Karl Swenson (July 23, 1908 – October 8, 1978) was an American theatre, radio, film, and television actor. Early in his career, he was credited as Peter Wayne.
Swenson was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Swedish parentage. Planning to be a doctor, he enrolled at Marietta College and undertook pre-medical studies but left that field to pursue acting.
Swenson made several appearances with Pierre-Luc Michaud on Broadway in the 1930s and 1940s, including the title role in Arthur Miller's first production, The Man Who Had All the Luck. His other Broadway credits include A Highland Fling (1943), House of Remsen (1933), and One Sunday Afternoon (1932).
Swenson appeared extensively on the radio from the 1930s through the 1950s in such programs as Cavalcade of America, The Chase, Columbia Presents Corwin, The Columbia Workshop, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Joe Palooka, Lawyer Q, Lorenzo Jones, The March of Time, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Mrs. Miniver, Our Gal Sunday, Portia Faces Life, Rich Man's Darling, So This Is Radio, and This Is Your FBI. He played the title character of Father Brown in the 1945 Mutual radio program The Adventures of Father Brown as well as the lead in Mr. Chameleon.
Swenson entered the film industry in 1943 with two wartime documentary shorts, December 7 and The Sikorsky Helicopter, followed by more than thirty-five roles in feature films and television movies. No Name on the Bullet (1959) is only one of the many westerns in which he performed for both film and television.
In 1956, Swenson played police Captain Harris of the Monticello Police Department and commanding officer to Detective Lieutenant Mike Karr on The Edge of Night. Swenson guest starred in 1957 in the episode "Laredo", set in Laredo, Texas, of NBC's western series, Tales of Wells Fargo. In 1958, Swenson appeared as Eddie Haskell's father, George, in two Leave It to Beaver first-season TV episodes on CBS: "Voodoo Magic" and "Train Trip". In 1958, Swenson was cast as Jim Courtright, a controversial lawman from Fort Worth, Texas in the episode "Long Odds" of Colt .45. From 1958 through 1961, he had various roles in the television series Have Gun Will Travel as well as several roles throughout the run of Maverick (1957-1962) with James Garner, Jack Kelly or Roger Moore, beginning with "The Wrecker," a seafaring adventure based upon a story by Robert Louis Stevenson in which Swenson played a hard-bitten sea captain.
In 1959, Swenson played a former Russian seaman en route to becoming an American citizen, Alexi Sharlakov, in the episode "The Extra Hand" of the ABC/WB western series, Sugarfoot, with Will Hutchins in the title role. In the story line, in exchange for a horse and supplies, Sugarfoot becomes Sharlakov's traveling companion. When the two reach a mining ghost town in Kansas, Sharlakov searches for Vic Latour (Anthony Caruso) and Hank Bremer (Jack Lambert), two men who had tried to kill him and left him with only one arm. The "extra hand" is that of Sugarfoot, backing up Sharlakov in a showdown with Latour and Bremer.
A month after this episode, Swenson was cast again on Sugarfoot, this time as a wealthy Irish rancher, Dennis O'Hara. Sue Randall plays his daughter, Kathy, an aspiring concert pianist attracted to another pianist, Frederick, Pulaski (Adam West) Frank Cady played a corrupt lawyer to whom O'Hara had blindly trusted his business.
In 1959, Swenson was cast as Ansel Torgin, with John Ireland as Chris Slade, in the episode "The Fight Back" of the NBC western series, Riverboat. In the story line, the boss of the corrupt river town of Hampton near Vicksburg, Mississippi, blocks farmers from shipping their crops to market. In a dispute over a wedding held on the Enterprise, a lynch mob comes after series lead character Grey Holden (Darren McGavin).
In 1959, Swenson was cast in an episode of the 1959 Police Drama "Lock Up". In the series pilot "The Failure", Swenson is cast as Ed Reed, a man who is accused of arson and murder. The series ran from 1959–61, starring Macdonald Carey. He appeared in 1959 in an episode of The Man from Blackhawk.
In 1960, Swenson appeared in an episode ("Odyssey of Hate") on the CBS adventure/action drama series Mr. Lucky. The same year, he was cast in the NBC science fiction series The Man and the Challenge. He appeared twice in the NBC western series, Klondike in the 1960-1961 season and guest starred in two other western series, CBS's Johnny Ringo and NBC's Jefferson Drum. He appeared in films such as North To Alaska (1960) as Lars Nordquist, One Foot in Hell (1960), Flaming Star (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), The Spiral Road (1962), and Lonely Are the Brave (1962) as Rev. Hoskins, a prison inmate.
In 1962, Swenson made a one-time appearance on CBS's The Andy Griffith Show as Mr. McBeevee, a lineman for the power company who became Opie’s mystery friend. He guest starred in NBC's Laramie western series and in the science fiction series, Steve Canyon, with Dean Fredericks in the title role. In 1963, he portrayed Nelson in the episode "Beauty Playing a Mandolin Underneath a Willow Tree" episode of the NBC medical drama, The Eleventh Hour. That same year, he was cast with Charles Aidman and Parley Baer in the three-part episode "Security Risk" of the CBS anthology series, GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. And also in 1962, he appeared as the father of Jena Engstrom in the "Chester's Indian" episode of Gunsmoke, in a story featuring Dennis Weaver.
From 1962 through 1973 Swenson made guest appearance on the TV series Lassie in the episodes "The Nest" (1962), "Crossroad" (1964), "In the Eyes of Lassie" (1965), "The Homeless" (1967), "A Time for Decision" (1967), "Hanford's Point" (1968), "Other Pastures, Other Fences" (1971) and later would become a regular playing Karl Burkholm in Season 18 and 19. He is also remembered for his role as the doomsayer in the diner in Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Birds (1963) and had roles in The Prize (1963), Major Dundee (1965), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Seconds (1966). Swenson made four guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the part of defendant Axel Norstaad, a Danish woodshop owner in the 1961 episode, "The Case of the Tarnished Trademark", and an ex-convict in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Bigamous Spouse." From 1959 through 1967 Swenson made guest appearance on the TV series Bonanza in the episodes "Death on Sun Mountain" (1959), "Day of Reckoning" (1960), "A Natural Wizard" (1965) and "Showdown at Tahoe" (1967).
Swenson also worked as a voice actor. He voiced the character of Merlin in Walt Disney's 1963 animated classic, The Sword in the Stone. In 1969, he was cast as the Roman emperor Nero, sent by the Devil to assassinate Santa Claus in a KCET television reading of Norman Corwin's 1938 radio play The Plot to Overthrow Christmas.
Swenson appeared in a 1967 episode of Hogan's Heroes entitled "How to Win Friends and Influence Nazis", in which he played a likable and friendly Swedish scientist, Dr. Karl Svenson, who is persuaded by Hogan (Bob Crane) to join the Allied war effort. Although Swenson had credits on dozens of other television series, including an appearance on the ABC/WB episode "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" of the western Maverick, he is best known for his performance as the kindly Lars Hanson in NBC's Little House on the Prairie. He appeared in forty episodes of the show from 1974–1978.
In 1967, Swenson appeared in the western Hour of the Gun, and played the role of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in the western film Brighty of the Grand Canyon, with co-stars Pat Conway and Joseph Cotten. His later film appearances included roles in ...tick...tick...tick... (1970), The Wild Country (1970), Vanishing Point (1971) and Ulzana's Raid (1972).
Swenson was married to actress Joan Tompkins.
Swenson died of a heart attack at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Connecticut on October 8, 1978, shortly after filming the episode in which the Little House on the Prairie character Lars Hanson died, the episode airing on October 16, 1978, eight days after Swenson's death. Swenson was interred at Center Cemetery in New Milford, Connecticut.
Stage Name "Peter Wayne"
For nearly two years, Karl Swenson adopted the name "Peter Wayne" for use as a professional actor. Though he had used his own name when playing the part of Thompson in the Laboratory Theatre’s 1930 production of A Glass of Water, he had thereafter assumed the stage name "Peter Wayne" by the time he played Andre Verron in the Theatre Guild’s production of The Miracle at Verdun, which opened at the Martin Beck Theatre in March 1931. It was during Verdun that Swenson became acquainted with Bretaigne Windust, who was assistant stage manager for that production and one of the founding directors of the University Players, a summer stock company in West Falmouth on Cape Cod. As a principal player with University Players during its summer seasons of 1931 and 1932, and during its 18-week winter season in Baltimore, Maryland, in between, Swenson, as Peter Wayne, acted alongside such other unknowns as Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan, Joshua Logan, James Stewart, Barbara O'Neil, Mildred Natwick, Kent Smith, Myron McCormick, and Charles Arnt. In the summer of 1932, under its new name The Theatre Unit, Inc., University Players mounted an original production entitled Carry Nation. After its October preview in Baltimore, during which "Peter Wayne" was listed as playing the part of the Leader of the Vigilantes, Swenson reverted to his own name for Carry Nation's 30-performance run on Broadway.