Orson Bean, Character Actor Known for ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Dr. Quinn,’ Dies at 91

Orson Bean'The Equalizer 2' film premiere,
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Orson Bean, the prolific character actor known for his work in “Being John Malkovich,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and a host of TV shows, died Friday after being hit by twice by cars while walking in Los Angeles. He was 91.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office told the Associated Press that Bean’s death was under investigation as a traffic-related fatality. The industry veteran was walking in the Venice area on Friday night when he was hit by a car and fell, after which he was hit by a second car, according to the AP. Bean’s survivors include his wife, actor Alley Mills, who he married in 1993.

Bean was a co-founder of the non-profit actors collective Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, where he also lived. Bean’s official bio on the theater’s website concludes with the observation: “He is one lucky son of a bitch.”

Bean was well-liked in the industry as a raconteur and versatile performer who was as comfortable on a game show set as he was in an arthouse movie such as Spike Jonze’s 1999 absurdist fantasy “Being John Malkovich,” in which he played Dr. Lester, the mastermind of a plot to prolong his life by inhabiting the body of the titular star.

Bean was a regular as the curmudgeonly shopkeeper Loren Bray on the CBS drama “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which ran from 1993 to 1998. He was a semi regular on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and Fox’s short-lived “Normal, Ohio,” among many other guest shots. In the 1970s he was a favorite on game shows such as “To Tell the Truth,” “Match Game” and “Super Password.”

Known for his quick wit, Bean made more than 200 appearances on “The Tonight Show” during the Johnny Carson era — including more than 100 stints as guest host — and more than 60 sit-downs on “The Merv Griffin Show.”

A native of Burlington, Vermont, Bean’s father was a co-founder of the ACLU. Bean’s biography on Pacific Resident Theatre states that he is a second cousin to President Calvin Coolidge.

He got his start on stage and in nightclub and cabaret performances, and made his Broadway debut in 1953’s “Men of Distinction.” Bean got attention two years later for his starring role in the comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter.” He earned a Tony nomination for featured actor in a musical for 1962’s “Subways Are for Sleeping.”

Bean’s notable movie roles over the years included 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder” and 1987’s “Innerspace.” On the small screen, Bean was a regular on the dramatic anthology series that proliferated in the 1950s such as “Studio One,” Kraft Theatre,” “Broadway Television Theatre” and “Goodyear Playhouse.” He co-starred opposite Art Carney and Jeannette MacDonald in the 1957 “Playhouse 90” production of “Charley’s Aunt,” and he toplined the 1960 “Twilight Zone” seg “Mr. Bevis.”

In the 1970s Bean left in the industry for a period and moved to Australia. But by the late 1970s, he returned to work in the entertainment business. In 1977 he provided the voice of Bilbo Baggins in a Rankin-Bass animated TV movie production of “The Hobbit” that aired on ABC and is fondly remembered today as the introduction to the J.R.R. Tolkien tome by a number of prominent creatives.

Screenwriter Zack Stentz wrote on Twitter: “Like a lot of Gen X kids, my introduction to the worlds of Tolkien & epic fantasy was the Rankin-Bass animated Hobbit movie, which means that my first Bilbo Baggins was Orson Bean. I thank him for that wonderful gift & wish him godspeed on the greatest adventure of them all.”

Bean’s long list of TV credits include appearances on “The Love Boat,” “The Fall Guy,” “The Facts of Life,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Diagnosis: Murder,” “Ally McBeal,” “The King of Queens,” “Will & Grace,” “Becker,” “7th Heaven,” “Cold Case,” “The Closer,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Hot in Cleveland.” He appears in the current season of the Netflix comedy “Grace & Frankie” and logged a 2018 episode of NBC’s “Superstore.”

In addition to Mills, Bean’s survivors include two daughters and two sons from previous marriages.