It’s one of the biggest hits on television. It stars Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki.

Each week millions of viewers watch Sheldon and Leonard but do they know who these characters are named for?

Sheldon Leonard (pictured below) was a top TV producer in the early days of the medium. He had teamed with comedian Danny Thomas to form a TV production company which brought many hit series to the small screen.

But what does this have to do with classic films?

Before he became a producer, Sheldon Leonard Bershad shortened his name and acted in some pretty classic movies.  Look for him in It’s a Wonderful Life, To Have and Have Not, and Guys and Dolls, to name a few.

Film noir fans will surely recognize Leonard by his appearances in several Forties dramas. The guy was a real working actor, playing Italian mobsters and tough-hide police types.  He plays “Ficco” in Abe Polonsky’s tough but preachy John Garfield vehicle, Force of Evil (1948).

Her portrayed the tough cop in 1946’s Decoy. He appeared as “Joe Marucci” in 1942’s Street of Chance costarring Burgess Meredith and Claire Trevor. Joseph Mankiewicz selected him for a key supporting role in 20th Century Fox’s 1942 thriller, Somewhere in the Night. Leonard also appeared in 1947’s The Gangster starring Barry Sullivan.

In 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life, he showed up as the nasty bartender who tosses saintly Jimmy Stewart into a snow dump.  Offscreen, Leonard was a domestic pussycat, married to the same woman for more than 65 years.  He died in 1997 at the age of 89.

His career as an actor lasted about 60 years, and covered more than 100 movie and tv credits. Ironically after producing several hit tv series when he tried to return to acting, his own series–Big Eddie-– flopped.

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