Jerry Paris, TV Comic, Director, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Jerry Paris, whose versatility enabled him to walk a delicate line between performing as a comic and then telling comedians how to perform, died Monday of a brain tumor, it was learned Tuesday.

Paris, the zany neighbor on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the methodically tough FBI agent on “The Untouchables” and most recently the director of the films “Police Academy II” and “Police Academy III,” was 60.

“Police Academy III” has ranked as the nation’s top box office attraction since its release last month, grossing more than $18 million.


Paris entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on March 18 and a brain tumor was found, said hospital spokesman Ron Wise.

Two operations to relieve pressure and bleeding failed to save his life. The tumor was too deep to remove, Wise said.

Paris, who won an Emmy in the 1963-64 season for directing the Van Dyke show and was nominated for three others, was born in San Francisco and studied at the Actors Lab in Hollywood and the Actors Studio in New York City before settling permanently here.

His early acting credits included the low-budget but perennially popular “Marty,” where he played a buddy of Ernest Borgnine, “The Caine Mutiny, “The Wild One” and “The Naked and the Dead.”

He first appeared on television in 1955 in “Those Whiting Girls,” a summer replacement show for “I Love Lucy,” and gradually gravitated to the small screen.

The lanky actor had supporting parts in “Michael Shayne” and “Steve Canyon” before being cast as agent Martin Flaherty in the first telecast of “The Untouchables,” thinly based on the life of FBI agent Eliot Ness.


It was a role far removed from his greatest TV success, that of Jerry Helper, dentist and confidant to Rob Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

That classically hilarious tale of a comedy writer struggling for integrity and self-preservation with the mythical pompous producer of the “Alan Brady Show” is considered among television’s finest efforts.

It turned Mary Tyler Moore into a star and made new generations aware of the talents of comedian-writer Morey Amsterdam and one-time child star Rose Marie.

Carl Reiner, who created the series (which ran on CBS from 1961 to 1966) said Paris had begged him for more than a year to direct the show.

Understood Show

“He did a couple of shows and we realized he understood our show more than any of the other directors,” Reiner said.

But Paris conversely credited Reiner with his own and the show’s successes.

“Carl listens to everybody. . . . So few people listen because they’re so insecure. The secret of the success of the Van Dyke show was group effort. . . . Also, I’m nuts. . . . It helps. . . . “

The Emmy award put Paris in demand and he went on to become the sole director of “Happy Days,” while directing episodes of such sitcoms as “The Odd Couple,” “That Girl,” “The Partridge Family” and “Love American Style.”

Other Pictures

His other motion pictures as a director included “Don’t Raise the Bridge--Lower the Water,” “Never a Dull Moment,” “Viva Max!” and “How Sweet It Is!”

“He really was a kid at heart,” Reiner said of his disciple. “He said whatever came to his mind but he was such a sweet soul that people usually weren’t taken aback.

“Sometimes he was like a bull in a china shop. But he very rarely broke any china.”

Paris is survived by a daughter, Julie, and sons Anthony and Andrew. His wife, Ruth, died several years ago.