With his unusual gaunt features and intense expression, William Lanteau made a career out of playing eccentrics and character roles. His role as town leader Chester Wanamaker on the Newhart show was the most visible part in a career of more than 30 years on stage, screen, and television.
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Lanteau's theatrical credits included productions of The Matchmaker, What Every Woman Knows, Mrs. McThing, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, Detective Story, and Catch My Soul -- he was also in the original stage production of On Golden Pond, playing Charlie Martin, a part he re-created in the film version with Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda.
His film credits date from 1959 and his portrayal of Available Jones in the screen version of the musical Li'l Abner. He began working in television around the same time, and one of his most memorable and poignant early appearances was in the Andy Griffith Show episode "Stranger in Town," portraying a mysterious new arrival in Mayberry who seems to know all there is to know about everyone in the town, gradually eliciting suspicion and panic on the part of all concerned -- in the end, the explanation for his character's behavior is not only harmless but very touching, and Lanteau pulled it off perfectly, moving from quirkily mysterious to vulnerable in the course of less than 20 minutes of screen time without any seams showing.
Lanteau also played small parts in The Honeymoon Machine and That Touch of Mink, and slightly larger roles in Sex and the Single Girl and Hotel, but it was mostly on television that Lanteau kept busy when he wasn't working on the stage. On television, his work included one-shot roles on Naked City, Dr. Kildare, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Green Acres, The Mothers-In-Law, All in the Family, Here's Lucy, Perry Mason, Sanford and Son, Diff'rent Strokes, Coach, and Murder She Wrote during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, before the role on Newhart opened up. He became part of one of the most successful "double acts" on television, working alongside rotund actor Thomas Hill, who portrayed Chester, the other political leader of the town. Lanteau passed away in 1993, three years after the cancellation of the series, from complications arising out of heart surgery. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi