilder’s “The Fortune Cookie.” Some of his other bigscreen credits include “Airport 1975,” “Stir Crazy,” “Bachelor Party,” “Near Dark,” “Mystery Men” and the 2005 Reese Witherspoon starrer “Just Like Heaven,” in which he played an old man enamored of Witherspoon’s doctor character.

On TV he appeared on “The Twilight Zone,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bewitched,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and “That Girl”; he had recurring roles on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Lou Grant,” “Falcon Crest” and, later, on FX comedy “Son of the Beach.”

He appeared more recently on episodes of “Charmed,” “7th Heaven” and “ER” and made his last screen appearance in Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” series in 2009.

Billerbeck was a longtime SAG member.

He is survived by a grandnephew and grandniece.

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