Cliff Norton, comedian and actor whose 65-year on-air and on-screen career stretched from spinning records as a disc jockey and acting in radio's "The FBI" to performing on television from its infancy, has died. He was 84.
Norton died Saturday night in his Studio City home after a short illness, his family said.
Born and raised in Chicago, Clifford Charles Norton was on the air in his hometown by the time he was 19. He began as a disc jockey in 1937 in the time slot preceding a talk show featuring Jim and Marian Jordan, better known as "Fibber McGee and Molly."
Norton served as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and when he returned to Chicago, he found steady work in the burgeoning field of radio shows such as the orphanage-centered "Hilltop House" and heroic action thrillers including "The FBI in Peace and War," "Captain Midnight," "Jack Armstrong" and "The Tom Mix Straightshooters."
Working in Chicago radio, Norton met a young NBC radio announcer named Dave Garroway, who soon introduced himself and Norton to a national television audience with a prime-time half-hour live musical variety series, "Garroway at Large." The series ran from 1949 to 1951, and Norton appeared regularly in humorous sketches at the same time he was doing his own local television show, "The Private Life of Cliff Norton."
When Garroway moved to New York to begin NBC's "Today Show" in 1952, he encouraged Norton to follow. Norton did, and adept at working live, thrived on the early TV shows, appearing in dramatic roles in such theatrical anthology series as "Studio One," "U.S. Steel Hour," "Alcoa Hour" and "Kraft TV Theater" and as a comedian on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Gary Moore Show," "Texaco Star Theatre With Milton Berle," "The George Gobel Show," "The Tonight Show," "The Perry Como Show" and "Caesar's Hour" with Sid Caesar. He was a popular guest panelist on early game shows, including "I've Got a Secret."
Relocating to Los Angeles in 1962, Norton gained roles in major motion pictures, beginning with "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," and continuing with "Frankie and Johnny," Don Knotts' "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming," "Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?" "Harry and Tonto" with Art Carney, "Funny Lady" with Barbra Streisand and "Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood."
But most of the actor's work was beamed directly into living rooms, from late 1930s radio shows through half a century of television variety shows, dramas and sitcoms and, in the final decade of his life, hundreds of radio and TV commercials.
Shortly after Norton arrived in Hollywood, he developed a five-minute nightly sketch for KTLA Channel 5 sandwiched between the 11 p.m. news and "The Steve Allen Show." Titled "Your Weather and Mine," the short segment featured Norton spoofing various local weather broadcasters, and humorously alluding to Southern California's non-weather by pointing to a mostly blank weather map on which he placed nonsense symbols.
A widower, Norton is survived by his children, Cliff Norton Jr., Susan Kinne and Stacey Evans; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service for Norton will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Theater West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles.