A Lifetime on the Small Screen: Wayne Newton’s Television Career

March 23, 2016
Top photo: A montage of television shows Wayne Newton has appeared in, including North and South, Book II and Roseanne. Right photo: Memorabilia from Newton’s 2007 appearances on Dancing with the Stars.
Top photo: A montage of television shows Wayne Newton has appeared in, including North and South, Book II and Roseanne. Right photo: Memorabilia from Newton’s 2007 appearances on Dancing with the Stars.

While many people have become fans of Wayne Newton through his musical career, he’s also made quite an impact as an actor. Since the 1950s, he’s been seen by hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide on TV screens.

While he’d performed on television shows beginning in the 1950’s, Newton’s big TV acting breakthrough came in 1966 when he appeared on the famous — and still beloved — Bonanza. On the show, he acted with the amazing Lorne Green, the incomparable Michael Landon and the rest of the cast as he portrayed Andy Walker, a baby-faced troubadour-to-be. In the episode “The Unwritten Law,” Walker wants to become a singer against the wishes of his father. Newton-as-Walker returned for the holiday-themed “A Christmas Story” episode, too.

A few years later, Newton was a guest star on Here’s Lucy. In a pair of episodes, he portrayed himself … though with a bit of self-parody thrown in for good-natured fun! In 1968’s “Lucy Sells Craig to Wayne Newton,” he endures Ball’s stage-mothering antics. In 1970’s “Lucy and Wayne Newton,” the red-haired master comedienne learns a few Las Vegas-style ranching tips from Newton and his pals. A campfire barbecue scene with a sing-along to the classic Western song, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” is especially wonderful.

(Hip tip: Both of these episodes are available on Hulu!)

A decade later, Newton guest-starred in the neon-illuminated Vega$ along with Robert Urich as the unforgettable private eye, Dan Tanna. In a 1979 episode, “Classic Connection,” Newton took a turn as Justin Marsh, a former racecar driver in a sticky situation. He returned to the show in a cameo as himself in 1981’s “Dead Ringer,” where a villain has an evil eye on “Mr. Entertainment.” Plus, the show’s Season 3 weekly opening sequence featured the letters “WAYNE NEWTON” on the old Desert Inn hotel’s marquee. Now that’s an endorsement!

In 1986, Newton took on a role of an altogether different, and historically serious, tenor: Capt. Thomas Turner in North and South, Book II. The epic ABC network miniseries ran in May that year to popular and critical acclaim as it took on the breath and scope — from tragedy to human tenderness — of the American Civil War. The major viewing event also starred such epic talents as James Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Lloyd Bridges, Forest Whittaker, Patrick Swayze, Olivia de Havilland and Linda Evans. A poster from the productions is a highlight of Casa de Shenandoah’s “Hollywood” section.

Through the 1990s to today, Newton has starred in numerous roles as characters in a wide range of shows. In Tales from the Crypt’s 1994 “The Pit,” he played Wink Barnum, a hilarious send-up of a scheming Las Vegas boxing mogul. In 1995, he riffed on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with Will “Fresh Prince” Smith and Alfonso “Carlton Banks” Ribeiro as a casino executive. There was even a “Danke Schoen” gag for all the Wayniacs in Television Land. He even played an outrageous talk radio celebrity on Ally McBeal in 1998.

But, of course, many directors and producers have looked to Newton to be none other than himself on their shows. In keeping, he’s had walk-ons on popular shows from Full House and Roseanne to My Wife and Kids. And to top it all off, he was an audience favorite on Season 5 of Dancing With the Stars!