“You wanna talk about Army food?” Fast Freddie asks, setting up a joke in the M*A*S*H episode “That’s Show Biz.”
“Those chickens were classified 4F: fowl, fowl, fowl, fowl,” he puns.
Charles Winchester III can’t contain his laughter.
“Don’t tell me you think that guy is funny?” Hawkeye asks Winchester incredulously.
Winchester quickly regains his composure to insist, “He’s the worst comedian I ever heard in my life.”
For the role of Fast Freddie, M*A*S*H cast one of comedy’s most endearing talents, Danny Dayton. Not much is known about Dayton, so we thought it would be fun to dig in and better get to know “the worst comedian” to ever crack up the usually composed Winchester.
Dayton started acting somewhat late in his life. Before he decided to be an actor, he went to school for journalism, and then after graduating college, instead of being a reporter, he joined the Army.
It was only after he returned from service in 1946 that Dayton, who had gotten a taste for performing in the Army, decided to try acting for real. Soon, both he and his wife had worked out theater and nightclub acts, and they moved their family to Hollywood.
“I went to do a comedy role and stayed out there for three years playing gangsters,” Dayton joked to The Atlanta Constitution in 1966.
Dayton didn’t want to settle for just playing gangsters. He knew he should be getting laughs.
His wife, Arlene Dayton, insisted he was a perfectionist who was born for comedy.
“He thinks funny,” she said. “He’s a very bright man and is always on top of a situation.”
Fortunately for Dayton, it was his perfectionism that led him back to the laughs.
Danny wanted to understand everything about show business, so he went back to school and started studying TV production, directing, and basically taking classes in any subject remotely connected to the industry. Then, he applied to be a director for a new comedy show featuring funnymen like Joey Bishop, Morey Amsterdam, and Paul Winchell as panelists.
The show was called Keep Talking, and instead of hiring Dayton as a director, they asked him to be the moderator of all these hilarious comedians.
Amsterdam once described the show as the perfect platform “where a man who makes his living being funny can sharpen his ad-libs and test his inventiveness making up a story.”
Take a moment now and think of your favorite Fast Freddie pun from M*A*S*H. On Keep Talking, that’s arguably where Fast Freddie was born.
Then, in 1955, Dayton got his biggest break when he got cast in the movie Guys and Dolls as Rusty Charlie, one of those sidekick roles that only really work if the actor playing the character is naturally funny.
In that role, Dayton proved on his biggest platform yet how funny he was, and soon he was cast on comedy shows like The Phil Silvers Show and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., in addition to juggling roles on dramatic shows like Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman.
He was very prolific, and then he landed the recurring role of Archie’s pal Hank Pivnik on All in the Family. After that, classic TV audiences started recognizing his name.
Dayton appeared on M*A*S*H shortly after he stopped appearing on TV as Hank Pivnik, and then continued appearing in TV shows and movies through 1999, when he passed away.
His wife knew he was built for those uniquely funny roles like Fast Freddie, roles which almost wouldn’t work with anyone else.
“He puts everything he has into each performance, no matter what the show,” Arlene said. “The audience feels cheated if you feel the performer isn’t doing the best he can. Some actors lie down on the job. Danny generally tries to do the best he can and also tries to get the highest caliber acting out of the other performers.”