Born Thomas Poston, October 17, 1921, in Columbus, OH; died after a brief illness on April 30, 2007, in Los Angeles, CA. Actor. Known mainly for playing the lovable yet clueless handyman George Utley on Newhart, actor Tom Poston made a career out of playing lovable, bumbling idiots. Whether it was the forgetful man on the street or the clown who lived in a closet, Poston found ways to keep the audience laughing. While not one for leading roles, he found continuous work in film, stage, and television.
Poston was born in 1921 in Columbus, Ohio. He began performing at age nine as an acrobat in a troupe called the Flying Zebleys. He attended Bethany College in West Virginia but soon joined the fight during World War II as an Army Air Forces pilot. Pos-ton later attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Soon after he auditioned for—and won—a small role in the stage production of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Poston followed his first role with parts on both stage and on television. He soon joined the TV program Entertainment as the emcee. Poston was also a panelist on the quiz show To Tell the Truth and host of the television show Split Personality.
Poston soon came to the attention of comedian Steve Allen. He auditioned and was so frightened he forgot his name when asked. According to the Los Angeles Times, citing an interview with Newshouse News Service, Poston admitted, “[Allen] asked me my name and darned if my mind didn’t go blank. I sat there like a big dope and held my head. Steve thought I was kidding. He said ‘Hey, that’s great. We’ll use it.’ From then on, I was a regular.” Poston’s portrayal of the man who could not remember his name earned him an Emmy award in 1959.
When The Steve Allen Show moved to Los Angeles, Poston chose to stay behind in New York. He continued to find work in film, television, and on stage. He landed roles in Broadway shows such as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Mary, Mary.
Poston took on few leading roles, preferring to play supporting roles. He had the opportunity to play the lead in the television sitcom, Get Smart, but he opted for a guest role instead. According to the Los Angeles Times, he stated “I’d rather be working my head off as a supporting actor than be a giant star unable to get a job.”
Poston landed a role on comedian Bob Newhart’s self-titled show. He played a college friend of Newhart’s character. The part was recurring, but it began a long partnership with Newhart that lasted two decades. After The Bob Newhart Show ended in 1978, Poston joined the cast of the hugely popular sitcom Mork & Mindy as the grumpy Mr. Bickley.
In the 1980s, Poston earned a role on Newhart. He played George Utley, the handyman who could not fix anything. Audiences loved him in this role. When the show ended, Poston continued working steadily despite his age. He had guest roles on several highly rated shows, including That ’70s Show, Home Improvement, Murphy Brown, Will & Grace, Alice, and Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Poston also continued to win film roles, with his last roles on Christmas with the Kranks and Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement.
Poston died on April 30, 2007, in his home in Los Angeles, following a brief illness. He was 85. His friend, Bob Newhart, released a statement quoted in the Chicago Tribune, describing him as a “versatile and veteran performer and a kindhearted individual.” Poston is survived by three children. His wife, fellow co-star on The Bob Newhart Show Suzanne Pleshette, passed away almost a year later on January 19, 2008. Sources: Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2007, sec. 3, p. 10; CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/TV/05/01/tv.obit.poston.ap/index.html (May 2, 2007); Entertainment Weekly, May 11, 2007, p. 20; E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/news/article/index.jsp?uuid=68c3003a-71c9-4476-89d0-375c708451e4 (May 2, 2007); Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2007, p. B8; New York Times, May 2, 2007, p. A19; People, May 14, 2007, p. 106; Washington Post, May 2, 2007, p. B7.
—Ashyia N. Henderson