Ted Knight (December 7, 1923 – August 26, 1986) was an American actor best known for playing the comedic role of Ted Baxter in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Henry Rush in Too Close for Comfort, and Judge Elihu Smails in Caddyshack.
Born Tadeusz Wladyslaw Konopka to a Polish-American family in Terryville in Litchfield County, Connecticut, Knight dropped out of high school to enlist for military service in World War II. He was a member of A Company, 296th Combat Engineer Battalion, earning five battle stars while serving in the European Theatre.
During the postwar years, Knight studied acting in Hartford, Connecticut. He became proficient with puppets and ventriloquism, which led to steady work as a television kiddie-show host at WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1950 to 1955. In 1955, he left Providence for Albany, New York, where he landed a job at station WROW-TV (now WTEN), hosting The Early Show featuring MGM movies and a kids’ variety show, playing a "Gabby Hayes" type character named "Windy Knight". He was also a radio announcer for sister station WROW radio. He left the station in 1957 after receiving advice from station manager (and future Capital Cities Chairman) Thomas S. Murphy that he should take his talents to Hollywood.
Knight spent most of the 1950s and 1960s doing commercial voice-overs and essaying minor television and movie roles. He was the policeman guarding Norman Bates at the end of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). He also guest starred on the syndicated television series Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges, during the 1961 season in the episode titled "The Defector". In the 1962-1963 season, he appeared as "Haskell" in the short-lived drama and situation comedy The New Loretta Young Show on CBS. He played Phil Sterling on the ABC soap opera The Young Marrieds in the early 1960s. He appeared frequently in television shows such as Highway Patrol, How to Marry a Millionaire, Peter Gunn, Bourbon Street Beat, The Donna Reed Show (in the episode "April Fool" on April 1, 1959), Pete and Gladys, The Eleventh Hour, Bonanza, The Man and the Challenge, Combat!, McHale's Navy (including one episode as boy Admiral "Go Go" Granger), Get Smart, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke (as Mr. Rabb, esq.) and The Wild Wild West. His final movie role was in the golf comedy Caddyshack, where he played a judge fed up with the shenanigans of a guest at the golf club, played by Rodney Dangerfield.
Knight's distinctive speaking voice brought him work as an announcer, notably as narrator of most of Filmation studio's superhero cartoons as well as voice of incidental characters. He was narrator of the first season of the Super Friends, while other animated television series featuring his work included the voices of the opening narrator and team leader Commander Jonathan Kidd in Fantastic Voyage.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
His role as the vain and untalented WJM newscaster Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show brought Knight widespread recognition and his greatest success. He received six Emmy Award nominations for the role, winning the Emmy for "Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Comedy" in 1973 and 1976.
Knight used some of this character's style for regional commercials. In the Cleveland area during the early to late 1970s, a newsman simply known as "Ted" would provide news of the events at a local shopping center known as Southgate USA, often finishing the 60-second spot with a comedic flair, including wearing a jacket that resembled his blue "WJM" blazer. The spots were produced by UAB Productions for Southgate USA. UAB Productions was the local production arm of United Artists Broadcasting, which owned WUAB-TV in the Cleveland area at that time.
After The Mary Tyler Moore Show's run, Knight guest-starred in "Mr. Dennis Steps Out," the October 26, 1977, episode of the situation comedy Busting Loose, as Roger Dennis, the owner of an escort service in New York City. This episode was spun off into its own show, The Ted Knight Show, giving Knight his first starring role. The Ted Knight Show was a disappointment, lasting for only six episodes in the spring of 1978.
Knight appeared in one episode of The Love Boat as a rival cruise captain, Captain Gunner Nordquist, versus Mary Tyler Moore Show co-star Gavin MacLeod's Captain Merrill Stubing. This was broadcast in March 1982 as Season 5, Episodes 24 and 25, of The Love Boat, whose segments were titled "Pride of the Pacific," "The Viking's Son," "Separate Vacations," "The Experiment," and "Getting to Know You."
Too Close for Comfort
Knight landed the lead role as the kind, curmudgeonly cartoonist Henry Rush in the series Too Close for Comfort in 1980. During scenes in which Henry draws in his bedroom, Knight used his earlier acquired ventriloquism talents for comical conversations with a hand-puppet version of his comic book's main character "Cosmic Cow." Throughout the run of the series, Knight would wear sweatshirts from various colleges and universities. The sweatshirts were often sent to him by students who were fans of the show. The show was cancelled by ABC after three seasons, but first-run episodes continued to be produced and successfully syndicated. In its final season, the show was retooled with Knight's character leaving cartooning to become a newspaper owner and editor and was renamed The Ted Knight Show, although it aired as Too Close for Comfort in rerun syndication. Production ended in 1986 due to Knight's illness.
In 1948, he married Dorothy Smith, and the couple had three children: Ted, Jr., Elyse, and Eric.
In January 1985, Knight was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the television industry. It is located at 6673 Hollywood Boulevard.
A few months after the end of the Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1977, Knight was diagnosed with cancer for which he received various forms of treatment over several years. In 1985, the cancer returned as colon cancer which, despite rigorous treatment, eventually began to spread to his bladder and throughout his lower gastrointestinal tract.
Knight died on August 26, 1986, from complications of surgery; he was 62. Knight was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His grave marker bears the name Theodore C. Konopka (and, at the bottom, the words "Bye Guys", a reference to his Ted Baxter catchphrase "Hi, guys!")
His hometown of Terryville, Connecticut, dedicated the bridge on Canal Street over the Pequabuck River in his memory. There is a bronze plaque bearing his likeness on the bridge.
- Paradis, John (1986-08-27). "Terryville Recalls Favorite Son Fondly". The Bristol Press. http://www.billjerome.com/tedknight/hisdeath/bp_860827_we.html.
- "WJAR Turns 60". Providence Business News 10 July 2009. http://www.pbn.com/WJAR-TV-marks-60th-birthday-tonight,43515. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- "WJAR's Ted Knight". Providence Journal 23 February 1955. http://www.billjerome.com/tedknight/misc/pj_550223_we.html. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- Ted Knight from Caddyshack - Celebrity Biographies at Film.com
- Kehr, Dave. "Movies: AboutTed Knight". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/person/38822/Ted-Knight. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes and Nobel. 2004. pp. 716. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1.
- Walk of Fame listing for Ted Knight
- Wilborn Hampton, "Ted Knight, Winner of 2 Emmy Awards For Television Series". New York Times obituary, August 27, 1986 Retrieved 2011-11-26.
- Reid, Jean (1987-04-09). "Plymouth Dedicates Ted Knight Bridge". Waterbury Republican. http://www.billjerome.com/tedknight/hisdeath/wr_870409_th.html. Retrieved 2012-05-13.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ted Knight.|
- Ted Knight at the Internet Movie Database
- Ted Knight at AllMovie
- Ted Knight at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Ted Knight fansite
- Interview with Lydia Cornell by Michael Sutton[dead link]
- Interview with Lydia Cornell on the podcast The Future and You (anecdotes about Ted Knight and Too Close For Comfort)
- Link to the home page of the Ted Knight Memorial 'Gof' Tournament
- Ted Knight at Find a Grave
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