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A Year: Day to Day Men: 25th of October, Solar Year 2018

Flair for the Orient

October 25, 1909 was the birthdate of American character actor Whitner Nutting Bissell.

Born in New York City, Whitner Bissell trained with the Carolina Playmakers, a theatrical organization associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in drama and English. Bissell also was in the Moss Hart play “Winged Victory”, produced by the US Army Air force during World War II as a morale booster and a fund raiser for the Army Emergency Relief Fund.

Whitner Bissell’s first role in film was in the 1943 “Holy Matrimony”, playing the valet Henry Leek in the comedy film. He regularly was cast in science fiction and horror films, appearing in the 1954 “Creature from the Black Lagoon” playing doctor Edwin Thompson who is severely injured by the creature. Bissell has an uncredited role in the 1956 “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as Doctor Hill, the psychiatrist in the film’s opening scene.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-1970s, Bissell guest-starred in many television series followed by more occasional roles in later years. He appeared in episodes of “Whirlybirds”, “Peyton Place and “The Brothers Brannagan”. He was also cast in the NBC education drame series “Mr. Novack” for the 1965 episode “May Day, May Day”. Bissell made four appearances on the “Perry Mason” series and played different roles in multiple episodes fo the long-running western series “The Rifleman” starring Chuck Connors.

Whitner Bissell often played silver-haired authority figures in many of the television series. His most prominent television role was that of General Heywood Kirk in thirty episodes of the 1966-67 season of the sci-fi series “The Time Tunnel”, establishing his screen persona of a man of military bearing, but in an annoyingly dominating way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters. This characterized persona  showed up in other series: “The Outer Limits”, “Hogan’s Heros”, and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”.

In 1960, Whitner Bissell appeared in George Pal’s production of “The Time Machine” as Walter Kemp,, one of the time-traveler’s dining friends. He also appeared in a 1978 television movie of Wells’ novel set in the modern era. Thirty-three years later, in the 1993 documentary film “Time Machine: The Journey Back” featuring the original stars of the movie, Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Bissell, he recreated his role as Walter Kemp. This was Bissell’s last acting performance.

Whitner Bissell served for many years on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild, and represented the actors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors. In 1994, two years before his death, he received a life career award from the Academy of Science fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.

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