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Actor Orson Bean dies in car accident in Los Angeles

The 91-year-old was best known in the US for appearances on the panel show To Tell The Truth, and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Orson Bean (AP)

The American actor and comedian Orson Bean has died after being hit by a car in Los Angeles. He was 91.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Bean’s death is being investigated as a “traffic-related” fatality after an incident in the Venice area of the city.

According to early reports, a man walking in the area was clipped by one car and fell, before being struck by a second vehicle.

Bean enlivened such TV game shows as To Tell the Truth, and was a familiar face on TV screens across the world as a crotchety merchant on Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.

He appeared in a number of films — notably, Anatomy Of A Murder and Being John Malkovich – and starred in several top Broadway productions, receiving a Tony nod for the 1962 Comden-Green musical Subways Are for Sleeping.

But fans remembered him most for his many TV appearances from the 1950s onward.

“Mr Bean’s face comes wrapped with a sly grin, somewhat like the expression of a child when sneaking his hand into the cookie jar,” The New York Times noted in a review of his 1954 variety show, The Blue Angel.

It said he showed “a quality of being likeable even when his jokes fall flat”.

Born in Burlington, Vermont, in 1928 as Dallas Frederick Burrows, he never lost the Yankee accent that proved a perfect complement to the dry, laconic storytelling that established him as popular humourist. He had picked the stage name Orson Bean “because it sounded funny”.

Bean’s quick wit and warm personality made him a favourite panellist for six years on To Tell the Truth. The game required the panellists to quiz three contestants to figure out which one was a real notable and which two were impostors.

Orson Bean
Orson Bean with his third wife, Alley Mills, pictured in 2009 (AP)

The dramatic outcome inspired a national and international catchphrase as the host turned to the three and said: “Will the real (contestant’s name) please stand up?”

Bean’s style appealed to Johnny Carson, and he appeared on The Tonight Show more than 200 times.

But his early career was hobbled for a time when he found himself on the Hollywood blacklist in the early years of the Cold War.

“Basically I was blacklisted because I had a cute communist girlfriend,” he explained in a 2001 interview. “I stopped working on TV for a year.”

The blacklist did not stop him in the theatre. Bean starred on Broadway as a timid fan magazine writer in George Axelrod’s 1955 Hollywood spoof Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? alongside Jayne Mansfield and Walter Matthau.

He also starred on Broadway with Maureen O’Sullivan in Never Too Late and with Melina Mercouri in Illya Darling, based on her hit film Never On Sunday.

Bean took a break from his career for a time in the 1970s when he dropped out and moved to Australia, where he lived a hippie lifestyle. But he returned to the US and – after a period as a self-described “house-husband” – resumed his career.

In the 1990s, he played the shopkeeper Loren Bray on the long-running drama Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. He remained active on the screen in recent years with guest shots in such shows as Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family.

Meanwhile, his politics turned more conservative. He became related to a leading right-wing commentator, Andrew Breitbart, when his daughter, Susannah, married him. Breitbart died in 2012 and Steve Bannon, later a top adviser to Donald Trump, took over Breitbart’s eponymous website. Bean had penned occasional columns for the site.

Bean also wrote a memoir called Too Much Is Not Enough, and a book about a non-traditional therapy called Me And The Orgone.

He had already shown his interest in non-traditional thinking in 1964 when he bought a building in Manhattan and opened up a school based on the philosophy of Summerhill, the progressive British school founded by AS Neill.

That same year, he co-founded the Sons of the Desert, an organisation dedicated to comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, which has chapters around the world.

More recently, income from Dr Quinn and other voice and acting work allowed Bean to finance the Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble in Venice, where he appeared with his third wife, the actress Alley Mills.

He had a daughter, Michele, from his first marriage to Jacqueline de Sibour, and sons Max and Ezekiel and daughter Susannah from his marriage to Carolyn Maxwell.

PA