Norman Fell, the actor who started on the stage but became best known as the leering Mr. Roper on TV's "Three's Company," died Dec. 14 of cancer in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 74.
Mr. Fell could not dodge his indelible role of the cranky but salacious landlord of John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers on the smash late-1970s series, said Fell's business manager Stanley Schneider. "You do a tremendous body of work, and you end up being the TV character you played," Schneider told Playbill On-Line Dec. 15.
That body of work included summer stock, Broadway, TV and film. He became interested in acting in high school, in his native Philadelphia. He performed at Temple University there, where he earned a degree after serving as a tailgunner in the Pacific theatre in World War II.
Mr. Fell made his professional debut in New York City in Jose Quintero's Circle-in-the Square production of Bond of Interest. Up to that point, he would commute from Philadelphia to New York City, visiting casting agents and looking for work. He attended Stella Adler's classes in the early 1950s.
Mr. Fell appeared on Broadway in Uncle Willie and, in the 1955-56 season, Middle of the Night with Edward G. Robinson and Anne Jackson. Mr. Fell was a lifelong member of the Actors Studio. After appearing in the TV version of "Twelve Angry Men," Fell found character success in Hollywood, playing in TV's "Dan August" with Burt Reynolds and in films including "The Graduate," "Oceans 11," "Inherit the Wind," "Catch 22" and, most recently, "For the Boys." He was a frequent guest on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
"He was one of the most naturally funny men you ever met," said Schneider. Roles offered to Mr. Fell lately were curmudgeons, "old Jewish guys" and "Mr. Roper types," which the actor refused.
He is survived by two daughters, Tracy Fell Klorman and Mara Fell Polon, and two grandchildren.
-- By Kenneth Jones