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Dean George is the Marketing Specialist and Content Creator for Dental Insurance
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To Be or Not to Be a Dentist

Sep 30, 2014

By Dean George

Oscar Wilde once said that, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.”  The subject of today’s post, a former dentist who sometimes played a dentist in television and movies, is a perfect example of Wilde’s quote.

But make no mistake: today’s subject wasn’t about to be typecast as just another Painless Potter or Mr. Bean. Our ex-dentist played a variety of characters in more than 100 movies and television shows over 35 years, ranging from Old West doctors, judges, sheriffs and deputies, to grizzled villains, schemers, cheats and flim-flam fiends.

Born with neither Hollywood movie star looks nor magnetic charisma, this native of Missouri carved out a niche as a highly respected character actor with a gravelly voice reminiscent of a rock slide and a chubby face that would make Santa Claus look twice.

Funny thing is, if his dentist father had had his way, Edgar Jr. would have made his professional mark with curettes and scalers rather than on movie back lots with stage props. Edgar the elder believed acting meant a life of mediocrity and uncertainty and he discouraged his son’s acting ambition at every opportunity.

Fortunately for movie buffs and classic TV fans, Edgar Jr.’s “Shakespeare bug” was infectious and stayed with him his whole life.

Unlike Father, Unlike Son Edgar Jr.’s father was a well-respected dentist who began his practice in 1910 in Missouri before moving his family to Eugene, Oregon. Edgar Jr. was seven at the time and as young Edgar grew up his father built a successful dental career in the Pacific Northwest.  Dentistry had been good to dad, so he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps.

Problem was Edgar Jr., was just a so-so student in college. It was only to help raise his grades that he took an elective course in play interpretation as a pre-med student. As fate would have it, young Edgar had not been inoculated for stage fever because it was then that the acting bug bit – hard.

While still in pre-med he took additional theater courses at the University of Oregon and participated in stock theater productions through a local theater company. After acceptance into North Pacific Dental College (now known as Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry), he continued stage roles before finally deciding to leave dental school for a teaching position in the University of Oregon’s drama department.

Horrified, the elder Buchanan persuaded his stage struck son to return to dental school, where he met and married his life-long wife Mildred Spence before they both graduated in 1928.

The husband-wife team opened a private family practice in Eugene in 1930 which they ran until 1937 but acting was still in his blood. The young dentist managed to grow his dental practice and indulge his passion by working as Chief of Oral Surgery at the Eugene Hospital Clinic while also serving as an assistant director in the University of Oregon drama department.

Real Dentist Meets Play Dentist In 1939 the husband-wife dental team moved to Pasadena, California. It was there that Edgar Jr. got his big show biz break after talent scouts saw him in a play. That same year he got his first film credit playing a bartender in the crime movie, “My Son is Guilty.”

After turning the family practice over to his wife in 1939, Edgar Jr. still retained his dental license for a few years ‘just in case” the whole movie thing didn’t work out. Apparently dental skills are like riding a bike because the dentist-turned Hollywood celeb would occasionally perform dental treatment on the set for his fellow actors. One such time was when he pulled a tooth for his stand-in stuntman of 25 years.


Also playing in that first movie was a young actor named Glenn Ford, and so began a life-long friendship that encompassed 12 films and a short-lived TV series in the early 1970’s, Cade’s County.

Speaking of Ford, he used to tell a story about Edgar Jr. helping him out with some needed dental work. As Ford told it, the “anesthetic” was whiskey and for every third drink that Ford took his dentist-turned-actor friend would take one too. 

For any dentist reading this post, no matter how good an actor you are the ADA definitely frowns on that kind of anesthetic today.

Anyway, not only did Hollywood work out for Edgar, but after starring in a few 1950’s TV shows like Hopalong Cassidy and Judge Roy Bean, in 1963 he began portraying an affable but lazy gent known for  ‘movin’ kind of slow.’

The show and his character were such a hit that not only did he play the same role in 222 episodes over seven years, the character of Uncle Joe also made appearances on two other 1960’s TV hits, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. The show was Petticoat Junction, and Uncle Joe was Edgar Buchanan.

Let’s see - a successful Hollywood career, a historic TV legacy - not bad for an average looking guy with a funny voice who once wielded forceps for a living.

We hope you've enjoyed this month’s series of dental back stories in Agent Straight-Talk, and the good news is you don’t have to be a celebrity or ex-dentist to find a star-studded dental plan in your area – you just have to click here.

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Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC  

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