|Birthplace:||New York City, New York, |
|Deathplace:||Beverly Hills, California, |
Leonard was born Sheldon Leonard Bershad in New York City, the son of middle class Jewish parents Anna and Frank Bershad.  As an actor, Leonard specialized in playing supporting characters, especially gangsters or "heavies", in films such as It's a Wonderful Life (1946), To Have and Have Not (1944), and Open Secret (1948). His trademark was his especially thick New York accent. In the cult classic Decoy, Leonard uses his "heavy" persona to create the hard-boiled police detective Joe Portugal. In the 1950s, Leonard provided the voice of lazy cat Dodsworth in two Warner Bros. cartoons directed by Robert McKimson.
In radio, Leonard played an eccentric racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Program in the late 1940s and early '50s. His role was to salute Benny out of the blue in railroad stations, on street corners, or in department stores ("hey Bud, come here a minute"), ask Benny what he was about to do, and then proceed to try to argue him out of his course of action by resorting to inane and irrelevant racing logic. Ironically, as "The Tout," he never gave out information on horse racing, unless Jack demanded it. One excuse the tout gave was "Who knows about horses?" He also appeared frequently on "The Adventures of the Saint," often playing gangsters and heavies, but also sometimes in more positive roles.
But he is better known as the producer of hugely popular television series, including The Danny Thomas Show (1953–64), The Andy Griffith Show (1960–68), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–66), and I Spy (1965–68). He also was briefly the star of his own television show "Big Eddie", where he played the owner of a large sports arena. The show lasted only one season.
The character of Andy Taylor was introduced in a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series of The Andy Griffith Show. Leonard is informally credited with inventing what is now known as the spin-off on TV, although the concept began on radio two decades earlier with Fibber McGee and Molly spinning off The Great Gildersleeve.
Leonard also has the distinction (along with author Mickey Spillane) of being the first Miller Lite spokesmen. Using his trademark accent, he told the audience “I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis”. One of his last acting roles was a guest appearance on the TV series Cheers, in which he played the proprietor of "The Hungry Heifer," Norm Peterson's favorite eating establishment.
Leonard died at 89, and was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. In 2007 he was given a posthumous ‘tip of the hat’ in the situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory in which the lead characters are named Sheldon and Leonard.