Sunday, May 19, 2013

Silver Surfer Actor Bernard Behrens Dies At 85

by Ethan Minovitz

British-born Cana­dian the­atre, TV and film actor Bernard “Bunny” Behrens, the voice of Nietre in the Mar­vel Enterprises/Saban Enter­tain­ment series Sil­ver Surfer, died Sep­tem­ber 19, 2012, in Perth, Ontario, just shy of his 86th birthday. Sil­ver Surfer aired on FOX in the United States and Tele­toon in Canada. Har­lan Elli­son was one of its writers. Behrens also pro­vided addi­tional voices in 1981’s Smurfs.

He voiced Obi-Wan Kenobi in the National Pub­lic Radio drama­ti­za­tions of Star Wars (1981), The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and Return of the Jedi (1996). In 1992, he won the Gem­ini - the Cana­dian equiv­a­lent of the Emmy - for Best Per­for­mance by an Actor in a Lead­ing Role in a Dra­matic Pro­gram or Mini-Series in con­nec­tion with his work in Say­ing Good­bye. He won a 1995 Gem­ini for Best Per­for­mance by an Actor in a Sup­port­ing Role for the TV-movie Com­ing of Age. Behrens received Gem­ini nom­i­na­tions in 1986 for Best Per­for­mance by a Sup­port­ing Actor for the TV-movie Turn­ing to Stone, and in 2005 for Best Per­for­mance by an Actor in a Guest Role (Dra­matic Series) for This Is Won­der­land.

As a boy in Depression-era Lon­don, the city of his birth, Behrens dreamed from age 7 of being a Hol­ly­wood actor. He escaped the pri­va­tions of poverty when he sneaked into movie the­atres to live out the fan­tasy world of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stew­art, Irene Dunne and Myrna Loy, a world he even­tu­ally immersed him­self in for more than half a century. As a child evac­uee dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, he was forced to live by his wits with a fos­ter fam­ily, an expe­ri­ence he never for­got and which often haunted him through­out his life.

His path took him every­where from the Bris­tol Old Vic to Cana­dian Play­ers Tours in the 1950s and 1960s, the TV and radio ser­vices of the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion in their golden age; Toronto’s Crest The­atre; Halifax’s Nep­tune (where he and his wife were found­ing mem­bers under the direc­tion of Leon Major); the Strat­ford and Shaw Fes­ti­vals; and a decade in Hol­ly­wood, where his appear­ances in 1970s series from Dal­las, Starsky and Hutch and The Bionic Woman to Columbo and Mar­cus Welby, MD, among many oth­ers, still grace late-night TV.

Behrens appeared in hun­dreds of films and TV shows, and always gen­er­ously shared humor­ous anec­dotes about his work with folks in the business. Diag­nosed with demen­tia four years ago, he had his final gigs as the much-loved Young Far­ley in the Shaw Fes­ti­val pro­duc­tion of Belle Moral, along with a brief appear­ance in the TV pro­gram Liv­ing in Your Car. His final years were spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and, for the last year of his life, in Perth, where he was cared for in Lanark Lodge. Also in Perth, he met the actors and enjoyed a per­for­mance at the Clas­sic The­atre Fes­ti­val, run by his daughter-in-law, Lau­rel Smith. The last show he attended was a pro­duc­tion of Mary, Mary in Perth, in which he starred 50 years ago in its Cana­dian pre­miere at the Nep­tune Theatre. His pic­ture (along­side that of fel­low Cana­dian actor Ted Fol­lows) graced the Fes­ti­val lobby through­out the summer.

When Behrens suf­fered a major stroke a month before his death, an atten­dant who rec­og­nized him asked if he used to be an actor. Despite dif­fi­culty talk­ing and mov­ing, he responded, with his trade­mark tongue and atti­tude, “I still AM an actor!” Bunny, as he insisted on being called, was mar­ried to Cana­dian actress Deb­o­rah Cass (nee Ber­nice Katz) for almost 50 years until her death in 2004. He is sur­vived by sons Mark, of Dal­las, Texas; Matthew, of Perth; and Adam, of Lon­don; and by grand­chil­dren Tay­lor, Spenser and Kate.

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