William Schallert describes himself as "the most promiscuous parent in the history of television."
Well, maybe not the most promiscuous, but over the past three decades Schallert has played the kind, loving and understanding father on "The Nancy Drew Mysteries," "Little Women," "The New Gidget" and the role for which he's most known, "The Patty Duke Show."
Now he's playing a grandfather in the NBC comedy "The Torkelsons." Schallert co-stars as a kindly boarder who lives in the basement of the Torkelsons' house.
Schallert's past and present collide on the Nov. 16 episode of "The Torkelsons" when Patty Duke guests as his uncommunicative daughter-in-law.
"It's the first time we worked together in 25 1/2 years," Schallert said. "It was like we picked up from yesterday."
Schallert and Duke's paths have crisscrossed over the decades. "I was president of the Screen Actors Guild around 1980 and she was president in 1985. We saw each other then. We haven't been close, but it was like nothing changed."
For Schallert, the father of four sons, Duke became the daughter he never had. "We had a very father-daughter relationship based on the fact she never had much of a father in her life and I didn't have any daughters," he said. "We bonded back then. She was 16 and we worked together for three years. We felt very fond of each other."
Repeats of "The Patty Duke Show," which aired on ABC from 1963 to '66, are alive and well on Nick at Nite. "For a long time it never replayed," Schallert said. "It sort of disappeared. Then about 10 years ago or so, a lot of people who grew up watching 'The Patty Duke Show' came into the business and all of a sudden were saying 'We grew up with you.' "
"The Patty Duke Show" went through a lot of changes during its run, Schallert said. "We were on the cusp. When we started in 1963, the Shirelles and the Essex were the musical groups. Then the Beatles arrived in 1964 and the whole music scene changed overnight. So we would have Chad and Jeremy on the show and Frankie Avalon. We had our feet in both places. The show was in a transitional time."
Over the past year, Schallert said, he has been recognized on the street by a whole new generation of fans, thanks to Nick at Nite. "They'll say, 'You're Patty Duke's father.' I try not to disillusion them by telling them how old the show is. At first I would say, 'We made that a long time ago--25 years ago.' But they would give me these blank looks. I realize I better not say that--it didn't compute. So now I say, 'Yep. I sure am."'
The Schallert-Duke episode of "The Torkelsons" airs Nov. 16 at 8:30 p.m. on NBC . "The Patty Duke Show" airs daily at 1 a.m. and Saturdays-Sundays at 5 a.m. on Nickelodeon.