Larry Storch, comedian and actor on TV series F Troop, has died at the age of 99
Mr. Storch’s career stretched back to the 1930s when he began working as a comedian and impressionist in burlesque houses and has spanned stand-up comedy, hundreds of television appearances, film and theater roles and voice-over parts in animated films.
Yet it was a goofy sitcom that earned him his greatest credit, portraying the likable but hapless Cpl. Randolph Agarn on “F Troop,” which ran on ABC from 1965-1967 and showed the shenanigans of an army unit at a frontier outpost.
“How do you get to Fort Courage?” Mr. Storch’s character asked in one episode. “It’s easy. Turn right at the rock that looks like a bear, then turn left at the bear that looks like a rock.”
Mr. Storch was the sidekick of the wily Sgt. Morgan O’Rourke, played by Forrest Tucker, who constantly hatches foolish schemes to make money, often at odds with leaders of a local Indian tribe known as the Hekawi. The fort’s commanding officer is an inept amateur, played by Ken Berry.
The show’s humor was often broad, ridiculous, and built on gross cultural stereotypes, but Mr. Storch became the comic star of F Troop. With his expressive face and gift for mimicry, he played Agarn as a cross between villain and buffoon, embroiled in one scheme after another gone awry.
He was constantly encountering cousins from all over the world – played by Mr. Storch in different accents, of course – who somehow managed to get to Fort Courage from Russia, Canada or Mexico. His up-brimmed hat seemed to fall into the dust in every episode, or he used it to hit other F Troop soldiers who were even more incompetent than he was.
Agarn frequently mentioned his hometown of Passaic, NJ, and in one episode, both mayoral candidates meet at Fort Courage to solicit the corporal’s ballot-by-mail to break an electoral tie. Tucker’s character tries to make money campaigning, while the corporal laments, “My only regret is that I only have one vote for my city.”
In the end, his vote is disallowed for casting his ballot in a saloon that served whiskey in violation of electoral laws.
A 1960s hybrid of Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes and Gomer Pyle, USMC, F Troop was canceled after two seasons but has lived on in syndicated reruns for more than 50 years.
Lawrence Samuel Storch was born in the Bronx on January 8, 1923 and grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His father was a taxi driver and real estate agent at various times, and his mother was a telephone operator and owner of a jewelry store, among other things.
Mr. Storch attended DeWitt Clinton High in the Bronx, where one of his classmates was comedian Don Adams. He began performing as a teenage impressionist and dropped out of school to pursue a career in show business.
“My mother ran a boarding house on West 77th Street in the 1920s,” Mr. Storch told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. “Many of the tenants were immigrants and the community phone was right in front of our apartment. I listened to those accents through our door for hours.”
He’s had moderate success in nightclubs from Boston to Miami. Inspired by the jazz musicians he frequently worked with, he taught himself to play the saxophone.
During World War II he served in the Navy for more than three years. One of his shipmates was a New Yorker named Bernie Schwartz, who told Mr. Storch about his ambitions to be an actor.
“I told him that if he ever needed help, he could find me and I would put in a word for him,” Herr Storch later said. “But I advised him to get out of the business because I knew firsthand how hard it is to make a living in show business. Good thing he didn’t listen to me.”
Bernie Schwartz later became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars under a different name: Tony Curtis.
Tony Curtis dies at 85; starred in Some Like It Hot and Sweet Smell of Success
In the early 1950’s Mr. Storch replaced Jackie Gleason as host of the variety show Cavalcade of Stars and briefly hosted his own TV show in 1953 and was a frequent guest star on such shows as The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You?“. Curtis also found roles for Mr. Stork in several of his films, including 40 Pounds of Trouble, Captain Newman, MD, Sex and the Single Girl, and The Great Race.
After F Troop, Mr. Storch had a recurring role on The Doris Day Show, starred in the 1975 plane disaster film Airport 1975, and was reunited with Tucker for the short-lived TV show The Ghost Busters (1975), which had no connection to the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters.
He has also appeared in regional theater productions of Arsenic and Old Lace and Annie Get Your Gun, as well as a national tour of Porgy and Bess, where he played a sneaky, racist detective, the opera’s only white character.
In 1961 Mr. Storch married Norma Greve. They had been in a relationship since the late 1940s and gave up a daughter for adoption.
Greve later had another daughter, June, from a relationship with Jimmy Cross, a dancer in the once popular nightclub duo Stump and Stumpy. Because her daughter was mixed-race, Greve was ostracized and evicted from her New York apartment. Concerned about the difficult life that lay ahead for her and her daughter, she asked a black couple she knew in Atlantic City to help raise June.
“I think the truth is that she loved me enough to give me away,” June Cross told the Washington Post in 1996.
June often visited her mother and stepfather in New York and Los Angeles, but she was never publicly identified as her mother’s daughter for fear of harming Mr. Storch’s career. All three pairs of grandparents – those of Norma Storch, Jimmy Cross and Mr. Storch – refused to have anything to do with their granddaughter or their mother.
In 1996, June Cross, a television news producer who is now a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, produced the documentary “Secret Daughter” about her relationship with her mother.
After Secret Daughter aired on the PBS program Frontline, the Storches were reunited with Candace Herman, their daughter who had been adopted by another family in the 1940s.
Norma Storch died in 2003. In addition to Cross of Manhattan and Herman, a teacher from Los Angeles, survivors include a stepson from a previous marriage of Norma Storch, retired history professor Lary May of Minneapolis; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Storch settled permanently in New York in the 1990s and often played his saxophone in Central Park. He appeared sporadically on television and at comedy clubs well into his 90s, often signing autographs at show business nostalgia festivals. He was never embarrassed about the slapstick TV comedy that made him famous.
Speaking about approaching the role on “F Troop,” Mr. Storch recalled Tucker asking him, “What do you know about horses?”
“They give milk and bite on both ends,” answered Herr Storch.
“You’re going to do very well,” Tucker said.