Ray Walston (December 2, 1914 - January 1, 2001), was a stage, television, and film character actor who played the title character on the situation comedy My Favorite Martian and Judge Henry Bone on the drama series Picket Fences.
He was born Herman Walston in New Orleans, Louisiana to middle-class parents, Harrie and Mittie Walston. He started acting at an early age, began his tenure as a "spear carrier" rounding out productions at many New Orleans theaters. He was consumed with small roles with stock companies, where he not only starred in travelling shows but also worked at a movie theater, selling tickets and cleaning the stage floors. His family moved to Houston, Texas, where he joined the Houston Civic Theater's repertory company undo Margo Jones, debuting in 1938.
Walston was very popular with Margo Jones's team of actors before he travelled to Cleveland, Ohio, where he spent three years with the Cleveland Playhouse. He then traveled to New York, New York, where he made his Broadway debut in a 1945 production of Hamlet, and would later work in shows directed by Jose Ferrer and George Abbott. Abbott cast Walston as Satan in Damn Yankees!, with dancer Gwen Verdon as his sexy aide Lola. The chemistry between Verdon and Walston was such that they both garnered critical success and won awards for their roles. After a decade in the New York theater, he won a Tony award, and he and Verdon were invited to reprise their roles in the movie version of Damn Yankees! (1958).
Film and Television Work
Walston had a successful movie career in addition to Damn Yankees!, beginning with South Pacific (1958), Say One for Me (1959), Tall Story, Portrait in Black and The Apartment (all in 1960), Convicts 4 (1962), Wives and Lovers and Who's Minding the Store? (both in 1963), Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Caprice (1967), Paint Your Wagon (1969), and The Sting (1973).
Walston went on to some of his greatest success on the small screen. He starred as the Martian, Uncle Martin, on My Favorite Martian from 1963 to 1966. His co-star was Bill Bixby.
After his starring role in Martian, he returned to beloved character actor status in television of the 1970s and 1980s, appearing as a guest star in numerous shows, such as Love, American Style, The Rookies, Mission: Impossible, Ellery Queen, The Six Million Dollar Man, Little House on the Prairie, and Bill Bixby’s The Incredible Hulk (on which he played a magician), among many others.
In 1984, Walston played a judge on an episode of Night Court. Six years later, he would work with David E. Kelley while guest-starring on L.A. Law as a suffering father. These roles led to his work as the self-centered Judge Henry Bone on Picket Fences, which began production in 1992 for CBS. It originally was a recurring role on the show but proved to be so popular that he was given a starring role the following year. In his late 70s he was nominated for Emmy Awards for the first time. He was nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, winning twice in 1995 and 1996 for his work on Picket Fences. Though Walston enjoyed his work in the series, its ratings were beginning to slip and CBS cancelled the show after 4 seasons in 1996.
End of his career
After gaining popularity both as the Martian and as the judge on the small screen, his career was coming to an end when he played Grandfather Walter Addams in Addams Family Reunion (1998), the straight-to-video second sequel to the blockbuster 1991 film The Addams Family, this time starring starring Tim Curry as Gomez Addams and Daryl Hannah as Morticia Addams. One year later he had a featured role in the movie remake of his hit series, My Favorite Martian (1999). His final movie role was in the independent flm Early Bird Special. Just before his death, his final TV guest appearance was on 7th Heaven.
Walston died on January 1, 2001 (New Years Day) in Beverly Hills, California of natural causes, just one month after his 86th birthday. He was survived by his widow, Ruth, his daughter, Katherine Ann, and two grandchildren.
Walston tended to play characters that could be described as "curmudgeonly". His Martian was constantly ridiculing the primitiveness of the earth's populace, and his attitude was exacerbated by his inability to fix his spacecraft. His forced earthbound existence clearly seemed like a Martian version of Purgatory to him - an ironic comparison as his first major role, Mr. Applegate in Damn Yankees!, was an especially "devilish" character.
Walston's credits include:
- Early Bird Special (2001)
- My Favorite Martian (1999)
- Addams Family Reunion (1998)
- Star Trek: The Next Generation (1992) and Star Trek: Voyager (1998-1999) (TV series) (recurring role as the character Boothby)
- House Arrest (1996)
- The Stand (1994) (TV mini-series)
- Picket Fences (1992-1996) (TV series)
- Of Mice and Men (1992)
- Space Case (1992)
- Popcorn (1991)
- Ski Patrol (1990)
- Blood Salvage (1990)
- Fine Gold (1989)
- A Man of Passion (1989)
- I Know My First Name Is Steven (1989) (TV movie)
- Saturday the 14th Strikes Back (1988)
- Blood Relations (1988)
- O.C. and Stiggs (1987)
- From the Hip (1987)
- Paramedics (1987)
- Rad (1986)
- Fast Times (1986) (TV series)
- Silver Spoons (1982) (TV series)
- Amazing Stories (1985) (TV series)
- Santa Barbara (1984) (TV series)
- Johnny Dangerously (1984}
- Private School (1983)
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
- O'Hara's Wife (1982)
- Galaxy of Terror (1981)
- Popeye (1980)
- Stop Susan Williams (1979) (TV series)
- The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977)
- Silver Streak (1976)
- The Sting (1973)
- Paint Your Wagon (1969)
- Caprice (1967)
- Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
- Who's Minding the Store? (1963)
- My Favorite Martian (1963-1966) (TV series)
- Wives and Lovers (1963)
- Convicts 4 (1962)
- Portrait in Black (1960)
- The Apartment (1960)
- Tall Story (1960)
- Say One for Me (1959)
- Damn Yankees! (1958)
- South Pacific (1958)
- Kiss Them for Me (1957)