Carl Ballantine dies at 92
Comic actor known for his role in 'McHale's Navy'
By Mike Barnes
Nov 4, 2009, 06:01 PM ET
Carl Ballantine, who performed feats of bumbling comic magic on
Vaudeville and on television, the movies and in Las Vegas, died Tuesday
of natural causes at his Hollywood home. He was 92.
Perhaps Ballantine's most famous role was as confident con artist and
torpedoman Lester Gruber on 1962-66 ABC comedy "McHale's Navy."
Ballantine, born Meyer Kessler on Chicago's South Side, learned magic
tricks at age 9 from his barber. By 13, he was performing and supporting
One night, a trick went haywire and he threw out some funny lines to
cover things. The audience loved it, the club owner told him to "keep it
up" -- and the Amazing Ballantine was born.
Ballantine caught the end of Vaudeville and the early days of
television. He played the Palace in New York City, the Hippodrome in
Baltimore and many other huge venues of the day.
On TV, he did magic on the shows of Gary Moore, Steve Allen, Milton
Berle, Dinah Shore, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan and David
Copperfield. He played a magician on such series as "Fantasy Island,"
"The Cosby Show" and "Night Court" and appeared in scores of other
Ballantine also did many commercials, including one for the California
Raisins in which he supplied the voice for a character that looked very
much like him.
Ballantine was the first magician to play Las Vegas when he was put on
the bill in 1956 with Harry James, Betty Grable and Sammy Davis Jr. To
promote the act, he rode the Strip on a horse.
His film credits include "The Shakiest Gun in the West" (1968), "The
World's Greatest Lover" (1977), "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992) and
In 1971, he starred on Broadway in the 1971 revival of "A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to the Forum" with Phil Silvers.
Ballantine is survived by his sister, Esther Robinson; his daughter
Saratoga, an actress; and his daughter, Molly, an advertising executive.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to adoption
agency Used Pets in Inglewood, Calif.
BALLANTINE, Carl (Meyer Kessler)
Born: 9/27/1917, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
Died: 11/3/2009, Woodland Hills, California, U.S.A.
Carl Ballantine's westerns - actor:
Laredo (TV) - 1967 (Laemuel Beamish)
The Shaiest Gun in the West - 1968 (Abel Swanson)
The Virginian (TV) - 1971 (Matt)
Saga of Sonora (TV) - 1973 (Ringo)