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Happy Birthday, Don Diamond!

The actor born Donald Alan Diamond in Brooklyn, NY on this date in 1921 was in real life a rather nondescript individual…but that is precisely the quality you want when you’ve decided you want to be a character actor.  Diamond’s knack for dialects—Spanish ones in particular—kept him busy in radio during the 1940s, and with the advent of television, his vocal talents won him high profile roles on The Adventures of Kit Carson (as Carson’s loyal sidekick “El Toro”) and Zorro, on which he played Corporal Reyes.  In the mid-60s, Don would land the gig for which he’s best remembered among couch potatoes in good standing: that of Crazy Cat, the goofy second-in-command to Hekawi Indian Chief Wild Eagle (Frank de Kova) on the popular TV comedy-western F Troop.

Because he tackled so many Hispanic roles, Don Diamond was often believed by many to be Mexican.  His origins, however, were Russian. Diamond’s father Benjamin emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1905, which explained why Don spoke more than his fair share of Yiddish.  But he studied Spanish while attending the University of Michigan to obtain a degree in drama, and when Diamond enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII (serving stateside because he suffered from myopia), he spent his spare time perfecting his Spanish while stationed in the Southwest.

Don Diamond got his start in radio while waiting induction in New York, emoting on such series as The March of Time.  Once out of the service, Don made the rounds on many of the medium’s popular dramatic anthologies, notably All-Star Western TheatreThe Bakers’ Theatre of StarsThe CBS Radio WorkshopConfessionEscapeThe Eternal LightFavorite StoryFamily TheatreInheritanceThe Lux Radio TheatreNBC Presents: Short StoryThe NBC University TheatreRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over Hollywood, and Suspense.

Other programs on which Don Diamond did a little script reading include The Adventures of Nero WolfeThe Adventures of Philip MarloweBroadway’s My BeatDangerous AssignmentFort LaramieFrontier GentlemanGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelLassieLet George Do ItLuke Slaughter of TombstoneNight BeatO’HaraPresenting Charles BoyerRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveRocky FortuneThe Silent MenThe Story of Doctor KildareTales of the Texas RangersYou Were There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Don kept his hand in radio practically till the end, appearing on such radio revival attempts as Horizons WestThe Hollywood Radio Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.

While his radio career was going great guns, Don Diamond decided to flex his thespic muscles and try his luck in motion pictures. He made his silver screen debut in 1950’s Borderline (a noir starring Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor), and would go to work both credited and uncredited in the likes of Omar Khayyam (1957), Raiders of Old California (1957), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), The Story of Ruth (1960), Swingin’ Along (1961), Irma la Douce (1963), Fun in Acapulco (1964), and The Carpetbaggers (1964).  Diamond felt more at home on the small screen, however; in addition to his regular gigs on The Adventures of Kit Carson and Zorro, Don guest starred on such TV favorites as The Adventures of Superman,  TrackdownThe Gale Storm Show: Oh, Susanna!The Life and Legend of Wyatt EarpThe Untouchables, and Rawhide.  He had a recurring role on two 60s series: Empire (1962-63), a modern-day Western starring Richard Egan as a ranch foreman (Charles Bronson was a regular on this show), and Redigo (1963), which spun off Egan’s character into a separate series.

It was as the pixilated flunky Crazy Cat on F Troop that Don Diamond would cement his television immortality; the cheerful sidekick often expressed an ambition to take over as Hekawi chief, prompting Wild Eagle to react with undisguised disdain.  (“Craze” did get a brief opportunity to be the man in charge in an episode entitled ”Our Brave in F Troop,” when Chief Wild Eagle is disguised as a Fort Courage soldier in order to get his tooth pulled.)   After F Troop finished its two-year-run in 1967, Don returned to guest roles on such series as Run for Your LifeThe Big ValleyGet Smart (in the classic “The Treasure of C. Errol Madre”) and Here’s Lucy.  Diamond also voiced one of the “Tijuana Toads” (he was “Toro,” Tom Holland was “Pancho”) in a series of theatrical cartoons produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. When those shorts became segments on The Pink Panther Show, they renamed the characters the “Texas Toads” and overdubbed some of the dialogue to address concerns about stereotyping.

Don Diamond later did voices for the Saturday morning favorite Devlin and provided the voice of “Gonzales” on The New Adventures of Zorro.  Other TV favorites that Don visited include Mission: ImpossibleColumboAdam-12The Streets of San FranciscoThe Rockford Files, and WKRP in Cincinnati.  He continued to work until his retirement in 1987, and passed away in 2011 at the age of 90.

Don Diamond was the definition of a working actor during the Golden Age of Radio, and Radio Spirits has plenty of his performances on hand to back this up.  Don was a frequent supporting player on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and you can hear him on our Dollar sets ConfidentialFabulous FreelanceFatal MattersThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare MattersMurder Matters, and Phantom Chases.  Today’s birthday boy also made occasional forays into Dodge City, which you’ll notice in the Gunsmoke collections Around Dodge CityDead or Alive, and Flashback.  Rounding out our “Diamond” presentations: The Adventures of Philip MarloweEscape: PerilFort LaramieHave Gun – Will Travel: Bitter VengeanceThe New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Mayhem is My Business.  Happy birthday, Don!

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