Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Ed Harken From Anchorman Looks So Familiar

Few comedies have ever achieved the level of iconography enjoyed by "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." It is arguably the film that made Will Ferrell a bonafide movie star and ushered in a new era of Adam McKay-directed comedy hits. With that said, much of the film's comedy gold can be attributed to its supporting cast, which includes comedy powerhouses such as Paul Rudd, Chris Parnell, Steve Carell, and many more.

Out of the entire star-studded cast of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," one character who will almost certainly look familiar to viewers of all ages is Ed Harken. That is because the perpetually stressed head of the Channel 5 news station in San Diego is played by none other than Fred Willard. Prior to his passing in 2020, Willard became well-known and highly regarded as a comedy legend across a wide range of film and television projects, amassing an incredible IMDb credits list in the process. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of his most beloved and well-known roles of all time.

He was the Colonel in This is Spinal Tap

Fred Willard's filmography goes back decades, but one of the earliest roles that modern audiences may recognize him from is his performance in Rob Reiner's beloved comedy, "This Is Spinal Tap," in the film, Willard suits up as the Colonel on the military base visited by the film's titular band. Though it's a small role, it delivers plenty of laughs and ultimately paved the way for many comedic partnerships that Willard would go on to form later in his career, but more on that later.

In the years since the debut of "This is Spinal Tap," the film has arguably gone on to become widely regarded as a staple of the comedy genre. It has been particularly influential in the world of mockumentaries, paving the way for TV shows like "The Office," as well as movies like "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping." Much of this iconography can be stemmed back to the deadpan comedic chops of performers like Fred Willard.

He appeared in numerous Christopher Guest movies

Over the course of his career as a filmmaker, Christopher Guest developed numerous partnerships with a wide range of comedic performers. As a result, some actors would pop up again and again throughout his films. One such actor who fit that bill perfectly was Fred Willard, who appeared in several of Guest's most popular movies over the course of their long careers as collaborators. Willard and Guest shared the screen in the aforementioned "This is Spinal Tap," and would then go on to do plenty of additional work together when Guest himself got behind the camera.

The duo worked on several films together, including some of Guest's best work. These include iconic movies such as "Waiting for Guffman," "A Mighty Wind," and "For Your Consideration." That said, arguably the most iconic Fred Willard performance in a Guest movie is his role as Buck Laughlin in the 2000 comedy "Best in Show." Willard portrayed Laughlin as simultaneously charismatic and in-over-his-head as the announcer of a dog show who happens to know absolutely nothing about dog shows.

He was Shelby Forthright in WALL-E

In 2008, Fred Willard made his debut in the Pixar universe with his performance as Shelby Forthright in "Wall-E." A genial, Walt Disney-esque figure, Forthright is the CEO of Buy n Large that ultimately causes Earth's massive garbage problem in its efforts to create a more comfortable life for humanity on Earth. As a result, Forthright and his company send ships like the Axiom into space and secretly inform all of the AUTO pilot units not to return to Earth due to the toxicity of the atmosphere.

One of the most interesting distinctions for Fred Willard to earn during his long career in Hollywood is that he is only live-action actor to be cast in a Pixar movie date with his performance. This is thematically relevant, as the depiction of the animated humans in "Wall-E" is intended to show how far they have strayed from their former Earth-bound selves. That is the last audiences see of Forthright, and as of 2016 (per CinemaBlend) there is still no plan for a sequel to "Wall-E" that would return to these characters.

He was Phil Dunphy's father in Modern Family

Prior to his passing, one of Fred Willard's most consistent and beloved small screen roles was his recurring guest performance as Frank Dunphy on the iconic ABC sitcom, "Modern Family." The father of Ty Burrell's Phil Dunphy, the character was portrayed as endlessly friendly and charismatic, albeit somewhat dimwitted — just like his son on the show. Frank appeared on 14 total episodes of "Modern Family," before the character passed away in-universe during the events of Season 11.

Following Willard's real-life passing, Ty Burrell spoke out to EW and paid tribute to the late comedian. Making a lengthy statement about Willard, Burrell explained that his on-screen father had been a major influence on his own development as an actor and as a comedic performer. In his remarks, Burrell noted that "His ability to be earnest and oblivious but so on his toes and not come across as dumb — it almost defies gravity"

He was organist New Joe in I Think You Should Leave

When "I Think You Should Leave" debuted on Netflix in 2019, it very quickly became arguably one of the defining comedy series on the streaming service. Much of that is due to the show's expert casting for guest roles in addition to the consistent presence of comedians like Tim Robinson, Patti Harrison, and Conner O'Malley on the show's roster. Some of the show's most notable guests have included Bob Odenkirk, Tim Heidecker, Andy Samberg, and even the late Fred Willard.

In Willard's one "I Think You Should Leave" sketch, he brings all of his comedic tricks to the role of "New Joe," an organist who steps in for a church's usual organist when she falls ill. That catch? New Joe is not a traditional church organist, instead sporting a goofy mustache and blasting carnival-esque music during a funeral procession. The entire sketch comes together perfectly due to Willard's impeccable deadpan timing, often capping off his weird songs with the somber utterance of "my condolences" to the grieving attendees.