Janos Prohaska, the Hungarian born actor, creature costume designer and stuntman left an indelible impression on Bewitched viewers with his two portrayals of the imposing Macedonian Dodo Bird in ep # 118, "Allergic to Macedonian Dodo Birds" and ep # 253, "Samantha’s Witchcraft Blows a Fuse". However, Prohaska’s Dodo Bird was just one of many creatures brought to life by this gifted artist.
Born in Budapest, Hungary on October 10, 1919, Prohaska immigrated to America and eventually landed work in Hollywood as a stunt man. One of his early credits was the role of circus performer “Darwin” in an 1960 episode of TV series Bourbon Street Beat. He obtained further stunt work in 1962’s Billy Rose’s Jumbo (as “circus performer”), worked as Peter Falk’s stunt double in 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and performed as a “flag pole sitter” in 1964’s Advance to the Rear - starring Jim Backus and Alan Hale Jr. with whom he would work with several times just a few years later on TV’s Gilligan’s Island.
When director William Asher cast Prohaska as “Clyde” the Ape in 1964’s Bikini Beach, his career of playing animal roles was just beginning.
A decade before make-up artist/costume designer and actor Rick Baker would win acclaim and Oscars for his creature make-up and costume design, Janos Prohaska was the go-to guy in Hollywood for all things beastly.
From his Los Angeles design shop, Prohaska would create the costumes that he would wear for acting roles as gorillas and bears in productions of TV’s Perry Mason, Gilligan’s Island, Dusty’s Trail, Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Here’s Lucy.
Besides sculpting highly-detailed ape and bear masks, Prohaska designed a wide variety of non-anthromorphic costumes to avoid the "man in a suit" concept. His work included the “Horta”, “Mugatu” and “Yarnek” for Star Trek, “Giant Debbie the Bloop” and “Giant Bird” for Lost in Space, and for The Outer Limits, he designed a reverse-jointed “Thetan” alien (accomplished with the aid of stilts) and an amoeba (the "Mikie").
Byron Haskin, director of the Outer Limits episode "The Architects of Fear", claimed, "When I first met Janos, he came into my office, put a beer bottle on the table, and then stood on his head with his finger in the bottle, supporting himself. He could defy the law of gravity."
Not only were his two appearances as the “Dodo Bird” memorable to Bewitched viewers, but the comedic act of chasing such a large bird became one of Bewitched co-star Bernard Fox’s most vivid memories which he told in numerous interviews and at the TV Land Convention of 2003. Bernard Fox recalled that Agnes Moorehead was quite amused at Fox’s improvised “shoo shoo” noise to catch the Dodo, a trick that Fox had learned from gathering chickens in his youth.
Starting in 1969, Prohaska would portray a less frightening creature in the recurring role of loveable “Cookie Bear” on The Andy Williams Show on NBC. As Cookie Bear, he would come onstage just as Andy Williams was about to sing his signature song, "Moon River". The Cookie Bear would ask for a cookie snack, and after much comic begging, Andy Williams would not comply and ended every sketch by yelling: "No cookies! Not now, not ever...NEVER!!!" The dejected, Cookie Bear would then slink off-stage - only to try again on the next week’s show. Prohaska would do this popular routine for 2 seasons until the series ended in 1971. Prohaska’s reportedly thick Hungarian accent forced producers to dub his voice.
Sadly, Janos Prohaska’s on-screen anonymity would be his show business legacy after a tragic plane crash took his life at the age of 54.
On March 13, 1974, Janos Prohaska, along with his 27-year-old stuntman son Robert Prohaska were part of the crew for Wolper Productions’ “Primal Man” for ABC-TV. The father-son team had created the costumes worn by actors in the 4-part documentary series on prehistoric man’s struggle for survival. The production crew, including former Bewitched Emmy-nominated make-up artist Rolf Miller, had been in the Bishop, CA area for several days doing location shooting.
The cast and crew boarded the chartered Sierra Pacific Airlines
flight #802 departing Bishop, CA and returning to Los Angeles. Shortly
after its nighttime take-off, at 8:28pm, the propeller-driven twin-engine
Convair CV 440 aircraft crashed into Poleta Ridge, in the foothills
of the White Mountains at 6,100 ft. and exploded in flames. All four
members of the flight crew and the 32 passengers on board were killed
in the crash.
Janos Prohaska’s final project "The Primal Man", that was being filmed when the plane crash took place, was re-named "Up from the Ape" and aired in 1974 using footage already shot (plus additional footage).
Janos Prohaska, with his more than 300 film/television appearances, was inducted into the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, a California non-profit organization established in 1973 dedicated to preserving the history of the Stunt Profession.