Sunday, September 20, 2009
A Tribute to the Busiest Actor in the 1960s
It wasn’t that Whit Bissell was a great actor—his gift was being able to play any role convincingly. He could portray the kindly white-haired physician, the authoritative Army general, the menacing alien, the comforting father, the politician, or the undertaker (as he did in the opening scene in The Magnificent Seven).
He didn’t get many leading roles, though he played Professor Frankenstein in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). It was a juicy role that provided his most famous line of dialogue, directed toward his teenaged monstrous creation: “Speak. I know you have a civil tongue in your head, because I sewed it back myself!”
In the 1950s, he endeared himself to science fiction and horror fans with supporting performances in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Monster on the Campus, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. He received belated recognition when he received a life career award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1994.
His only regular gig was on the 1967-68 ABC sci fi series Time Tunnel, in which he played General Haywood Kirk. It was a thankless role (time travelers James Darren and Robert Colbert had all the fun), but Whit played it with his usual professionalism.
Off camera, Whit Bissell was actively involved in both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He died in 1996 at the age of 86.