If you thought you espied "Veep's" Ben Cafferty or Sam Witicky's dad Ron from the "Transformers" movies around town Tuesday ... you very likely did.

They were both here in the form of hyper-prolific character actor Kevin Dunn.

Dunn is so prolific in his ways that they extend to regular trips back home to his alma mater, from which he graduated in 1977, to hang out with his favorite mentor.

Specifically, John Ficca, the Illinois Wesleyan University theater guru who taught Dunn (Class of ’77) and helped set him on the path to a successful character actor career — one rivaled among IWU theater alums only by that of recent Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (also a former Ficca student, needless to say). 

The teacher-student relationship of yore has evolved over time. "We're just two colleagues ... good friends now," observes the one-time head of IWU's School of Theatre, who retired in 2002 and remembers Dunn as one of two students of his who were juggling acting aspirations with football love (Frankie Faison was the other).

"We still get together every two years or so," adds Ficca, who provided guest room lodgings for Dunn at his Westminster Village digs in Bloomington, where he was instantly recognized by the kitchen staff ... not for "Veep" but for probably the most widely seen of his work, as Ron Witicky in the blockbuster "Transformers" movie franchise.

During the Chicago native's visit, Dunn lunched with Ficca and friends at Tommy's in the Hansen Student Center and attended the opening night of "Xanadu" in the Jerome Mirza Theatre.

"I had to explain to him who Jerome Mirza was," says Ficca of the theater's recently appended namesake (during Dunn's heyday it was McPherson Theatre; the name change came just two years ago, in honor of the future lawyer who was in Ficca's very show at IWU, Christopher Fry's "A Sleep of Prisoners").

"He just can't quit," says Ficca of the hard-working Dunn, who confided that the Emmy-winning "Veep" is returning for one last season on HBO and that his next project is another series, "Beacon Hill," a Boston-set drama in which Dunn will play the head of the city's detective division.

"He's just such a down-to-earth guy," says Ficca. "He's the kind of a guy who, in his spare time, just wants to work with his hands on his house in L.A. He's the kind of guy you could meet at the Lucca and have a good time with."

McMann of the hour: Chuck McCann is not a name that rings bells for most folks, even those die-hard followers of pop culture minutiae.

But we must remember this: He did come to the rescue, once upon a time, for a major entertainment event here in B-N ... more about which, shortly.

McCann, who, passed at 83 last week, was the man of a thousand voices who gave us the "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!" battle cry from at least a hundred classic cereal commercials.

Chuck was also the voice of Thing in the animated series versions of "The Fantastic Four" and "Hulk"; and he was Duckworth in "DuckTales." 

He also stole the show in a classic run of Right Guard deodorant commercials in which a man opens his shared medicine cabinet and is confronted on the other side by McMann, offering a perspiration-inducing "Hi, guy!"

Both in person and in voice, Chuck was also a mainstay of such kid-show staples as "Captain Kangaroo" and, over on Saturday morning, "Far Out Space Nuts" (opposite Bob Denver of "Gilligan's Island" fame).

In movies, he was a character actor par excellence, becoming part of the latter-day Mel Brooks rep company ("Robin Hood: Men in Tights," Dracula: Dead and Loving It") and a partner to comedian Tim Conway ("The Steven Allen Show" on TV and "They Went That-A-Way and That-A-Way" at the movies).

Now, about that run to the rescue here in the Twin Cities.

The occasion: the announcement that longtime "Carol Burnett Show" partners Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would be coming to town via ISU's Braden Auditorium, circa the fall 2001, fast on the unfunny heels of 9/11.

As the story goes, when ISU was negotiating to book "The Tim Conway Show," as it was billed, Conway and Korman were the names for the marquee.

But when travel plans were being mapped out, the itinerary involved the two stars winging it in from the West Coast on jumbo jetliners to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

The deal-breaker involved getting from there to here: The connecting flight would have to be made on a prop-driven plane.

Korman, we were told at the time, had an acute fear of flying that ruled out anything that became airborne by means other than jet propulsion.

So: hang gliders, out ... hot air balloons, no way ... 'copters, are you kidding?

As for prop planes: insert one of Korman's disgusted looks from "The Carol Burnett Show's" "Ed & Eunice" sketches here.

Thus, just for the edition of "The Tim Conway Show" that played the stage of Braden Auditorium in October ’01, Conway tapped one of his second-banana cronies not opposed to prop-flying ... you got it, Chuck McCann.

When the subject of Korman's fear of flying came up in our eventual GO! interview with Conway, he explained, "Harvey's afraid of everything, which is great, because I get to irritate him on a constant basis."

Instead of Harvey's irritation, we got Chuck's vocal sound effects, as recounted by The Pantagraph's reviewer:

"He (Conway) introduced one of the members of his small troupe, Chuck McCann as the sound man who can't hear. They went on to do a great bit where Tim wants an echo sound effect and to accomplish this, Chuck McCann simply puts a watering can on his head. Simple, but hilarious."

Which pretty much sums up McCann's unsung career in general.


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