Introduced botched by Stage Show host, Tommy Dorsey.
(February 1, 1908-May 1, 1982) was an American comic actor influenced by Harpo Marx's slapstick to specialize in pantomime acting as his career. Born Eugene Hume in Columbus, Ohio, he is best remembered as the mute servant Bernardo on Walt Disney's live-action television series Zorro (1957-1959).
Gene's career began at an early age, working with his father Earl, a magician. He learned to be quiet when his father had him dressed up as a lass on stage. However, parts of his career were anything but silent. He was briefly a radio personality, broadcasting on Toledo radio in 1925.
His film debut was Susie's Affairs in 1934 as Slug the Banjoist. The next year, he had a brief specialty part playing banjo in the early Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers musical Roberta.
Sheldon appeared in the Broadway revue Priorities of 1942, performing a comedy banjo act in which he did not speak, wearing an outfit resembling the costume of silent film comedian Harry Langdon and mimicking some of Langdon's distinctive gestures.
By the 1950s and 1960s, most of Sheldon's work was on various Walt Disney programs. One of his often-repeated acts, seen in the "Golden Horseshoe Revue" episode of the Disney anthology television series, was as a banjo player who kept getting his fingers stuck in the strings. After several minutes he would finally get them "un-stuck" and play a vigorous riff on his banjo.
Sheldon appeared in a speaking role as the genie Ali in the 1945 movie musical Where Do We Go From Here? and in the 1960 film Toby Tyler, in which he played Sam Treat, a clown and animal trainer who is one of Toby's mentors and protectors. Toby's other protector, gruff wagon driver Ben Cotter, was played by Henry Calvin, who co-starred on Zorro as Sergeant Garcia.
A year later, he starred in Disney's version of Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland released before Christmas by the Walt Disney Company. He was teamed with Calvin once more as a kind of ersatz Laurel and Hardy (who had starred in the 1934 version of Babes in Toyland).
His best remembered role was as Bernardo, Diego's mute (but not deaf) servant on Zorro. As established in the series' first episode, when Diego de la Vega confides to Bernardo his intention to pretend to be a helpless intellectual rather than a man of action, Bernardo decides to support him by pretending to be deaf and foolish. In this way, Bernardo is able to spy for Diego/Zorro without arousing suspicion. This characterization, an innovation over the deaf-mute Bernardo of the original stories, employed Sheldon's pantomime skills while making the character more integral to the series. Like the character Garcia, Bernardo was usually accompanied on screen by a humorous musical theme. Sheldon reprised the role in four further Zorro adventures that appeared on the Walt Disney anthology television series in 1960-1961.
Gene married Margaret McCann on December 11, 1944 in Las Vegas, Nevada. They had one son, David and one daughter, Tracy. Sheldon died in Tarzana, California, from a heart attack on May 1, 1982. He was cremated.
The other day I drove through the neighborhood where I grew up and looked at my old house and the houses of the friends I grew up with. Everything had changed.
I ate my lunch (from the local McDonalds, which has been renovated a dozen times or more since I moved) in the parking lot of my old elementary school. They took out the basketball courts where I learned to play tag and wiffleball and replaced them with new "safe" playground equipment. The only part of the old playground equipment left is a lone swingset, which must be 50 years old this year.
Jerry Hunsberger and I lined up before the start of the 99th annual Fourth of July parade in the Travis section of Staten Island on Saturday for Vince "Vappo" Pagliano's Funny Factory Productions. This one was notable for the fact that it was the first time we performed the act as "The Professor" for a parade.
The Professor has worked the act at a few racetracks and classic car shows but, as much as we've planned it, we haven't performed the act that way for a parade and we weren't sure that it would go over as well as my usual auguste look.
We needn't have worried. They bought the character immediately and the act went over like gangbusters. I'm very happy to report that we were a big hit with the huge crowds all along the parade route.
Thanks go out to Vince and his crew for a great time!