Actor Don DeFore Dies; Played Mr. B on ‘Hazel’
Don DeFore, the jovial next-door neighbor Thorny in the classic television series “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and the beleaguered Mr. B. in Shirley Booth’s series “Hazel,” has died. He was 80.
DeFore, a veteran actor on Broadway and in films and television who earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, died Wednesday night at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica of cardiac arrest.
Born Aug. 25, 1913, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, DeFore began acting in high school and after attending the University of Iowa, he studied drama at the Pasadena Community Playhouse School of Theater.
He made his Broadway debut in 1938 and in quick succession had major roles in four plays--"Where Do We Go From Here,” “Dream Girl,” “Sailor Beware” and “The Male Animal.”
Usually cast as a smiling, gullible, urbanized good friend, DeFore appeared in two dozen films alongside such leading actors as Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Groucho Marx, Doris Day, Mickey Rooney, Rock Hudson, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.
Among DeFore’s films were “Submarine D-1" in 1937, “We Go Fast” in 1941, “The Male Animal” in 1942, “The Human Comedy” and “A Guy Named Joe” in 1943, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” in 1944, “The Affairs of Susan” and “Stork Club” in 1945, “Without Reservations” in 1946, “Romance on the High Seas” in 1947,” “A Girl in Every Port,” “No Room for the Groom” “She’s Working Her Way Through College” and “Jumping Jacks” in 1952, “Battle Hymn” in 1957 and “The Facts of Life” in 1960.
He became a familiar face to millions from 1952 to 1958 as Ozzie Nelson’s good friend Thorny Thornbury, one of the first next-door-neighbor roles in television. From 1961 to 1965, he enhanced his small-screen popularity as the patriarch George Baxter of the family who employed the maid “Hazel.”
His most recent professional appearances were guest roles on “St. Elsewhere” and “Murder, She Wrote” in the late 1980s.
In 1954, DeFore was elected president of the Television Academy and helped sell the first telecast of the Emmy Awards to NBC.
A friend of President Ronald Reagan, DeFore was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council to the Peace Corps and was a delegate to the Republican national conventions nominating Reagan and President George Bush.
DeFore operated a barbecue restaurant in Disneyland from 1957 to 1962 called Don DeFore’s Silver Banjo. He was also the author of two books, “With All My Love” about his daughter’s experience working in a Korean orphanage, and an autobiography, “Hollywood--DeFore and After.”
DeFore served as the first honorary mayor of Brentwood, was a member of the advisory committee to the California Department of Rehabilitation, served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, and was a U.S. delegate to the Moscow Film Festival in 1969. He was a 33rd degree Mason.
Survivors include his wife, Marion Holmes; two sons, David, of Encino, and Ron, of Annandale, Va.; three daughters, Penny Hill of Beverly Hills, Dawn Burdine of Macungie, Pa., and Autumn Moore, of San Jose, and 12 grandchildren.