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Pat Buttram; Gene Autry’s Sidekick, TV Actor, Comic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pat Buttram, the bulbous-nosed raconteur who rode Melody Ranch with Gene Autry, portrayed a shrewd landowner amid the verdant scenery of “Green Acres,” and more recently had been an irreverent presence over the airwaves of Los Angeles, died Saturday.

Buttram died of kidney failure after a week’s hospitalization at UCLA Medical Center, said longtime friend Bill Ward, general manager of radio stations KMPC and KLITE.

He was in his 80s, Ward said.

Buttram, who rode more daises than he did horses, was an omnipresent master of ceremonies for many Los Angeles organizations.

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He probably was at his best when shredding his peers, particularly at the bimonthly luncheons of Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters, an organization of radio veterans.

His gentle sarcasm and slightly ribald tales were a fixture at Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City and at other watering holes across the Southland.

He also was the annual emcee for the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s annual Golden Boot awards, where millions have been raised for the charity, and at political rallies for old friends.

He rode in parades, helped install stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (including his own in 1988), and had been a regular fixture on Robert W. Morgan’s morning KMPC radio program until recently.

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Buttram said on taking the job in 1989 that he had gotten “tired of all the deejays in the morning quoting my jokes. . . . I decided to start getting paid.”

Born Maxwell E. Buttram in Alabama, in a year he refused to divulge, he was the son of a circuit-riding minister and studied theology at Birmingham Southern College. He got into show business when a radio station hired him after the management saw him in a college play.

His big break came when he went to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and was interviewed in the audience at “National Barn Dance.” Everything he said in that voice--compared to a jackass with a sore throat--got laughs and he was signed as a comic.

He and Autry first met more than 50 years ago in Chicago when both were appearing on the “National Barn Dance,” the nation’s first hillbilly radio show.

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They remained close friends over the years, meeting each other for lunch at Lakeside Country Club and other spots several times a week.

“He was never at a loss for a good story or a good one-liner,” Autry said Saturday. “I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Buttram appeared in more than 40 films, mostly as Autry’s constantly amazed partner, and had done hundreds of TV appearances.

From 1965 to 1971, Buttram played the annoying Mr. Haney on CBS’ “Green Acres.” It was Haney who sold a tumbledown farm to Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert) and Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor).

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Buttram played himself on “The Gene Autry Show” from 1950 to 1956 on CBS, calling the boss “Mister Artery” while helping the singing cowboy keep the peace in the Southwest. Years earlier, from 1940-56, he also had been heard as Autry’s sidekick on radio’s “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch.”

Buttram also appeared repeatedly on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Arthur Godfrey’s programs, and in episodes of such programs as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Buttram is survived by a daughter, Kerry Galgano. A private funeral is pending in Alabama.


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