Forgotten history, from Jelly Roll Morton to China Dolls - Off-Ramp for May 31, 2014

Orson Bean, self-confessed "geezer," onstage at Geffen Playhouse

John Rabe

Actor Orson Bean and Off-Ramp host John Rabe taking a selfie at the Geffen Playhouse, where Bean gets top alphabetical billing in "Death of the Author."

John Rabe

Actor Orson Bean, 85, and Off-Ramp host John Rabe, 48, taking a selfie at the Geffen Playhouse. Despite the pose, things are not looking down for the real Mr. Bean, whose IMBD resume goes back decades.

John Rabe

Actor Orson Bean (a founding member of the "Sons of the Desert" Lauren and Hardy club) and Off-Ramp host John Rabe, taking a selfie at the Geffen Playhouse.


Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with Bean about "Death of the Author," now playing at the Geffen Playhouse; his father getting bitten during a panty raid, and being Calvin Coolidge's cousin.

"Ask me anything you want," Orson Bean said. So I did.

Orson Bean, who turns 86 in July, is one of the old school Hollywood raconteurs. He may never have made it into the A-List of actors, but he knew them all and seems satisfied with his long career. His IMDB credits date back to 1952, with few years where he wasn't working in film or TV.

Working backward through the decades, Bean's roles take us from "Hot in Cleveland" and "Desperate Housewives," to "Being John Malkovich" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," to "The Facts of Life" to "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and the animated "Lord of the Rings," to "The Twilight Zone" and "Playhouse 90" ... not to mention a small but pivotal role in 1959's "Anatomy of a Murder," which we'll get into at a later date, and his many appearances on the classic game shows "What's My Line?," "I've Got a Secret," and "To Tell the Truth."

Orson Bean gives advice on telling jokes

So how did he wind up onstage at the Geffen Playhouse in "Death of the Author," written by Steven Drukman and directed by Bart DeLorenzo? Bean says "the director said he read tons and tons of geezers, and decided I was the one. I think I was one of the last people read, but I always feel that at two in the morning, the dame on the next barstool starts looking pretty good."

But he demurs. With his perfect diction, strong features and white hair, he embodies the old Ivy League professor he's playing. "I grew up on Harvard Square and I watched 50-year old men walking around with green book bags slung over their shoulders going for their fourth PhD, never having left the world of academia to alleged reality. And that's the kind of a part I play."

(Orson Bean in 1965. Wikipedia Commons)

Then there's Bean's family tree. "My father was an odd stick," Bean says. "He was a member of MENSA and he was a uniformed yard cop for the Harvard police. And my father made the front page of the Boston Globe during a panty raid, when he was bitten on the leg by a Radcliffe girl. And I told him, be glad it wasn't a taller girl."

(Orson Bean's cousin, the future President Calvin Coolidge)

Bean's also a distant cousin of President Calvin Coolidge. "My grandfather's mother and Cal's mother were sisters, the Moore girls, a randy pair from Plymouth, Vermont." When Coolidge's mother died, when he was 12, her sister took him in to live with their family, including Bean's 12-year old grandfather. "My grandfather had to share his bike with him and his bedroom and everything else and never liked him," not even when Cal became President.

Death of the Author is at the Geffen Playhouse through June 29. It's Written by Steven Drukman, directed by Bart DeLorenzo, and stars Orson Bean, Austin Butler, David Clayton Rogers, and Lyndon Smith. 


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