Today in History (January 10)

Happy birthday to William Sanderson, born on January 10 in Memphis, Tennessee. (His Internet Movie Database bio says his birth year is 1944, while Wikipedia claims it’s 1948. Since his website is mum on that subject, I’ll let the ambiguity stand.) He’s been a fixture of film, theatre, and television for decades, appearing in everything from Blade Runner to Knight Rider. Still doesn’t ring a bell? This might:

“Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”

Yes, Sanderson (along with Tony Papenfuss and John Voldstad as the Darryls) brightened many of my Monday nights when I was growing up in the ’80s. Larry, Darryl, and Darryl were the breakout characters on Newhart, greeted by rabid audience cheers whenever they appeared in a scene. When I watch the reruns now, I’m amazed to see that, in a brilliant ensemble cast, the brothers still tend to be the highlight of each episode. The writing certainly remains a huge factor, but the wrong actors would have made the daffy characters completely intolerable. Sanderson had the burden of the trio’s only speaking role, so he could have worn out his onscreen welcome quickly. Instead, he always left the viewer wanting more. (Indeed, my main problem with the much-ballyhooed series finale is that Larry and the Darryls were given short shrift.)

Here is a favorite episode of mine from 1985, “The Prodigal Darryl.” (I still think that a reggae-tinged popcorn jingle, played on kazoo, would be so much better than today’s commercial earworms.) Watch for a young Dave Coulier (and his mullet) in the frat house scene!

Many breakout characters limit the careers of the actors who play them. Happily, Sanderson has continued to enjoy a variety of plum roles since the fictitious Stratford Inn closed its doors. He’s been a series regular in Deadwood and True Blood, and has two films set for 2015 release. He’ll always be Larry to me, but something tells me that he’s cool enough not to mind.

 

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