US comedian Bean, 91, dies in car accident

US actor Orson Bean, who lived in Australia in the 1970s, has died after being hit by a car.
US actor Orson Bean, who lived in Australia in the 1970s, has died after being hit by a car.

US actor and comedian Orson Bean - who briefly lived in Australia in the 1970s - has died at the age of 91 after being hit by a car in Los Angeles, authorities say.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed Bean's Friday night death, saying it was being investigated as a "traffic-related" fatality.

Bean enlivened such TV game shows as To Tell the Truth and played a crotchety merchant on Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.

He appeared in a number of films - notably Anatomy of a Murder and Being John Malkovich - and starred in several top Broadway productions, receiving a Tony nod for the 1962 Comden-Green musical Subways Are for Sleeping.

But fans remembered him most for his many TV appearances from the 1950s onward.

"Mr Bean's face comes wrapped with a sly grin, somewhat like the expression of a child when sneaking his hand into the cookie jar," The New York Times noted in a review of his 1954 variety show The Blue Angel.

It said he showed "a quality of being likeable even when his jokes fall flat".

Born in Burlington, Vermont, in 1928 as Dallas Frederick Burrows, he never lost the Yankee accent that proved a perfect complement to the dry, laconic storytelling that established him as popular humorist.

He had picked the stage name Orson Bean "because it sounded funny".

His father, George, was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and Bean recalled later that his "house was filled with causes".

Bean's quick wit and warm personality made him a favourite panellist for six years on To Tell the Truth.

The game required the panellists to quiz three contestants to figure out which one was a real notable and which two were impostors.

The dramatic outcome inspired a catchphrase as the host turned to the three and said: "Will the real (notable's name) please stand up?".

Bean took a break from his career for a time in the 1970s when he dropped out and moved to Australia, where he lived a hippie lifestyle.

But he returned to the US and - after a period as a self-described "house-husband" - resumed his career.

"I got sick of contemplating my navel and staring up at the sky and telling myself how wonderful it was not to be doing anything," he explained in a 1983 interview with The New York Times.

In the 1990s, he played the shopkeeper Loren Bray on the long-running drama Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.

He remained active on the screen in recent years with guest shots in such shows as Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family.

Australian Associated Press