LOS ANGELES — World War II Navy veteran Larry Storch, the rubber-faced comic whose long career in theater, movies and television was capped by his “F Troop” role as zany Cpl. Agarn in the 1960s spoof of Western frontier TV shows, died Friday. He was 99.
Storch died of natural causes early Friday in his New York City apartment, according to his manager, Matt Beckoff.
Although “F Troop” lasted only two seasons on ABC, from 1965 to 1967, it became a cult favorite in reruns. Its devoted fans could recite almost all of the adventures of the incredibly incompetent soldiers of Fort Courage and the members of the nearby Native American tribe who only pretended to be at war with them.
Storch said in a 1998 interview that he was surprised to be considered for an Army comedy such as “F Troop,” with it being well known that he served in the Navy during World War II. “All I knew about horses was that they give milk and can bite from both ends,” he quipped.
Storch served on the submarine tender Proteus during the war along with a radio operator named Bernie Schwartz, according to his Facebook page. They were on the Proteus in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2, 1945, and witnessed Japan’s formal surrender onboard the nearby battleship Missouri.
Storch later said his Navy service greatly boosted his career. During the war, Schwartz had told him, “I’m going to be a movie star.” Storch, already a seasoned comic on the resort circuit, had tried to talk him out of it, warning him that the business could be tough.
They met again after the war, and Schwartz, who by now had changed his name to Tony Curtis, remembered his funny shipmate. Storch went on to appear in eight of Curtis’ movies, including “Captain Newman,” “Who Was That Lady?” and “The Great Race.”
On “F Troop,” Storch as Cpl. Agarn was the wild-eyed partner and protege of Forrest Tucker’s wily Sgt. O’Rourke, who often schemed with Frank DeKova’s Chief Wild Eagle to fleece unsuspecting visitors. Ken Berry played Capt. Parmenter, Fort Courage’s clueless commander.
While “F Troop” brought him lasting fame, Storch appeared in scores of films and TV shows both before and after the show. He also enjoyed a long career in theater and as a comic at resorts in New York State’s Catskill Mountains area.
He never regretted being best known for the series, his manager said.
“He embraced it. He loved being Agarn” and relished working with his co-stars, said Beckoff. Storch was the “kindest, sweetest person,” who always had time for autograph-seekers and was generous to people in need, he said.
Storch’s credits included “Funny Valentine,” “Sweet 16,” “Sex and the Single Girl,” “S.O.B.,” “Airport,” “Treasure Island” and “Oliver Twist.” On TV, he guest-starred on such shows as “Married... With Children,” “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “Trapper John, M.D.,” “Fantasy Island,” CHiPS,” “The Love Boat,” “Get Smart,” “Love American Style,” “Gilligan’s Island” and “Car 54 Where Are You?”
His many theater appearances ranged from a brutal detective in a 1983 Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess” to Chief Sitting Bull in the 2000 revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” with Reba McEntire.
Laurence Samuel Storch was born in New York City where, he recalled proudly, he went on to become class clown at DeWitt Clinton High School and “was invited not to come back.”
He practiced his comedy in Harlem theaters for $2 a night before graduating to the famed training ground for comedians of his era, the Catskills.
His first big break came on TV in the early 1950s with “The Cavalcade of Stars,” with Jackie Gleason. That led to “The Larry Storch Show,” a 1953 summer series. Regular movie and TV work followed.
Storch was married to Norma Greve from 1961 until her death in 2003.
His shipmate Curtis died in 2010.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas and Navy Times staff contributed to this report.