FRED ASPARAGUS (51) June 29, 1998
A stand-up comic who decided to call himself Asparagus, Fred Reveles did manage to earn some green while making appearances in a variety of films including "Spinal Tap" (character name: Joe Besser!) and "Beverly Hills Cop III." He died of a heart attack.
ARNOLD AUERBACH (86) October 20, 1998
A well known comedy writer, Auerbach worked for a variety of radio shows and contributed gags to Milton Berle and Fred Allen. It was after many years of trying to peddle his yocks that he wrote a book called 'Funny Men Don't Laugh." But by then, Auerbach didn't care...he was earning a good living from Broadway shows, having written "Call Me Mister" and many more.
MARSHALL BARER (75) August 25, 1998
A lyricist, he was best known for his work on the Broadway show "Once Upon a Mattress," and for the theme song to the "Mighty Mouse" cartoon series. Yes, he wrote: "Here I come to save the day!"
JOHN BRADFORD (79) July 2, 1998
Originally a writer ("The Real McCoys") Emmy Award-wining Bradford eventually began a successful career directing sitcoms, notably "The Addams Family" and "Barney Miller." He was born here in New York (well, not here, but in the little town of Longbranch).
JIMMY CAESAR (63) October 2, 1998
With a name like Jimmy Caesar, where else would this stand-up comic have played besides Las Vegas? Caesar Pasquale Tronolone was born in Buffalo, New York. At the age of 16 the mimic had managed to work The Palace in The Big Apple. Then he moved west, a harmless opening act for a variety of the big boys: Milton Berle, Norm Crosby and Bob Hope.
JERRY CLOWER (71) August 25, 1998
A very popular comedian from his native Mississippi up through Nashville, Jerry Clower wore expensive, gaudy suits and came on more like an Evangelist than a comedian. He told anecdotes that burst with pride about good ol' boys and their lifestyle of hunting and fishing. His "good uns" were good enough to lead to an MCA contract and a massive series of albums. Clower was also a regular at the Grand Ole Opry. Seemingly a road warrior with the constitution of a bull, Clower rarely missed a performance...until August, when he was hospitalized and underwent a series of heart operations. He died a few days later.
THOMAS D'ANDREA (88) May 14, 1998.
A comedy writer who worked on radio with Eddie Cantor and Jack Benny, D'Andrea appeared in many films but was probably best known as "Jim Gillis" on "The Life of Riley" with William Bendix.
JIMMIE DRIFTWOOD (91) July 12, 1998
Driftwood wrote one of the funnier novelty tunes of the late 50's, "The Battle of New Orleans." It was a hit for Johnny Horton, and filled with evocative comic country imagery. The soldiers grabbed an alligator in their battle with the Brits: "We filled his head with cannonballs and powdered his behind. And when we touched the powder off the gator lost his mind!" The author of hundreds of other tunes died not in New Orleans but in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
NORMAN FELL (74) December 15, 1998
Fell was known as the glum and irascible landlord on "Three's Company" (1977-79) and the brief spin-off show "The Ropers (1979-80). The show featured Audra Lindley as the wife who tended to aimed tacky impotence jokes aimed at her glowering spouse. Fell's long-suffering looks made him laughable, but he considered himself a character actor with dramatic talents. Sometimes these talents surfaced in 60's movies and the 70's detective show "Dan August," but after "Three's Company" he played mostly in comedies. He had been inactive in recent years, and died of cancer.
MARY FRANN (55) September 23, 1998
The sitcom world was shocked at the sudden demise of Mary Frann, who was found dead in her Beverly Hills home. An ex-weather woman from St. Louis, she became an actress and eventually secured full-time work on the soap opera "The Days of Our Lives." After five years of playing Amanda Peters, she went on to play Joanna Loudon, wife of Bob Newhart on the "Newhart" show.
PHIL HARTMAN (49) May 28, 1998.
The shock of the year was the murder of Phil Hartman by his drug-mad wife Brynn (aka Vicki Omdahl). She killed herself, leaving behind the couple's two young children.
Eulogies portrayed a kindly, mild-mannered man quite different from his self-aggrandizing, egotistic comic persona on stage. A smug character on "Saturday Night Live" (1986-1995) and "News Radio" (1995-1998) Phil could've legitimately had a swelled head based on his credits. The Canadian began his career with The Groundlings in 1975 and he later co-wrote "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." An artist, he painted the cover for an album by the group America among others. After his dazzling success with a variety of impressions (Bill Clinton, Frank Sinatra, etc.) Phil went on to star in "Jingle All the Way" (1996), add cartoon voices for "The Simpsons" and star in "News Radio," which offered a tribute on the first episode without him.
JOSEPHINE HUTCHINSON (94) June 4, 1998
New Yorkers who walked past the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home had no idea that one of their guests was a wonderful character actress. Of course many of the residents of the Nursing Home had no idea either...about Hutchinson or anything else. Wouldn't it be nice if these homes put up a little list out front of the folks who were in residence -- the ones who wouldn't mind a little kindness from a passing stranger?
Hutchinson journeyed from her native Seattle to Broadway ("Peter Pan,""Alice in Wonderland" "Twelfth Night"). She appeared in many films including "North By Northwest," "Son of Frankenstein" and "The Women."
GRANDPA JONES (84) February 19, 1998
Country comedian Louis Marshall Jones first became "Grandpa" back in 1935. Eventually he truly grew into the part of the lovable, banjo-playing ol' cuss. He became famous on "Hee Haw" and he lived and worked in Tennessee almost until the very end.
ELEANOR KEATON (80) October 20, 1998
Back in 1938, Eleanor Norris met Buster Keaton. She was interested in learning how to play bridge. But Buster evidently knew how to play more than cards, and the couple were married in 1940. Despite their "May/December" age difference, they remained together until Buster died in 1966. Eleanor was suffering from lung cancer and emphysema when she died at the Motion Picture Relief Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills.
LEONID KINSKEY (95) September 8, 1998
The "crazy Russian" bartender who amused and annoyed Bogart in "Casablanca," I gave him several pages in my "Comic Support" book (Citadel). He was in "Duck Soup" as one of Trentino's henchmen. How effective was he? Trentino: "You have bungled everything!" His long career included television, and what some historians consider the media's first sitcom, "The Spot Lite Club," which aired in 1948 on KTLA in Los Angeles.
PHIL LEEDS (82) August 16, 1998
One of the sitcom world's foremost weasels, cock-eyed, shifty Phil Leeds played all kinds of lovably shady characters. He played "Blackie," con-man brother of Buddy Sorrell on an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and over thirty years later, was still schticking it to comedy stars as Uncle Mel on "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Judge Boyle on "Ally McBeal." He also played a sleazy agent on "The Larry Sanders Show."
After he played Bea Arthur's agent on an otherwise forgettable sitcom episode (obviously, I can't remember the name of it!) I mentioned to Ms. Arthur one of my favorite Phil Leeds anecdotes. He was a vaudevillian working the Loews Paradise theater in the Bronx. He was bombing badly. Suddenly he stopped and told a joke in Yiddish. Everybody in the audience roared. He called out, "That was to show you I could do it!"
BOBO LEWIS (72) November 9, 1998
A stage actress at New York's Circle Repertory, comedy fans will forever recall Bobo Lewis as Endora's sister on "Bewitched." She was seen often on "That Girl," and won good notices when she toured in "God's Favorite" by Neil Simon. Her films include "It's a Mad Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "The Paper." The life-long New Yorker died at New York Hospital.
SHARI LEWIS (65) August 2, 1998
The funny, sweet, charming ventriloquist who beguiled children of all ages, Shari Lewis created "Lamb Chop," the grinning sock puppet with a Baby Snooks-styled voice. She seemed like a friend or family member. I remember seeing her at a Miami book convention where we were both promoting our latest tomes. She walked by and I was about to call out, "Hi, Shari!" when I realized...we don't know each other! But for a moment, I really thought I did.
The hard-working Lewis won 12 Emmy Awards as she put together decades of kiddie programming that was always gentle and jovial without being silly or downright stupid. Praised by teachers and parents, Shari issued videos, books, and continued to work even after she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
SAM LOCKE (81) September 18, 1998
Locke was a respected sitcom writer, having turned out episodes for classic shows including Gilligan's Island," "McHale's Navy," and "The Flying Nun." His last half-dozen episodes were written for "The Brady Bunch," and that signaled that it was time to retire and move to San Diego.
CORBETT MONICA (68) July 22, 1998
One of the gentle tuxedo-clad stand-up comics of the 60's, Corbett Monica played all the top nightclubs and opened for Frank Sinatra and many others. A typical mild gag, which I quoted in "Goldmine Comedy Record Price Guide," is about airlines: "I'm giving up flying. I was at the airport and I saw a sign: 'Take out insurance.' I thought: if the lobby's that dangerous, imagine what it's like on the plane." Sitcom fans might remember him on "The Joey Bishop Show." He died of cancer in North Miami.
RICHARD PAUL (58) December 25, 1998
Richard Paul's varied career included work in radio, voiceovers and films. He was a friend of the Firesign Theater troupe and worked with them during their days a KPFK radio. He toured as W.C. Fields in a show called "Eighty Percent" and last appeared in "The Independant," starring Jerry Stiller. Probably his most noted role was as the spitting image of Jerry Falwell in "The People vs Larry Flynt."
ANTONIO PROHIAS (77) February 24, 1998
A cartoonist for Mad Magazine, Prohias created the "Spy vs Spy" panel, a running gag of grinning strike-counter strike destruction between two rivals. The main satire of these endlessly similar cartoons was the endless game of destruction played by these two foolish look-alike and think-alikes. Prohias had arrived at Mad Magazine after escaping from Castro's Cuba.
MAUREEN O'SULLIVAN (87) June 22, 1998
Ms. O'Sullivan got a laugh when I reminded her how often David Letterman would prompt Mia Farrow to "tell everybody who your mother is." As if nobody knew the great Maureen O'Sullivan, who of course made so many movies including six as Jane opposite Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller. I had to add that I felt Johnny was an awfully bleary-eyed "Tarzan" and she had to have enjoyed working opposite Groucho Marx alot better! She co-starred with the Marx Brothers in "Day at the Races," and remains one of the few heroines that anybody ever cared about in a slapstick comedy. She had a home in upstate New York as well as Arizona where she died.
NAT PERRIN (93) May 9th, 1998.
A crony of Groucho Marx, scriptwriter Nat Perrin worked on Olsen and Johnson's "Hellzapoppin," "The Gracie Allen Murder Case," Red Skelton's "Whistling in Dixie" and co-wrote several Abbott & Costello films. He wrote Bob Hope's "I'll Take Sweden" in the 60's and worked on the TV comedies "The Addams Family" and "The Red Skelton Show." He recalled in "The Marx Brothers Scrapbook" how he moved out to California to earn $100 a week working on "Monkey Business." He said, "That seemed like an enormous amount of money and I got scared...When I got out to Paramount the first fellow I run across I discover is being paid $1500 a week! I wanted to go back and demand more money..."
SAM PERRIN (96) January 8, 1998
A comedy writer for Jack Benny, Sam Perrin had a long and distinguished career that covered both radio and television.
MAE QUESTEL (89) January 4, 1998
The cartoon voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, Mae lived right here in Manhattan. 27 East 65th, to be exact. A pretty hip lady, she was willing to lend her distinctive voice to "Mrs. Portnoy Retorts," a jerky kind of parody album that answered "Portnoy's Complaint." She also played Woody Allen's mother in "New York Stories."
MARGARET RAY (46) October 5, 1998
Back in 1988 it was kinda funny when Margaret Ray was caught driving David Letterman's Porsche. "I'm Mrs. Letterman," she declared. And she tried to prove it time and again by breaking into his New Canaan house and acting like she lived there. As late as 1993, Dave was taking the situation lightly, declaring that one thing he was going to do before moving to CBS was "send change-of-address forms to that woman who breaks into my house." The jokes ended after the delusional Mrs. Letterman continued her pattern of stalkings (she forgot about Dave and pestered several other celebrities). Arrests and treatment seemed to be of no use. Ray recognized this just before diving into the path of a railroad train in Hotchkiss, Colorado.
ESTHER ROLLE (78) November 17, 1998
Sitcom producers said, "Let the good times Rolle," starring the evocative character actress in "Good Times" with John Amos and Jimmie Walker. Her previous sitcom fame hinged on her part as Esther the Maid on "Maude." Rolle played in a number of serious films including "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" "Raisin in the Sun" and "Driving Miss Daisy."
EMIL SITKA (83) January 16, 1998
A foil for The Three Stooges, Sitka played everything from dizzy butlers to cranky old men.On the autographed picture I have from him, he added "Hold Hands You Love Birds." Actually, he rubber-stamped that part. That line (from a short in which he played a dizzy reverend) became a favorite catch-phrase for fans. After he suffered a stroke, Stooges fans around the world wrote to him, offering him their prayers. The letters were always read to him, and it's possible that he could at least hear them.He lingered in a coma for months. Back in the 70's, Emil nearly became a full-fledged Stooge himself. He was going to replace Larry Fine in the act, but after a few rehearsals, Moe Howard became ill and the act disbanded.
BUFFALO BOB SMITH (80) July 30, 1998
For many kids, he was the first funnyman they saw. As he tried to handle Howdy Doody and Clarabell the Clown and way too much seltzer, the little ones in the "peanut gallery" roared with laughter, squealing, shrieking, squalling, howling, mewling, spitting, screeching...And somehow the guy who was born Robert Schmidt in Buffalo, New York never lost his affection for his marionette or his young fans. He was always willing to re-live the old days and to ask nostalgic grown-ups, "Hey Kids, What Time is It?" Why..."Howdy Doody Time," a time which is in some ways immortal.
HARRY STANLEY (100) February 15, 1998
Harry lived to such a ripe old age, few remembered that he was a vaudeville comedy performer known for his double-talk routines.
DOROTHY STICKNEY (101) June 2, 1998
One of the enduring stars of Broadway, Dorothy Stickney appeared in the longest running play in the history of the New York stage: "Life with Father," co-starring her husband Howard Lindsay. She also starred in "The Front Page" and was paired with Lindsay for the television musical production of "Cinderella." Her films include "Working Girls" "What a Life" and "The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker." Her TV career included a special production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" and continued into the 70's when she guested on the first episode of "The Waltons."
SYLVIA FIELD TRUEX (97) July 31, 1998
The venerable actress was probably best known for playing opposite Joe Kearns on "Dennis the Menace." She was the kindly Mrs. Wilson...while Kearns got the laughs as the crabby old guy who just didn't find Jay North too damn funny.
PAUL WEST (86) June 15, 1998
A radio script writer ("The Billie Burke Show," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" and "The Great Gildersleeve") Paul West was welcomed to TV and a variety of sitcoms including "My Three Sons," "Father Knows Best" and "The Real McCoys."
FLIP WILSON (64) November 25, 1998
Not too long ago I wrote the liner notes for a Flip Wilson re-issue CD (on Varese Sarabande). I mentioned my hope that more of his albums would return on CD. Perhaps they will, but now as a tribute to a deceased star. Flip died of liver cancer, taking with him Ray Charles' ultimate fan, "Geraldine." Know how Flip got his nickname? He used to do Shakespeare parodies for his pals. They'd laugh and say "He flippeth his lid!" Real name? Clerow...
HENNY YOUNGMAN (91) February 24, 1998
"The King of the One-Liners," Henny was telling jokes (often the same jokes) from his radio days on "The Kate Smith Show" in 1939 right through 1998. It seemed every time I met him he had the same friendly, glazed look on his face, the same as on stage when he'd recite all those one-liners one after another, pleasantly oblivious to the level of laughter each one got. His most famous gag was "Take my wife...please!" (His wife Sadie passed away in 1987.) And at the end? Well, everybody had to insist that his last words were... "Take my Life...please."