- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Ray Walston, who played the lovable extraterrestrial Uncle Martin on the 1960s TV sitcom "My Favorite Martian" and the devil in "Damn Yankees," has died. He was 86.

The slim, icy-voiced actor died Monday of apparent natural causes at his home here, said his agent, Harry Gold.

Mr. Walston made a career of playing charismatic, cranky characters. He won a Tony in 1955 for his performance in Broadway's "Damn Yankees" and two successive Emmys in 1995-96 for his role as acerbic Judge Henry Bone in the quirky small-town series "Picket Fences."

In "My Favorite Martian," Mr. Walston played opposite Bill Bixby as a Martian explorer stranded on Earth. His antennae-sprouting alien character masqueraded as Bixby's "Uncle Martin" and spent most of the episodes trying to conceal his identity from curious earthlings.

Mr. Walston once said he auditioned and accepted the role for the money. But after just four episodes, he recalled, "I thought, 'What am I doing here? I'm running around with two pieces of wire coming out of my head. I must be crazy.' "

Despite its popularity, the role of Uncle Martin actually slowed Mr. Walston's Hollywood career. When the series went off the air in 1966 after a three-year run, the typecast actor returned to the stage for several years before re-emerging with a succession of solid supporting roles in movies and television.

But it took Mr. Walston decades to receive award recognition from the Hollywood community. "I have 30 seconds to tell you I have been waiting 60 years to get on this stage," he said in his 1995 Emmy acceptance speech.

Mr. Walston's film debut came in the 1957 movie "Kiss Them For Me" with Cary Grant, and the next year he played the devil again in the film version of "Damn Yankees." The smash musical told the story of a frustrated baseball fan who sells his soul.

He also appeared in "Say One For Me" with Bing Crosby and in director Billy Wilder's films "The Apartment" and "Kiss Me, Stupid."

He had supporting roles in "South Pacific," "Portrait in Black," "Wives and Lovers," "Caprice," "Paint Your Wagon," "The Sting," "Silver Streak" and "Stephen King's The Stand."

Mr. Walston was known to younger film fans as the irascible Poopdeck Pappy in Robert Altman's live-action film "Popeye" in 1980, and as the crusty, slacker-hating teacher Mr. Hand in the 1982 teen comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

In 1999, Mr. Walston made a cameo appearance in the feature film version of "My Favorite Martian," which starred Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Martin and Jeff Daniels in Bixby's role as the alien's beleaguered friend.

In a 1996 interview, Mr. Walston said he had recently turned down a request to appear on TV news in a report on the possibility of life on Mars.

"Would you believe they were planning a sequence featuring two of the world's most distinguished scientists evaluating this monumental discovery, and they wanted to sandwich me in as sort of comedy relief?" Mr. Walston said. "Of course, I said no."

Mr. Walston was born in New Orleans. He started his acting career with a local stock company.

His stage career started to take off the mid-1940s, with roles in 22 productions by the famed Cleveland Playhouse.

By 1945, he had moved to New York City to appear on Broadway, which later brought him the biggest break of his career George Abbott casting him as the devil in "Damn Yankees."

The musical also became a breakthrough for Gwen Verdon, who played the devil's amorous assistant, Lola. Miss Verdon, who died last year at 75, teamed up with Mr. Walston in the film version, too.

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