TV clowns In vintage dramas

Forgive your fellow Titanic viewer should you hear shouts of “Paging Dr. Bombay!” when Bewitched regular Bernard Fox goes down with the ship. It’s one of those moments when the past catches up with an actor and punctures the suspension of disbelief that watching fiction requires. In the video age, the future plays tricks on movies too — as it did when these supporting players grew into cherished sitcom buffoons.

Jim Backus TV Alter Ego: Rich, snooty Thurston Howell III, stranded on Gilligan’s Island Early Dramatic Role: Ineffectual father to James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause Sitcom Foreshadowing: Backus to Dean: “Don’t I buy you everything you want?… You get a bicycle, a car…we give you love and affection, don’t we?”

Norman Fell TV Alter Ego: Meddlesome landlord Mr. Roper on Three’s Company Early Dramatic Role : Meddlesome landlord in 1967’s The Graduate Sitcom Foreshadowing: Suspiciously eyeing prospective tenant Dustin Hoffman, Fell asks: “You’re not one of those…outside agitators?”

Richard Deacon TV Alter Ego: Grouchy Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show Early Dramatic Role: A skeptical doc in 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers Sitcom Foreshadowing: He scoffs at Kevin McCarthy: “Plants from another world taking over human beings — mad as a March hare!”

Ted Knight TV Alter Ego: Dim-bulb anchor Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show Early Dramatic Role: He guards Anthony Perkins at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) Sitcom Foreshadowing: Before Perkins’ monologue, Knight levels his trademark solemn stare.

Jerry Mathers TV Alter Ego: Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver Early Dramatic Role: He stumbles on the title character’s dead body in Hitch’s 1955 The Trouble With Harry Sitcom Foreshadowing: When he and mom Shirley MacLaine find the corpse, Mathers asks, “Why don’t he get up and do something?”