Cleveland-born comedy actor Jack Riley switched his career interest from baseball to acting after obtaining a radio job, writing and performing skits while attending John Carroll University. He toured military bases throughout the world in comedy shows after being drafted in the Army in 1958.
Following his discharge, he returned to radio and became one of Cleveland’s top personalities before setting his sights on film and TV. Receiving a break from old radio pal Tim Conway, Jack headed west and began writing material especially for Tim for assorted TV guest appearances. He also performed in radio commercials.
Soon Riley was working in front of the camera, his first role being a regular part on the sitcom Occasional Wife (1966). Other parts soon came his way on various ’60s laughfests, including Hogan’s Heroes (1965), I Dream of Jeannie (1965) and especially Laugh-In (1967) where both his writing and performing skills were utilized. It was also on “Laugh-In” that he met future wife Ginger Lawrence, the producer’s assistant at the time. The slim actor sought out films in the ’70s with roles in Catch-22 (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978). He also became a minor staple in Mel Brooks’s spoofs, with Silent Movie (1976), High Anxiety (1977) and History of the World: Part I (1981) to his credit.
TV gave Jack his best shot, especially as the dry, terminally-depressed Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show (1972), where his hilariously morose character proved a constant scene-stealer. Along with continued guest roles in Night Court (1984), Seinfeld (1989), and others, he appears on stage occasionally, most recently playing comedian Fred Allen in “Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen”.
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