September 27, 1932 – November 11, 1986
How this guy passed for straight, I will never know. He was not a very well known actor, but he’s one of those stories that will never go away. Every so often I get an email from someone asking about his suicide, or his overdose. In most of the accounts, he was with young hustler/rent boy types.
He was pretty well known by face, in the character actor squadron. Roger Buell in The Mothers-in-Law (one of the best 2 c’s in a k shows ever), Harry Mudd in Star Trek, who can forget the embarrassment Myra Breckenridge? He also did loads of voice work in cartoons. It must be great for people to come up and say, “I just LOVED your work in The Transformers!” Thanks. For a complete list, go here.
After the first series of The Mothers-in-Law, which incidentally was produced by Desi Arnaz, there was a problem and the cast was asked to take pay cuts, and Roger refused. He was replaced by another gay staple of 60’s TV, actor, Richard Deacon.
One story is that Roger had hit the skids career wise, and was given the job as spokesperson for the Naugles fast-food chain, playing the character Senor Naugles. No doubt the PC police would put a stop to that nowadays, sorta like the Frito Bandito. (I like Fritos Corn Chips.. I take dem from you! Eye yi yi yi..) So he had a bit of success with this, and was celebrating in a big way. BTW, Naugles was bought out by the Del Taco people.
He was living in a semi high rise on Hollywood Boulevard.
No doubt when guests arrived, they came thru these doors,
and into this lobby.
On the 11th of November 1986, Carmel was found dead in his sixth floor apartment.
He was 54 years old.
Roger was shipped back east to Glendale New York. Various discrepancies, Findadeath.com friend Chris Strauss tracked Roger down, and here he is. Great work Chris, I’m so grateful.
In the true spirit of death hagdom (we may mock, but we do love), Chris laid flowers for Roger. I’m sure its been a while since anyone has laid anything on or near Roger, and he appreciated it.
The odd thing about Roger, is that most people do think he committed suicide. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly isn’t listed on his death certificate, and it usually is. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the official cause of death, and suicide isn’t even mentioned. Now, I asked my friend Scott Williams who is quite knowledgeable in this sort of thing, his explanation is this: “Hypertrophic” for overgrowth of the thickening and unnatural enlargement of, “cardiomyophathy” referring to disease of the heart muscle. This makes the left ventricle in particular less efficient at ejecting blood. It also stretches open the valves causing backflow of whatever blood it just tried to eject. The patient becomes progressively weaker. Pressure backs up into the lungs, the patient becomes increasingly short of breath. Congestive heart failure is the result and ultimate primary cause of death. Cardiomyopathy suggests this damage is of unknown etiology as opposed to direct damage to the heart by a heat attack or viral attack. It can onset in very young people and is the number one ticket to the transplant list.
Scott also adds, “Someone with this condition could certainly be pushed over the edge either way with drug use. Their personal history would be a better guide there as the diagnosis, per se, does not imply that.”
Interesting. I’ve been in touch with a few former “boys of the evening” who claim to have had relations with Roger. They do say he was pretty much a party guy. One of the rumors being bandied about is that he was found dead from an overdose of exotic chemicals, Colombian nose powder for one.
Got this in this weekend: “Interesting. I guess I was one of those ‘young hustler types’ who had a brief, and very unpleasant encounter with Roger. I seem to remember it was back in the late 70s, early 80s, some new flat in West Hollywood or Hollywood, or maybe even my place in Santa Monica, and the queen was so high on something she was floating off the ground. Apparently she was a rabid size queen (I have only 8 inches), or some other such, maybe because I sensed something bad and asked for the $$ upfront, anyway, the encounter ended with a very bad memory.”
Scott adds, “Colombian nose powder would definitely be high on the list of things you don’t do with heart disease. If the story about Roger is true, I would consider this your culprit. The diagnosis and the rumor do add together nicely to equal death.”
One more taste of trivia, apparently there was an article in TV Guide about letters that networks get when shows are cancelled, or stars leave them. When Carmel left TMIL, they didn’t get a single complaint, as opposed to over 100,000 when The Monkees was cancelled.
Got this in the other day, from Joel Eisner, writer of my fave Batbook. “I thought you might like to hear another tale about Roger. As the author of The Official Batman Batbook, I had the opportunity to interview Roger in 1985 about his work as Colonel Gumm on the Green Hornet episode of the Batman series. We had lunch at Musso and Frank in Hollywood, where he told me, at least HIS reason for quitting The Mothers in Law, which makes far more sense than his attitude on the set.
At the end of the first season, Desi Arnaz came to the whole cast and told them that the show had been renewed for another year, and that they had a five year commitment from NBC, but they had no money for raises. The rest of the cast figured they had a guarantee of work for the next few years, but Roger knew better.
It seems Arnaz was already getting four salaries from the show. Producer, writer, director and creator. Roger knew he was taking the cast for a ride, so when he didn’t get his raise, he quit and they brought in Deacon, whom Roger recalled as a poor schmuck who always sold himself short.
Roger claimed he never saw the second season, so when I told him that Arnaz had joined the cast as an out of work bullfighter, a surprised Roger exclaimed, “That Cuban SOB. No wonder there was no money for us, he took a fifth salary!” Then, when the series was cancelled, Roger said that Kaye Ballard called him and cried that he was right, and that they all should have listened to him and held out for more money.
As for Roger’s career on the downslide, from the late 1960’s until his death, Roger made a good income from providing the voice of Smokey the Bear in government Public Service Announcements. The C. stands for Charles, he was named after his grandfather Charles Carmel who was carving the carousel horses in New York’s Central Park.
As for his death, I was good friends with Jonathan Harris (Lost in Space‘s Dr. Smith, who despite rumors was totally straight), I was at a Sci Fi convention in Atlanta (Jonathan was a guest and I was selling photos) when Roger died. Jonathan told me that Roger was a friend of his, and that he received a call from Henry Gibson who was a mutual friend of he and Roger.
The story goes that Roger was having chest pains and he called down to the doorman to call him a cab, to go to the hospital. When the cab driver arrived minutes later, Roger never came down. The doorman waved the cab away and never checked to see why Roger never answered his calls. They later found him dead on the floor of his apartment, from a heart attack. Harris said that Gibson implied that Roger had been using coke the day he died.
When I wrote back to Joel questioning Jonathan Harris and his sexual orientation, Joel responded, “I knew Harris was married and had a married son and grandchildren, but so did a lot of people who went both ways. I used to run the International Fan Club for Lost in Space, and it wasn’t until I printed an interview with Michael Conrad, that I learned the truth about Harris. Conrad outed Harris in the interview, and Harris read it and took offense.
When we next met, he took me aside and told me the truth. The entire fey routine was an ‘effected’ act. A character he created to cover up his New York/Bronx accent, when he started on Broadway back in the 40’s, and it stuck with him in the parts he played. He then dropped his accent and went back to his original voice with a four letter vocabulary to match. Believe me, he was straight.
Back in the 50’s, he costarred with Lou Costello on a program after he went solo. Shortly before he died, Harris told me that Lou was fascinated by his ‘British’ accent and manners, and was completely shocked to learn that Harris was from the Bronx. After that, Lou wanted Harris to teach him to talk like him.
Fascinating, Joel. Thank you. You can get Joel’s book here.
Thanks to Scott Williams, Tom Durand, Bob Tulley and others for help with this.
Trivia, somewhat related, Findadeath friend Sammie sends us this recent titbit regarding to Kaye Ballard’s whereabouts:
‘Nunsense’ Cast Is Play’s Saving Grace
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 29, 2004; Page C02
Say this for the ladies headlining “Nunsense” at the Warner Theatre this week: They know how to skate gracefully on thin ice.
“Fragile” is a generous word to describe writer-director Dan Goggin’s comedy, unless you’re talking about its commercial success (this is the 20th-anniversary tour, a long haul from the line of greeting cards that got Goggin started). The premise is that a bunch of loopy nuns are performing in a fundraiser, and it brings out their latent showbiz dreams. Ah, the lives they might have led — ballerina, country-and-western star — but at the wistful end of nearly every solo, the sisters claim they wouldn’t have done it any other way.
How Kaye Ballard, Lee Meriwether, Darlene Love, Mimi Hines and Georgia Engel pull through with their dignity intact is a testament to good cheer, a soft sell and their own set of time-tested skills. Engel’s patented breathy voice and baby-bird stare, for instance, are as effective now as they were when she played Georgette on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a grown woman who can talk as earnestly to a teddy bear as Engel does here; actress and toy are two of a kind. And it’s charming to watch Engel’s character, Sister Mary Leo, when she dances. Her ballet may be earthbound, but the steps are sincere.
As an understudy who wants her own solo number, Meriwether is tough but sweet, and you can bank on a Miss America joke tailored just for her. (She looks great even in a habit, at one point playfully evoking her cat suit from the 1966 “Batman” movie by twisting her veil into little black ears.) Theater and cabaret veteran Hines, as Sister Mary Amnesia, proves to be the biggest cutup, working the crowd during a Catholic quiz and singing both parts, her voice plummy and true, in a rapid number with a ventriloquist’s dummy.
Ballard controls center stage as the hammy Sister Mary Regina and is surprisingly deft with Cheech and Chong humor when her character unwittingly gets hold of a controlled substance. As for Love, singer of such ’60s hits as “He’s a Rebel,” she brings things to bona fide life when she unleashes her big, sunny voice on “Holier Than Thou,” the only song in the score worth mentioning by name.
The jokes are woeful more often than not, but Ballard and company handle even the duds with aplomb, stepping lightly and taking what they can get. Cheesiness is built into “Nunsense,” of course: It’s amateur hour by design. The plucky nuns perform in a local school auditorium, which is set up for “Grease,” and the four-man band at the back of the stage sounds as skimpy as the tunes. What’s missing is wit: real punch lines in the book and music.
Nunsense, written and directed by Dan Goggin. Musical staging and choreography, Felton Smith; musical direction, Leo P. Carusone; scenic design, Barry Axtell; lighting design, Paul Miller. With Bambi Jones and Deborah Del Mastro. Approximately two hours. Through Sunday at the Warner Theatre, 13th and E streets NW.
UPDATE February 2005, from Findadeath friend Melanie:
Hi Scott – love what you’ve done with the place! Just wanted to nitpickingly clarify the cause of death for Roger. “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy” is enlargement of the overall heart muscle. However, hypertrophy is caused by many things, including chronic alcohol/drug use and high blood pressure. “Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy” is the term for an unknown cause and tends to be more common in the younger set. Either way – bad news and usually a one way ticket to the dirt nap. Just wanted to set that straight. Keep up the good work. From a fellow death hag – Melanie