Marty Ingels dies at 79; comedian known for his raspy voice and marriage to Shirley Jones
After Marty Ingels and his wife, the actress Shirley Jones, went through a painful, yearlong separation, they arranged to meet for a reconciliation session at their therapist’s office.
Ingels, a compulsive comic who had a brief TV and film career but never entirely left the stage, entered wearing a big hat and playing a trombone.
“Well, looks like you haven’t changed a bit, Marty,” the therapist said.
The couple got back together, and remained happily married.
Ingels, a raspy-voiced Brooklynite who co-starred with John Astin in the early-1960s sitcom “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster,” died at Tarzana Medical Center on Wednesday. He was 79.
He had suffered a stroke, said Jones’ agent Milton Suchin.
Ingels also appeared on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Addams Family” and other sitcoms. He played comic roles in a number of films, including “The Horizontal Lieutenant” (1962); “Wild and Wonderful” (1964); “A Guide for the Married Man” (1967) and “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” (1969).
In his later years, he was the cartoon voice of Pac-Man, and did voice-overs on many other cartoons and commercials.
His life spun out of control in the early 1970s, when he was swamped with financial problems, went through a divorce and endured what he later described as a nervous breakdown on “The Tonight Show.”
“I was doing a stand-up thing and all of a sudden my knees started to buckle,” he told entertainment writer Kliph Nesteroff in 2012. “I actually passed out. I went home and spent several months in my house and became a very serious recluse.”
Over the years, medication — and, of course, humor — helped.
“The ultimate oxymoron: I was once invited to an agoraphobic convention,” he said. “What? How can that be? I pictured that it would be a giant stadium — with nobody there.”
Ingels emerged from his isolation and eventually found a new line of work: Booking celebrities in commercials.
“Basically, I dropped out of show business because I couldn’t control anything,” he told the Associated Press in 1990. “Whether or not you worked as a comedian was up to some guy with an anonymous list somewhere. Now, I’m in control.”
Ingels signed Rudy Vallee to pitch record albums on TV. He also brokered deals for Orson Welles, Howard Cosell, Don Knotts, Farrah Fawcett Majors and other stars.
But he was best known as half of what many thought to be one of Hollywood’s oddest couples.
Jones, who played the mother on “The Partridge Family,” was “a golden girl of film,” the Times wrote in 1979. “Sweet-voiced, radiantly pretty, cheerfully self-assured, she combines restraint, inner calm and discreet understatement.”
Ingels, meanwhile was “a sort of Woody Allen character who often sees his special niche as a shelf in the Lost & Found department, a self-doubting comic-turned-talent agent who talks at top speed and makes no effort to mask his inner turbulence.”
When Ingels was courting her, he pulled out all the stops. At studio lunch breaks when she was filming a TV movie, he showed up in a 38-foot motor home with Champagne, mood music and her favorite Cobb salad from Hollywood’s Brown Derby.
“Imagine my surprise to see him standing there, dressed in a pure-silk smoking jacket with an ascot round his neck,” she wrote in her 2012 memoir.
His promotions on behalf of Jones, whom he married in 1977, were only a little less manic than his comedy.
In 2006, he spent $150,000 and “peppered journalists with flowers, candy, balloons and blustery phone calls” to build buzz for his wife’s Emmy nomination, The Times wrote. In fact, she was nominated for both an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild award for her supporting role in the ABC film “Hidden Places.”
When the Emmy ceremony rolled around, Jones was out of town on another film. But Ingels, decked out in black tie, showed up on the red carpet toting a life-size cardboard cutout of her, which, under duress, he was forced to stash in a checkroom.
“He often drove me crazy,” Jones said in a statement this week, “but there’s not a day I won’t miss him and love him to my core.”
Born in Brooklyn on March 9, 1936, Martin Ingerman came from a family of dentists. His uncle, Abraham Beame, was mayor of New York City from 1974 to 1977.
Ingels went to Queens College for six weeks, held a series of odd jobs, and served in the Army. Attracted to show business, he worked in summer stock theater and eventually moved to California, where he acted at the Pasadena Playhouse.
After his acting career ended, he stayed in the headlines with occasional lawsuits. In 1984, he and Jones settled their case against the National Enquirer, which falsely crowed in a headline that “Husband’s Bizarre Behavior Is Driving Shirley Jones to Drink.” The supermarket tabloid had to apologize and pay the couple unspecified damages.
Ingels unsuccessfully sued radio personality Tom Leykis for alleged age discrimination. Ingels, who periodically called radio shows under assumed names, complained that Leykis wouldn’t let him talk on a show about dating because Ingels told the producer he was 60. (He was actually 65 at the time.)
“You’re way too old, Pops,” Leykis told him. “Call a big-band station.”
In addition to Jones, Ingels is survived by his stepsons Shaun, Patrick and Ryan Cassidy; 12 grandchildren; and a niece, Laura Ingerman.
Ingels and Jones spent a lot of time at their vacation home in Fawnskin, a tiny community on Big Bear Lake. To thwart development, they bought property there that they turned into a community park. A chunk of iron girder from the World Trade Center sits on the land, which they dedicated to 9/11’s victims and first responders.
Over the years, the couple attended a number of Republican functions. At a Beverly Hills reception, Ingels met Barbara Bush.
“Hello, my name is Marty Ingels,” he said. “I’m Shirley Jones’ husband.”
“My name is Barbara Bush,” she responded. “And I’m George Bush’s wife. Don’t you hate these parties? So boring.”
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