Dabbs Greer, 90; busy character actor played everyman-type roles

Times Staff Writer

Dabbs Greer, a character actor who often was cast as television’s everyman, and who was best known for playing the Rev. Robert Alden on “Little House on the Prairie,” has died. He was 90.

Greer, who had been battling kidney and heart disease, died Saturday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, said his neighbor Bill Klukken.

His career spanned more than a half-century and included roles in almost 100 films and about 600 television episodes.


In addition to running the Walnut Grove church on “Little House,” which aired from 1974 to 1983, Greer had recurring TV roles as storekeeper Mr. Jonus on “Gunsmoke” from 1955 to 1960; a coach on “Hank” in the mid-1960s; a minister on “Picket Fences” in the 1990s; and a grumpy grandfather on “Maybe It’s Me” from 2001-2002.

On “The Adventures of Superman,” Greer dangled from a dirigible and appeared to be rescued midair by the Man of Steel in the 1952 pilot episode. He also was the minister who married Mike and Carol Brady in 1969 on “The Brady Bunch.”

He debuted on the big-screen in 1949 in an uncredited part in “Reign of Terror.”

“His surface normality served as excellent contrast to the extraterrestrial goings-on in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) and ‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space’ (1958),” according to the online database All Movie Guide.

In his final film, “The Green Mile” (1999) Greer -- then 82 -- took over the role of prison guard Paul Edgecomb when the character became too old for Tom Hanks to realistically play. Previously, Greer had been a prison guard opposite Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning role in 1958’s “I Want to Live!”

He was born Robert William Greer on April 2, 1917, in Fairview, Mo., to a druggist and his wife, who taught elocution. An only child, he grew up in Anderson, Mo., and at 8 began acting in children’s stage productions.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1939 from Drury University in Springfield, Mo., Greer headed a Missouri school system’s speech and drama department, Klukken said.

In 1943, he moved to Pasadena, where he lived the rest of his life.

He became an administrator and teacher at the Pasadena Playhouse theater school, often acting opposite students and directing more than 50 plays. Professionally, he started using Dabbs -- his mother’s maiden name -- as his first name.

Greer left the playhouse in 1950 to pursue acting full time and began playing a series of small-town good guys whose personalities were not far from Greer’s own, Klukken said.

Greer never married and had no survivors.

Of a career built mainly on supporting parts, Greer told the Albany, N.Y., Times Union in 2000: “Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead.”