George Chandler, Former Member of 'Lassie' Cast

Times Staff Writer

George Chandler, a character actor who gave thoughtful advice to Lassie's young owner on television and succeeded Ronald Reagan as president of the Screen Actors Guild, has died, a SAG spokesman said Wednesday.

Chandler, a former vaudevillian who portrayed a series of comedic, often puzzled but generally kindly men in more than 150 films, was 87 when he died Monday at a Los Angeles-area hospital.

In vaudeville he was "The Musical Nut," a sobriquet he adopted at the University of Illinois where he earned his expenses by playing the violin and leading an orchestra.

Signed by Talent Scout

He was performing on the violin and coaxing melodies from a saw while touring with the Vanchon-Marco circuit when a Universal talent scout signed him for films.

His first screen success came in 1930 with "The Floradora Girl," starring Marion Davies. For the next five decades he appeared as a bespectacled comedian, respected sidekick or gentle neighbor in such films as "The Country Doctor," "Libeled Lady," "Jesse James," "The Return of Frank James," "Arizona," "Tobacco Road," "The Ox-Bow Incident," "Since You Went Away" and "The High and the Mighty."

Among his last films was "Witch Mountain" in 1975.

In 1958 Chandler became part of Lassie's second family on the long-running TV series.

The show had debuted in 1954 with the brave and courageous collie helping a young boy (Tommy Rettig) and his widowed mother (Jan Clayton) through an assortment of adventures. In 1957 Lassie befriended an orphan boy (Jon Provost) and when the widow found she couldn't run her farm after the death of her father (George Cleveland, who did die in 1957) she sold the property to the Martin family, whose patriarch was Uncle Petrie Martin (portrayed by Chandler).

Co-Starring Role

Chandler left the show in 1959 and then co-starred in "Ichabod and Me," a small-town newspaper saga that ran on CBS-TV in 1961-62.

The longtime actor's experience as a SAG officer started in 1946 when he was elected to its board of directors. From 1948 through 1960 he was treasurer, succeeding Reagan as president in 1960 when the future governor and President turned from acting to producing.

Chandler, survived by his wife, Helen, 5 sons, 11 grandchildren and 2 great grand-children, was reelected in 1961-62 and was one of the featured officers in a television special last year celebrating the guild's golden anniversary.

A funeral service will be held today at 1 p.m. at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn, Glendale. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking contributions to organizations researching Alzheimer's disease.

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