By Carolyn Lamberson
October 26, 2017
He was 77.
Bannon was active player on local stages, including two decades in the company of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre. There, he was Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Henry Higgens in “My Fair Lady,” Horace Vandergelder twice in “Hello, Dolly,” Daddy Warbucks in “Annie,” and the narrator of “Into the Woods.” At Spokane Civic Theatre, he portrayed the stage manager in “Our Town,” and at the former Interplayers he starred in “Art,” “The Fantasticks” and “Bus Stop,” among others. His last play was “On Shaky Ground,” for Ignite Community Theater in 2016, which was written by his stepdaughter, radio host Molly Allen. He and his wife co-starred frequently, doing “Love Letters” at Lake City Playhouse, Interplayers, CST and the University of Idaho, or in recent years in the holiday show at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
His career stretched back to 1964, when he made his debut in the TV sitcom “Karen.” He would go on to make appearances on shows such as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Petticoat Junction,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Daniel Boone,” “Mannix,” “Barney Miller,” and “Charlie’s Angels.”
But it was “Lou Grant” that most closely defines Bannon’s career. The show was a spin-off of the iconic “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” as Ed Asner’s gruff editor relocated from a Minneapolis TV station to the newsroom of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. It was an unusual move, taking the character from a 30-minute comedy to an hourlong drama that often delved into social commentary, but it seemed to work. The show ran for five seasons on CBS, and won an Emmy for outstanding drama. It also won two Golden Globes and the Peabody.
His film credits include the 1969 horror film “Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice,” starring Ruth Gordon and Geraldine Page, 1970’s “Little Big Man” with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway, and the 1990 Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick “Death Warrant.”
Bannon was born June 14, 1940, to a show business family. His father, Jim Bannon, was a radio, television and movie actor who played the Red Ryder in four 1940s Westerns. His mother, Bea Benaderet, was a noted radio and television performer. She did several voices for the “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show, and was a two-time Emmy nominee for best supporting actress for her work on “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” She was Kate Bradley on “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres” and the voice of Betty Rubble on the “The Flintstones.”
His first marriage to Kathleen Larkin ended in divorce. In 1983, he married Travolta. The two had met at birthday party for their agent - a party both Bannon and 10-year-old Molly brought the same gift to.
“Their longtime agent, he was a hypochondriac, and I brought him a pretend doctor’s kit,” Allen said. “And Jack brought him a deluxe pretend doctor’s kit. Then he saw my mom he asked who the lady with the pretty green eyes was. Then they started dating.”
She added, “Jack and I had a similar sense of humor from the beginning.”
Bannon and Travolta started visiting the Coeur d’Alene area in the late 1980s. By 1995, they’d bought their place above the lake and left Los Angeles. Rather than retire, he continued to work, although mostly it was on the stage.
He typically was a standout performer in whatever role he was in, and was seemingly as happy with a major role as he was with smaller parts. In his final season with CST, in 2013, he cropped up unannounced in “Big River” as Judge Thatcher, a last-minute substitution.
“It was sweet because sometimes he would do small parts in a play at Summer Theatre because he wanted to be part of it, and he’d do two scenes, and another show, he would be the lead,” Allen said. “He just wanted to be a part of it.”
In his review of Civic’s “Our Town” in 2000, former Spokesman-Review writer admitted to gushing in his appraisal of Bannon’s work as the stage manager. “He is commanding in a way which manages not to be domineering. He is informal, droll and his New England accent is right on the mark. He not only sounds the part, he looks the part. With his vest and pocket watch and his long, lean Yankee frame, he looks like an uncommonly wise train conductor. You might say he is conducting us into a kind of a fourth theatrical dimension, in which we can finally see ourselves as we really are.”
Bannon died in Coeur d’Alene surrounded by family, Allen said. He is survived by his wife, Ellen Travolta Bannon, stepchildren Molly Allen and Tom Fridley, sister Maggie Fuller and her husband, Clark Fuller, and two nieces and a nephew. Services are pending.
Born: 6/14/1940, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Died: 10/25/2017, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, U.S.A.
Jack Bannon’s westerns – actor:
Daniel Boone (TV) – 1967-1970 (Lieutenant Poole, Captain Smith, officer, Lieutenant Parker)
Lancer (TV) – 1968 (tracker)
Here Come the Brides (TV) – 1969 (guard)
Little Big Man – 1970 (Captain)
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (TV) – 1995 (Dr. John Potter)
Navajo’s Blues – 1996 (Captain Hansen)