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

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.

More Film

  • Berlinale’s Africa Hub Hosts Innovative Voices

    Berlinale's Africa Hub Hosts Innovative Voices

    For the past three editions of the European Film Market, as visitors cinched their coats tight and hustled through the February chill, many noticed a stark presence in the shadow of the Martin Gropius Bau: a giant glass cube teeming with overflow crowds, built by the EFM to host the Berlinale Africa Hub. Conceived as [...]

  • Halelluja

    Berlin Fest Screens Rare Prints of King Vidor Classics in Retrospective Sidebar

    American director-producer-screenwriter King Vidor (1894-1982), whose long and notable career parallels the history of Hollywood filmmaking, is the subject of a 35-film retrospective at the Berlinale, curated by Rainer Rother, artistic director of the Deutsche Kinematek and head of the Retrospective program. The films, chosen from five decades, will be screened in the best extant [...]

  • Beasts Clawing at Straws Review

    'Beasts Clawing at Straws': Film Review

    Cheap gangsters, duplicitous dragon ladies, a mute tattooed assassin, get-rich-quick schlubs looking to score and a comical detective: “Beasts Clawing at Straws” could just as well be called “Beasts Toying with Clichés” if it weren’t such an amusing, echt Korean romp. Debuting director Kim Yong-hoon acknowledges a certain “Fargo” influence, but there’s also a hint [...]

  • Dev Patel Toronto International Film Festival

    Film News Roundup: Dev Patel to Star in 'Flash Crash' Financial Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Dev Patel will portray a market whiz in a “Flash Crash” movie, the late Marty Sklar is honored at UCLA, “The Conversation” is getting a re-release and Ellen Page’s documentary gets a trailer. PROJECT LAUNCH Dev Patel will star in the adaptation of “Flash Crash: A Trading Savant, a Global [...]

  • Police guard the scenery in front

    Mass Shooting in Germany Raises Security Concerns for Berlin Film Festival

    A mass shooting in the West German city of Hanau has raised security concerns for the Berlin Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday. Local media reports late Wednesday indicate that several people are dead following a shooting. Eight people are believed to have been killed while five others are injured. An unknown assailant is [...]

  • Foto: ©2019 TOM TRAMBOWProjekt: „Lassie Come

    Global Screen Sells 'Lassie Come Home' to More Than 44 Countries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Munich-based world sales company Global Screen has pre-sold the new adaptation of Eric Knight novel’s “Lassie Come Home,” whose canine character was first brought to the big screen more than 75 years ago, to more than 44 countries. Territories include Italy (Lucky Red), France (Mediawan Rights), Scandinavia (Angel Scandinavia), Israel (Film House), CIS (Volga Film), [...]

  • Paramount Players

    Paramount Players Loses Executives Matt Dines, Ali Bell

    Paramount Players has lost two of its executives, with Matt Dines and Ali Bell leaving their posts as executive vice presidents of development and production. A spokesman for Paramount told Variety that there are no plans to shutter the three-year-old division in the wake of the departures. Wyck Godfrey, Paramount’s motion pictures group president, remains [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content