Al Checco, Comic Character Actor, Dies at 93
By Mike Barnes
He was seen on 'Batman,' 'The Munsters' and in 'The Party' and appeared in many projects with his pal Don Knotts.
Al Checco, a comedic character actor with a familiar face and dozens of credits who often appeared onscreen with his Army buddy, the late Don Knotts, has died. He was two days shy of his 94th birthday.
Checco died peacefully Sunday of natural causes at his home in Studio City, Ron Buccieri, a friend of the actor for many years, told The Hollywood Reporter.
A native of Pittsburgh, Checco is known to Batman fans as one of The Penguin’s (Burgess Meredith) henchmen in a first-season installment in which the cagey bird appears to have gone straight (he hasn’t). And when the Munsters win a membership to the Mockingbird Heights Country Club in a 1965 episode, it’s Checco who’s working the bar, hanging out with Grandpa (Al Lewis).
In the 1976 CBS telefilm Helter Skelter, Checco had perhaps his most serious role as real-life supermarket executive Leno LaBianca, who was killed with his wife in their home by the Manson Family one day after they had murdered actress Sharon Tate and five others in 1969. A carving fork used to cut the word “war” on LaBianca’s stomach was left protruding from his corpse.
Checco met Knotts during World War II when the two enlisted men served in an Army unit that was assembled to entertain the troops on front lines throughout the Pacific. After Checco sang, Knotts followed him with a ventriloquist act.
“When the Japanese bombed us, the sirens would go off, and we’d have to stop the show, jump in our foxholes or whatever, and then come out and finish the show,” Checco recalled in an interview after Knotts died in 2006. “This went on for a number of weeks. I kept suggesting to Don that we resume the show with him going first to get it off to a good start because my song was OK, but it was nothing special. Don would say, ‘No, no, Al, what you do is good. You warm up the audience.’ Of course, he was just conning me.”
Checco later guest-starred opposite Knotts in two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show (as a bank robber in 1962’s “The Bank Job” and as a thief scheming to recover his lost loot in 1965’s “If I Had a Million Dollars”). He also worked with the nervous actor in the movies The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967) and How to Frame a Figg (1971).
A longtime resident of Studio City, Checco appeared in such films as Hotel (1967) starring Rod Taylor, Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) and the Steve McQueen action classic Bullitt (1968) as well as in Angel in My Pocket (1969) with Griffith, Skin Game (1971), The Terminal Man (1974), Pete's Dragon (1977) and Zero to Sixty (1978).
On television, he could be found on dozens of series, including The Phil Silvers Show, Mister Ed, Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Flying Nun, The F.B.I., Here’s Lucy, The Rockford Files, Highway to Heaven and Scrubs, his final onscreen credit, in 2004.
Checco graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh with a degree in drama in 1946 and headed to New York, where he worked as a stage manager on Broadway before turning to acting.
He married actress Jean Bradley in 1953. She contracted polio in Milan, Italy while starring in a touring production of Oklahoma! and died at age 28 in 1955. Bradley had just replaced lead actress Shirley Jones, who had left to film the movie version. Checco never remarried.
According to Buccieri, Checco gave away the bulk of his fortune to his college (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) and donated his home, in his wife's name, to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 29 at Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Sherman Oaks.
Born: 7/21/1921, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Died: 7/19/2015, Studio City, California, U.S.A.
Al Checco’s westerns – actor:
Bronco (TV) – 1962 (Ken Rodney)
The Big Valley (TV) – 1969 (desk clerk)
There Was a Crooked Man – 1970 (Wheatley)
Bonanza (TV) – 1970, 1971 (Hornsby, Rufus)
Skin Game – 1971 (room clerk)
Cade’s County – 1972 (Merle)
Kung Fu (TV) – 1975 (referee)
Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang (TV) – 1982 (Floyd Wilkins)