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- Who is your favorite Bonanza character?: Joe
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Alias: "Sam the Bartender"
The man we all know as "Sam the Bartender" was born Bernard "Bern" Hoffman, on February 17, 1913, in Baltimore, Maryland. Bern was an athlete in college, where he studied to be a doctor. Bern's life ended up quite differently, however. Along the way, he even became an explosives expert in World War II!
Although you know Bern as character actor, he actually got his start as a Broadway "song and dance man." Hoffman began his career in 1938, appearing in a series of uncredited roles. He made his debut with Jan Kiepra and Martha Eggerth in the 1944 revival of "The Merry Widow." That same year, Bern was signed by Producer Mike Todd to play the part of "Pugacheff," one of Mae West's leading men in "Catherine Was Great." On tour, he played Pawnee Bill opposite Mary Martin, in "Annie Get Your Gun." (c. 1952)
In 1956, Bern returned to Broadway in the part of Eddie Benaro in "The Hot Corner." When the original Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls" opened up at the St. James Theater in New York City, Bern enjoyed a record-breaking run as singer Joey Biltmore. He also acted in the musical production "Lend An Ear."
It was also in this year that Bern created the role of "Earthquake McGoon" in the Broadway version of "L'il Abner." It was a move that would change his life, forever.
Although he went on to other, higher profile acting ventures, he returned to the stage in 1962, touring the country as Fatso O'Rear in "Do Re Mi."
"L'il Abner" was based on Al Capp's comic strip. The show opened on November 15, 1956, and had a moderately successful run of 693 performances. Choreographer Michael Kidd and female lead Edie Adams (Daisy Mae) won Tony awards, and the male lead, newcomer Peter Palmer (L'il Abner) won the Theater World Award.
The cast recorded an album. He can be seen below, in the recording studio.
Bern played the part of Erik Torp, opposite George Raft, in the moody mystery drama "Nocturne," in 1946. Produced by longtime Alfred Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison, it was a big money maker for R.K.O.
Here, we see Bern in an uncredited role as a wrestler in the film "The Naked City." (1948)
Bern has worked with some of the big names in Hollywood, in addition to George Raft. He appeared as a singer with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller in "On the Town," (1949) and with Henry Fonda and Leslie Caron as the Soprano in "The Man Who Understood Women." (1959) Bern had a part as a bartender alongside Ray Walston, Dean Martin, Kim Novak and Felicia Farr in "Kiss Me, Stupid," in 1964. (You might remember Felicia, she played Joe's mother in "Marie, My Love.") He also acted with Ralph Bellamy (in the part of the Russian Premier) in the TV movie "Missiles of October," in 1974.
In the 1960's, Bern settled in North Hollywood.
There, he recreated his role for Paramount, in a movie version of L'il Abner.
Is this really you, Sam???
The entire movie can be seen on TMC, and is also available for viewing, online.
Here is a blooper reel, which provides a good sampling of the talents you never knew "Sam" had.
No entertainment needed in the bar-Sam could have provided it all-all by himself!
Keep an eye on the graphics, to catch the "bloopers."
Bern went on to make other movies, and work with other big names: Richard Burton and Barbara Rush in "The Bramble Bush" (1960) and Robert Wagner in "Don't Just Stand There." (1968)
Hoffman's first Bonanza appearance was as a fisherman in the 1963 ep "A Woman Lost:"
His name is included in the credits for a total of thirteen episodes, between the years 1963 and 1971. In some, he is merely listed as "bartender." In "Little Man, Ten Feet Tall," (1963) he is actually credited as "Bernie the Bartender!" His first appearance as "Sam" came in "The Gentleman From New Orleans," in 1964.
Bruno VeSota took over the role of Sam the Bartender, during the '65-'69 seasons. Actor Remo Pisani also was seen as bartender for the '68 - '70 seasons.
In addition to his Bonanza appearances, Bern acted in hundreds of other popular television shows, between 1949 and 1976. One series, "Major Dell Conway of the Flying Tigers," was about an American secret agent, posing as a pilot for the Flying Tigers airline. Bern played the real-life character of Caribou Jones, a member of an exclusive pre-World War II unit whose mission was to shoot down Japanese planes, in order to protect the Chinese from being invaded. Sadly, the 1951 series is now believed to be completely lost.
Among Bern's other shows were: "Studio One In Hollywood," (1949) "The Phil Silvers Show," (1955, 1956, and 1957) "Laredo," (1965) "Lost in Space," (1967) "Bewitched," (1967) "Ironside," (1973) "Streets of San Francisco," (1973, 1974) and "The Brady Bunch." (1974)
Bern passed away in a hospital in Sherman Oaks, California, on December 15, 1979, after a prolonged illness. He was 66 years old.
For those of you who would care to remember Bern in a personal way,
you can visit his grave
in Mount Sinai Memorial Park, in Los Angeles. [/color]
Bern as Thor, in "Lost in Space" (1967)
L'il Abner (1959)
"Kiss Me, Stupid!" (1964)
Bernard Hoffman Bio and images courtesy of Joe'sGal
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