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B Entries
Barbara Bain
Gene Barry
Wesley E. Barry
Martin Berkeley
Paul Birch
Whit Bissell
Bill Bixby
Jerome Bixby
Chesley Bonestell
Peter Boyle
Ray Bradbury
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David Butler
 
BISSELL, WHIT
(1909–1996). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in films: That Lady in Ermine (Ernst Lubitsch 1948); For Heaven's Sake (uncredited) (George Seaton 1950); Lost Continent (Samuel Newfield 1951); Target Earth (Sherman A. Rose 1954); The Atomic Kid (Leslie MARTINSON 1954); Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack ARNOLD 1954); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (uncredited) (Don SIEGEL 1956); I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene FOWLER, Jr. 1957); I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (Herbert L. Strock 1957); Monster on the Campus (Arnold 1958); The Time Machine (George PAL 1960); The Manchurian Candidate (uncredited) (John FRANKENHEIMER 1962); Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer 1964); Fluffy (Earl Bellamy 1965); Soylent Green (Richard FLEISCHER 1973); Psychic Killer (Ray Danton 1975).

Acted in television: "The Bus to Nowhere" (1951), episode of Out There; "Miracle on 34th Street" (1955), episode of The 20th-Century Fox Hour; "Sound of Murder" (1955), "Dr. Robot," "The Green Bomb" (1956), episodes of Science Fiction Theatre;  "The Little Lame Prince" (1958), episode of Shirley Temple Theatre; "Brainwave" (1959), episode of One Step Beyond;  "Christmas on the Moon" (1959), episode of Men into Space; "Burglar Proof" (1962), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "Nightmare" (1963), episode of The Outer Limits; "Behind the Locked Door" (1963), episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; "The Peacemaker" (1965), episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea;  "The Man's Men" (1965), episode of Amos Burke, Secret Agent; "The Fastest Gun in the East" (1966), episode of I Dream of Jeannie; "The Bat Cave Affair" (1966), episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; The Time Tunnel (tv series) (1966-1967); "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967), episode of Star Trek; "The Dark Outpost" (1967), episode of The Invaders; "The Secret City of Limbo" (1970), episode of Land of the Giants; City Beneath the Sea (tv movie) (Irwin ALLEN 1971); "Numbered for Death" (1973), episode of Search; "Over the Hill Spy" (1977), episode of The Bionic Woman; The Time Machine (tv movie) (Henning Schallerup 1978); "Sighting 4023: The I-Man Incident" (1978), episode of Project U.F.O.; "Kindred Spirits" (1979), "Prometheus" (two parts) (1980), episodes of The Incredible Hulk; "Lost in Translation" (1982), episode of Darkroom; "Trials and Tribble-ations" (1996), episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Appeared in documentaries: Time Machine: The Journey Back (Clyde Lucas 1993);  The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen (Kevin Burns 1995).

 
Whit Bissell functioned as a generic marker: if you saw his unforgettable face in the background of some film, you immediately knew that it was trash. And, with the gradual collapse of the mainstream B-movie in the 1950s, and the corresponding rise of the science fiction B-movie, the trash that you saw him in was increasingly science-fictional. And this was where Bissell truly made his mark: even when he strayed from the genre later in his career, he almost invariably portrayed a doctor, scientist, or general, exploiting his aura of kitsch gravitas developed from playing innumerable such roles amidst unpersuasively rendered aliens and monsters.

Was he a great actor? Of course not, as is amply evidenced by his laughably over-the-top star performances as the mad scientists in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (although, admittedly, Laurence OLIVIER himself couldn't have done much with those roles). But these may not represent a fair measure of his abilities, since Bissell clearly did not enjoy being the center of attention, where nervousness seemingly inclined him toward shrill overacting. In supporting roles, however, he was far more restrained and, with astounding consistency, always just good enough to avoid becoming a distraction. Thus, he might be better remembered, say, as the friend reacting to the narrative of Rod TAYLOR's Time Traveler in The Time Machine, the hapless scientist staring at a jazzed-up television screen displaying the latest antics of James Darren and Robert Colbert in The Time Tunnel, or the unhelpful bureaucrat advising William SHATNER's Captain Kirk from afar in Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles"—one of his briefest yet most prominent performances. Away from the spotlight, Bissell could contentedly fondle a pipe or twiddle with the dials of some machine, in his own small way contributing, by means of his gray hair and visible maturity, a touch of credibility to the inane goings-on around him.

As one of the most indefatigable foot soldiers in the science fiction wars of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Bissell must command our sympathy and respect, if not our admiration. Day after day, week after week, Bissell got out of bed, showered and shaved, and went off to perform in whatever part his agent could find, always answering the call no matter how humiliatingly small or desperately stupid the assignment was. Today Bonanza, tomorrow I Dream of Jeannie, next week Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea .... A list of his genre performances, recently expanded to include several previously overlooked items, does not convey the full scope of his unending labors in countless westerns, crime dramas, and situation comedies. Few people have seen all, or even a majority, of his roles, but in a sense that is not important, since Bissell invariably performs with the same distinctive blandness; thus, I recently had the opportunity to see one of his most obscure appearances, the "Christmas on the Moon" episode of Men into Space, but it may as well have been assembled out of stock footage from earlier films, since the performance was as characteristically Whit-Bissellish as all the others.

It is easy to deduce, watching him on the screen and examining his credits, that Bissell was a likable and reliable actor, qualities that make one endearing to directors, so it is not surprising that he was regularly employed by directors ranging from Irwin ALLEN to John FRANKENHEIMER, who gave Bissell some rare upscale exposure in The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962),  and Seven Days in May. Rarely offered a part that represented any sort of a challenge, and unsuited for such challenges in any event, Bissell found fulfillment in the simple tasks of memorizing his lines, never missing a cue, and playing the same part over and over again.

Strangely enough, behind the scenes, it was quite a different story, since Bissell emerged as a major figure in the Screen Actors Guild, and after retiring from acting in the 1980s, Bissell moved into a home for elderly Hollywood actors and became a leader in their community—surely not because he sought recognition, but only because he felt obliged, as always, to respond to a need, and because his fellow actors could count on him to speak for their interests in an energetic and responsible manner. After his death in 1996, manipulated footage from "The Trouble with Tribbles" allowed him to reprise that typically minor role in "Trials and Tribble-ations," an episode of  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—even from the grave, he dutifully managed to come back to the set and do Whit Bissell one more time.

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