Home Celebrity news Dolph Sweet: The Man Behind the Badge and the Comedy

Dolph Sweet: The Man Behind the Badge and the Comedy


In this article, Dolph Sweet was an American actor renowned for his long and diverse career on stage, film and television. He became renowned for playing policemen such as Carl Kanisky from Gimme a Break as well as being an educator, war hero and POW prior to discovering his passion for acting later in life.

dolph sweet
dolph sweet

Early Life and Education

Dolph Sweet was born Adolphus Jean Sweet on July 18th 1920 in New York City to an auto mechanic father and attended the University of Alabama before World War II interrupted his studies. Serving in Operation Tidal Wave as navigator on a B-24 bomber, his plane was shot down over Romania during Operation Tidal Wave and spent two years as a prisoner of war before finally returning home he received both the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart awards for his courage during captivity in Germany.

While in captivity, he participated in short plays with other prisoners that ignited his passion for acting. Following World War II, he returned to Alabama University where he graduated in 1949 while also playing semi-professional football and boxing during this time period. Following that he obtained a master’s degree in English and comparative drama from Columbia University that same year.

Teaching and Acting Career

Sweet began his teaching career at Barnard College, eventually serving as head of their drama department for 12 years before making his Broadway debut at age 40 in a 1961 production of Rhinoceros with Zero Mostel as leading role. Since then he has continued performing on Broadway in plays such as Romulus, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window and Streamers.

He made his film and television debut in 1961 in both The Young Doctors and The Defenders. Subsequently he appeared in films such as The Swimmer, Finian’s Rainbow, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Sisters Cops & Robbers Lords of Flatbush Amazing Grace Bad News Bears Breaking Training Which Way Is Up Go Tell the Spartans Heaven Can Wait and Wanderers where he played supporting roles.

On television, he was an iconic presence, appearing in such iconic shows as East Side/West Side, The Edge of Night/Dark Shadows/Another World/Little House on the Prairie/Mrs Columbo/Hill Street Blues/Hart to Hart among many others. From 1972-1977 he played policeman Gil McGowan from Another World while portraying FBI director J Edgar Hoover for 1978 miniseries King about Martin Luther King Jr’s life.

Gimme a Break and Death

Sweet’s breakthrough role came in 1981 when he was cast as Carl Kanisky on Gimme a Break, opposite Nell Carter as his housekeeper and surrogate mother for four daughters. The show became a smash hit and showcased Sweet’s comedic talent and chemistry with Carter; for which he earned two Golden Globe nominations.

However, in 1984 Sweet was diagnosed with cancer and continued working until his health declined further. On May 8, 1985 at 64 years of age in Tarzana California he passed away surrounded by his second wife Iris Braun whom he married in 1974 as well as Jonathan from his first marriage with Reba Gillespie which ended in divorce shortly thereafter.

The show honored Sweet by including his death into its storyline. His character died while protecting his youngest daughter, while Nell became her legal guardian. Two more seasons of the series continued after Sweet’s passing.


Dolph Sweet was an actor of great versatility and talent who could play both dramatic and comedic roles, as well as being a respected teacher, decorated war veteran, loving husband and father, leaving an impressive body of work which entertained and inspired many people – truly one behind both badge and comedy.

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