Veteran actor Harold Ayer dies at 86

March 11, 2003 at 11:39 AM
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LOS ANGELES, March 11 (UPI) -- Veteran stage, screen and TV actor Harold Ayer has died from a stroke in Los Angeles at 86, family members said Tuesday.

Ayer -- who appeared in scores of movies and TV shows including "The Sting," "Green Acres and "Murder She Wrote" -- died on March 6 at the Motion Picture & Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb.

Born Aug. 15, 1916, in London, England, Ayer was a "backstage baby," the son of Nat D. Ayer -- the composer-songwriter-performer who wrote such standards as "Oh You Beautiful Doll" and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World."

Harold Ayer grew up among show business icons -- friends of his father -- including Charlie Chaplin, George M. Cohan, Noel Coward and Cole Porter. Ayer "caught the showbiz bug" early, but did not pursue a career in the theater until after World War II, when he served in The Royal Canadian Air Force and Britain's Royal Air Force.

He landed a coveted place studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and then launched a career that made him a star in both England and the United States -- performing on stage, screen, radio and TV.

In his first screen role, Ayer played a soldier in director Carol Reed's classic 1949 mystery thriller "The Third Man," starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard. On the British stage, he appeared in such productions as "The Detective," "The Philadelphia Story," "Stalag 17" and "Trip to Bountiful."

In the United Stages, Ayer guest-starred in numerous shows during the early days of network TV, including Playhouse 90." He also appeared in "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Chicago Hope," "Daniel Boone," "Green Acres," Hill Street Blues," "The Rockford Files" and "St. Elsewhere."

In 1973, he played the bartender in the Oscar-winning Paul Newman-Robert Redford movie "The Sting."

Other memorable screen credits included: "Saturday Island" (1952), starring Linda Darnell and Tab Hunter; "Orders Are Orders" (1954), a British military comedy that featured early screen appearances by Peter Sellers and Donald Pleasence; and "A Time to Sing" (1968), a drama starring Hank Williams Jr., Ed Begley and Shelley Fabares.

Ayer worked into the 1990s, appearing in the 1994 TV movie "Dead Air," starring Gregory Hines.

He is survived by his brother Nat D. Ayer Jr.; his daughter Cheryl, a teacher; his son Simon, a casting director; and his daughter Jane, an entertainment industry publicist.

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