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Orson Bean, Free-Spirited Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 91


“We were much more intelligent then,” Kitty Carlisle Hart, a frequent panelist with Mr. Bean, told The Times in 1999. “It sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s true.”

Mr. Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22, 1928, in Burlington, Vt., to George and Marian Pollard Burrows. His father, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was a Harvard campus police officer. His mother, a cousin of President Calvin Coolidge, killed herself when Mr. Bean was a teenager.

Mr. Bean graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 1946, was drafted into the postwar Army and served with occupation forces in Japan. He was an accomplished magician, and after being discharged changed his name to Orson Bean and worked Boston nightclubs with tricks and gags that evolved into comedy routines.

He was blacklisted for attending two Communist Party meetings, but it blew over and hardly slowed his career. Nightclub work in Baltimore and Philadelphia finally landed him in New York at the Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard, where the pantheon included Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Woody Allen.

Fame followed him onto the Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Merv Griffin shows. He was on “The Tonight Show” so often that he became a vacation substitute for Mr. Paar and Mr. Carson. He appeared on “Playhouse 90,” “Studio One” and other television dramas, and starred on Broadway with Jayne Mansfield in the 1955 comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and with Melina Mercouri in the 1967 musical “Ilya Darling.”

Mr. Bean married the actress Jacqueline de Sibour in 1956. They had a daughter, Michele, and were divorced in 1962. He and his second wife, Carolyn Maxwell, were married in 1965, had three children, Max, Susannah and Ezekiel, and were divorced in 1981. He married the actress Alley Mills in 1993, and lived for many years in Venice, Calif. His son-in-law was Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who died in 2011.

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