With a booming voice and a pompous, yet easily flustered elitist persona, actor Ted Knight was a comic tour de force on television and in film for decades. While often remember by the Gen-X set for his stick-in-the-mud, golf-obsessed judge in "Caddyshack" (1980), it was his Emmy-winning characterization as the vain and vastly untalented Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77) that first endeared Knight to the public. He went on to create another loveable buffoon, Henry Rush, on the hit sitcom, "Too Close for Comfort" (ABC, 1980-86), cementing a legacy that few in Hollywood ever hope to achieve.
Knight was born on Dec. 7, 1923 and raised in Terryville, CT. He dropped out of high school to enlist in the military during World War II, where he earned five Bronze Stars as a radio reconnaissance operator in the First Army Group's combat engineers. Reportedly, he was among the first of the Allied troops to enter Berlin at the end of the war. Returning to the United States, Knight studied acting in Hartford, CT at the Randall School of Fine Arts, where he performed in productions of "Grand Hotel" and "Time of Your Life." Like any struggling actor, Knight made ends meet in a variety of odd jobs - disc jockey, singer, ventriloquist and puppeteer - before moving on to the American Theater Wing in New York City, NY. His multiple talents were put to good use at the ABC affiliate in Albany, NY, where he introduced western movies in the character of Windy Knight and hosted a morning news program.
He continued to act on stage, eventually moving west where he found work at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. Knight made the transition from stage to screen, appearing in numerous commercials and television shows like "The Donna Reed Show," (ABC, 1958-1966), "The Twilight Zone," (CBS, 1959-1964), "Gunsmoke" (CBS, 1955-1975), and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (CBS, 1964-69). On the big screen, he later became infamous for his non-speaking role as a police officer near the conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). Knight also put his announcer's voice to work in children's cartoon shows, such as "Aquaman" (CBS, 1970-71) and "The Batman/Superman Hour" (CBS, 1968), the animated version of "Star Trek," (NBC, 1973-75) and - most memorably - as the narrator on "The Super Friends" (ABC, 1973-77), on which he intoned the famous line, "Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice "
It was on the classic sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77), that Knight achieved his greatest success, crafting the overconfident, but often clueless, television news anchor, Ted Baxter. His stern, commanding demeanor was easily stymied when he sailed through authoritarian news reports full of mispronunciations and bungled readings. In a memorable scene, when handed a termination notice with orders to read it aloud, he looked at the paper and said, "You're fried." Knight's performance drew critical attention as well - he won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1973 and 1976, and was nominated four other times.
Knight's follow-up as the temperamental Judge Elihu Smails in the 1980 cult comedy classic "Caddyshack" brought even more notoriety. With memorable comedic confrontations with Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase, a new generation of younger fans was turned on to Knight. During production, rumors abounded that he often clashed with Dangerfield, while Chase slyly pitted the two against each other. Meanwhile, back on television, Knight landed his own series finally - the very short-lived, "The Ted Knight Show," (1977-78), where he played a man running an escort service in New York City. Knight returned to guest star status for a spell, appearing in several episodes of "The Love Boat," (ABC, 1977-1986) in the recurring role of Captain Gunner Norquist, before hosting a fifth-season episode of "Saturday Night Live," (NBC, 1975- ).
In 1980, everything changed when Knight accepted the leading role in the sitcom "Too Close for Comfort." (ABC, 1980-86). In the beloved series, Knight played the over-protective father Henry Rush, who, along with his wife (Nancy Dussault), struggled as the flustered parents of two beautiful daughters (Deborah Van Valkenburgh and Lydia Cornell) who have moved out to the downstairs apartment in their San Francisco duplex. Adding to Rush's misery was his "flamboyant" tenant, Monr (Jim J. Bullock), who over the course of the series, proved to be an effective - albeit, unwitting - foil. Oddly enough, Knight's character on "Too Close for Comfort" was a cartoonist who drew with a puppet on his hand, harkening back to his early experience with puppetry.
Though "Too Close for Comfort" remained a ratings winner its first few seasons, the show made a fatal move to another time slot that ultimately ended its network run in May 1983. But Fox - then a fledgling network looking to compete - picked up the show and began running new episodes in syndication. In 1985, producers decided to revamp "Too Close for Comfort," having Henry Rush quit his cartoonist job in favor of becoming editor of the fictional Marin Bugler and moving with his wife - and pesky neighbor Monr - to Marin County. Renamed "The Ted Knight Show" (Syndicated, 1985-86), the new series only enjoyed momentary success because, in 1985, Knight was diagnosed with colon cancer. The following year, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his urinary tract, but complications forced him back into the hospital. He returned to his Pacific Palisades home, only to die on Aug. 26, 1986 at the age of only 62.