Comic actor Robert Ball was a fixture in television and, to a lesser degree, movies, from the late 1950s until the early 1990s. Mostly seen in group settings and character roles -- and billed variously as Robert Ball, Robert E. Ball, Bob Ball, and Bobby Ball -- his somewhat diminutive size only served to accentuate the impact of his wry, sardonic delivery, an attribute that various producers (including Leonard Stern and, later, Carl Reiner and Garry Marshall) used to piercing effect in episodes of their television series. Ball made his small-screen debut during 1957 on the series The Adventures of McGraw, and a year later he was part of the cast of Bruno VeSota's The Brain Eaters (1958), a low-budget science fiction film. These were both straight acting jobs, and any humor in The Brain Eaters, in particular, was wholly unintended. But when VeSota -- a busy character actor who occasionally worked as a filmmaker -- next occupied the director's chair four years later for Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962), Ball (billed as Bob Ball) had the lead role of Private Philbrick and was running on all comic cylinders. Alas, the movie wasn't up to what Ball and costar Frankie Ray brought to their roles, and it was singularly unappreciated by most critics. It has since become a kind of cult touchstone among aficionados of low-budget science fiction, horror, and so-called "psychotronic" cinema.
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In between The Brain Eaters and Invasion of the Star Creatures, Ball busied himself with small roles on every kind of television series, including Peter Gunn, Perry Mason, Route 66, Frontier Circus, Dr. Kildare, The Twilight Zone, I'm Dickens...He's Fenster, Mr. Novak, Ben Casey, The Jack Benny Program, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was particularly effective on the latter, in the episode "Bupkis", as Rob Petrie's larcenous former Army buddy who had signed his name to a song he had almost nothing to do with. Ball was something of a chameleon-like presence and could melt into a part, and even those familiar with his work could miss him in some of those roles. But stars and producers obviously liked his work. Dick Van Dyke Show creator/producer Carl Reiner used him in The Comic (1969) and in the subsequent New Dick Van Dyke Show, and longtime Reiner cohort Howard Morris used him in Who's Minding the Mint (1967).
Ball had a relatively easy time slipping into the counter-culture era, getting roles in such representative films of the period as Easy Rider (as one of the mimes), Bunny O'Hare, and Zachariah. Continuing in television, he worked steadily across genres, including Westerns such as Bonanza and '70s topical sitcoms like Maude. Producer Garry Marshall -- himself a Dick Van Dyke Show alumnus -- gave him memorable comedic roles in The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, and Happy Days; and Ball was one of the Marshall stock company picked up for the feature films Young Doctors in Love (1982) and Beaches (1988). This was, of course, sandwiched in between work on Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, and a dozen other TV series. Ball retired after 1992. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi