Born: July 22, 1928;

Died: February 7, 2020.

ORSON BEAN, who has died aged 91 in a road accident, was an all-rounder of American entertainment. Variously, he was a comedian, actor, magician, school founder and administrator, and author of books of varying degrees of seriousness.

It was an appropriate divergence of talents for one whose life and beliefs took several contradictory turns. While he had a ready smile, simultaneously he often looked perturbed. His stage name, he explained, combined a “pompous first name“ with a “silly second name”, and he adopted it after experimenting with Hornsby Shirtwaist and Roger Duck.

He was born Dallas Burrows in Vermont. An only child, he was raised in Massachusetts, where his politically active but intermittently employed father left home when Dallas was 16; his mother, a heavy drinker, committed suicide five years later. Having begun performing magic tricks as a child, he continued during army service in Japan.

Bean termed his Pennsylvania nightclubs experiences as “honing my skills, getting no laughs”. Exchanging magic for comedy, and described in reviews as a “monologuist”, he said he only gained appreciative audiences after moving to New York in 1951.

With Harry Belafonte, Bean was in a Broadway revue, Harlequinade (1953), before playing a nervous film fan who sells his soul for a chance with Jayne Mansfield, in satirical comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955-56). The musical Subways Are For Sleeping (1961-62) earned him a Tony award nomination.

As the TV industry was then based in New York, he was regularly on talk and panel-game shows, including What’s My Line? and its sister series, I’ve Got A Secret. Bean maintained he had been a guest on Johnny Carson’s sofa 96 times, also serving as a replacement guest host, as he had for Carson’s predecessor, Jack Paar. He played a victim of Bilko’s scheming in The Phil Silvers Show (1958), and an eccentric visited by his guardian angel in The Twilight Zone (1960).

In 1964, he opened the 15th Street School in Manhattan, based on the methods of the Summerhill School in Suffolk. A. S. Neill, Summerhill’s Scottish founder, wrote the foreword to Me And The Orgone ( 1971), in which Bean detailed his personal, positive experiences of the theories and therapies of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Following his film debut in How To Be Very Very Popular (1955), Bean was blacklisted in Hollywood as a suspected communist. Later, he averred he had been merely “a lefty like our whole generation of young people”, and publicly supported Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential election.

After starring in the musical Promises, Promises in Melbourne in 1970, Bean remained in Australia with his family, but by 1971 they were back in America.

His face visibly lined, but his square chin still prominent, he had recurring roles in Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, and as an elderly suitor in Desperate Housewives. Less than two weeks before his death, he was on stage in Santa Monica in a comedy, Bad Habits, alongside his third wife, actress Alley Mills. She survives him, as do four children and nine grandchildren.