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Norman Fell; Veteran Character Actor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Norman Fell, a longtime character actor who played the irascible landlord Stanley Roper on the television sitcom “Three’s Company”, died Monday of cancer. He was 74.

Fell died at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills, said Stan Schneider, his business manager for many years.

With his exasperated expression and droopy eyes, Fell was a supporting actor who many recognized but few could identify by name.

He appeared in 35 movies during his 50-year career and was adept at both drama and comedy. But he was most closely identified with the part of the surly yet lovable Stanley Roper, Schneider said.

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“I think he felt toward the end . . . it typecast him,” Schneider said. “But it was the one everyone knew him as. Everyone called him Mr. Roper, on the street, wherever he went.” Schneider said.

During World War II, Fell served as a tail gunner in the Pacific. After the war, he returned home to Philadelphia and earned his bachelor’s degree in drama from Temple University.

He moved to New York, studied with Stella Adler and obtained a number of small parts in plays and television productions, including “Twelve Angry Men” in 1954. His first regular role in a television series was in the short-lived 1956 comedy “Joe & Mabel.”

In 1958, Fell moved to Los Angeles. The next year he made his movie debut in “Pork Chop Hill.” He appeared with Frank Sinatra in “Ocean’s Eleven” and had a brief, comic role in “The Graduate.”

Although his movie credits were extensive, he was best known for his work in television. During the early 1960s, he played the part of veteran police detective Meyer in the drama “87th Precinct,” based on the Ed McBain mystery novels. In 1970, Fell played another police officer in “Dan August” starring Burt Reynolds.

During the mid-1970s, he earned an Emmy nomination as Nick Nolte’s fight trainer in the mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man.”

It was not until “Three’s Company,” however, that the veteran character actor became a television star. He won a Golden Globe Award in 1979 for best actor in a supporting role in a television series.

The deadpan, quick-witted Fell appeared numerous times as a guest on the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

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Fell, who was divorced, is survived by two daughters.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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