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Subject: Archive: Jesse Pearson, Dec. 5, 1979

Actor ("Bye Bye Birdie")
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Date Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 05:20:11pm

Bobby Wayne Pearson (August 18, 1930 December 5, 1979), known as Jesse Pearson, was an American actor, singer, director, and writer.


After releasing two singles on Decca Records with little success, Pearson was heard by composer Charles Strouse, who recommended him for the national tour of the musical Bye Bye Birdie. When Dick Gautier, the original actor playing Conrad Birdie, fell ill, Pearson took the role of the rock idol inspired by Elvis Presley. He repeated his hilarious characterization in the 1963 film version, Bye Bye Birdie.

[1] This was followed by another funny performance in the Glenn Ford comedy Advance to the Rear (1964), but as he had no more film offers, he turned to television, appearing in shows such as Bonanza, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale's Navy, The Great Adventure and The Beverly Hillbillies. In the next decade, Pearson narrated the film The Norseman (1978), a Viking saga starring Lee Majors and Cornel Wilde and, as expressions of sexuality became more free and frequent, he directed The Legend of Lady Blue (1978) and wrote Pro-Ball Cheerleader (1979), under the name A. Fabritzi.

Pearson was also the narrator of many albums, including Rod McKuen's The Sea (1967) and Home to the Sea (1968), as recorded by the San Sebastian Strings;[2] as well as The Body Electric and The Body Electric-2, two LPs based on poems by Walt Whitman, with music by McKuen, released in the early 1970s; the album tribute to songwriter-singer Woody Guthrie, We Ain't Down Yet (1976); and two religious albums by Jaime Mendoza-Nava: And Jesus Said... and Meditation in Psalms, also in 1976. Pearson also recorded the album The Glory of Love for RCA Victor, which remains unreleased to this day.

Early in 1970, in "The Mezcla Man", one of the last episodes of the syndicated western series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Dale Robertson, Pearson played Jess Ivy, a young man who wants to propose marriage to a young woman, Sarah Ewing (Karen Carlson) but hesitates because of his lack of financial footing. He decides to look for hidden gold.

In an earlier Death Valley Days segment, "The Rider" (1965), Pearson played mail express rider Jim Barnes, who helps a young widow, Faith Turner (Lisa Gaye) find a husband and a father for her young son.

In the Death Valley Days episode "The Courtship of Carrie Huntington" (1966), set in the future Washington State, Pearson plays Henry Windsor, who is hired to take Carrie (Sue Randall) to her sister's wedding after she misses the stagecoach. Henry and Carrie engage in a mock wedding, but on the return trip, Henry wins her over after they are held by Indians, and Carrie nurses a sick child to health. Helen Kleeb plays Carrie's mother, and Dub Taylor has a cameo role as a station agent.

When Pearson was diagnosed with cancer, he moved to Monroe, Louisiana, to be near his mother, and died there on December 5, 1979, aged 49.

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