CYRIL FLETCHER (91) January 2, 2005
In his 1978 autobiography, "Nice One Cyril," he wrote:
"Although I am a household name, I have achieved very little. I have had a lot of fun achieving my niche in the entertainment scene. In my meanderings through life, I hope sincerely that I have not harmed anyone or spoilt anything for anybody on the way."
It's one might expect from a comic known for "Odd Odes." Cyril Trevellian Fletcher, born on June 25, 1913, worked for an insurance company while studying acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He made a name for himself on radio with his "Dreaming of Thee" program in the 30's, made films in the 40's, and was seen on several British quiz shows in the 70's and 80's, including their version of "What's My Line." He managed an agency for public speakers and was often his best client, called on for comic speeches and, of course, whimsical poetry. He also made his hobby pay off, hosting a TV show called "Gardening Today." Married since 1941, he's survived by his wife and their daughter Jill
GENE BAYLOS (98) January 10, 2005
He was called "a comedian's comedian," a polite term for a durable small-timer who got laughs but never got in the way of the headline act. Like Henny Youngman, he had a good memory for gags, but in a style more like Alan King or Jack Carter, he tried to put them over with a little more salesmanship:
"On their wedding night, a groom asks his new bride, 'Honey, am I your first?' She says, 'Why does everybody ask me that?' "
That kind of thing got him steady nightclub work, but rarely key spots on 60's TV variety shows. Gene didn't mind much: "When I was making $50 a week, schlepping to Hoboken for three shows a night, I loved it. I'm not bitter. I love my job. I love show business." He remained a dependable jokesmith in the Catskill resorts, the casino circuit and at celebrity roasts. A good natured guy who remained pals with the likes of Joey Adams and Alan King, he sometimes got a payback or two, such as minor roles in Jerry Lewis's "The Family Jewels" in 1965, and a bit in "The Love Machine" (1971). Gene retired in 1999, and is survived by his wife of more than 50 years.
JOHNNY CARSON (79) January 23, 2005
It would take a book to write all the contributions to comedy and television achieved by Johnny Carson
And I did. I was also on Dateline NBC to talk about Johnny, along with Dick Cavett and Jerry Seinfeld. With hour-long specials, tribute shows from Johnny's friend David Letterman and also from Leno, plus an entire tribute magazine in stores just days after his death, and his DVD collection #1 on Amazon.com, it was clear that despite a dozen years of reclusive silence, Johnny was very much in the nation's hearts
The basics? Born in Corning, Iowa, raised in Norfolk, Nebraska, Johnny wrote a college thesis on radio comedy, and was strongly influenced by Jack Benny's warm chagrin, Bob Hope's slickness, and Fred Allen's distant wit. When he moved to California in 1951 after World War II and local radio work, he managed to get a Sunday afternoon comedy show ("Carson's Cellar") and a job writing for "The Red Skelton Show." Johnny's classic big break came when Skelton was unable to do a show and nobody else could fill in on such short notice. Johnny was rushed into his own show, which failed, and then landed the quiz series "Who Do You Trust" and then "Tonight."
Steve Allen had created wacky characters and sketches. Jack Paar had opted more for civilized talk. Johnny put both formats together, versatile enough to play characters, but very much his own man for the celeb interviews. He astonished the world by going well beyond Steve Allen and Jack Paar combined...and continuing to a spectacular 30 year run.
Always a student of comedy, Johnny had adapted Steve Allen's "Question Man" into "Carnak," and Jonny Winters' "Maude Frickert" into "Aunt Blabby" and Jackie Gleason's "Reggie Van Gleason" into the similarly cadenced "Art Fern." When he saw some of his idols, including Bob Hope, stay too long, he vowed that when he retired, he'd stay retired. Fans remembered Johnny as he wanted them to remember him, eternally slim, boyish, and likable.
NBC asked me for my favorite Carson moment. I said it was with the potato chip lady, mostly because it demonstrated why Johnny endured for so long. He genuinely enjoyed meeting the average person on his show, and when he "switched" a collectible chip with an ordinary one and munched it...it was just Johnny being impish. A rascal. He got his laugh, quickly showed the woman that no harm had been done to her collection...and created one of a hundred golden moments.
He interviewed over 22,000 guests and helped bring many stars to prominence, including eventual talk-show hosts David Letterman, Joan Rivers, David Brenner Garry Shandling and Jay Leno. He also gave "The Tonight Show" the patina of "class," a word that left the show along with him.
He enjoyed over a decade away from the camera as he toured the world with his fourth wife Alexis, played poker with celeb friends, and filled his craving for comedy by giving monolog jokes to David Letterman. He said when he concluded his network run: "I'm one of the lucky people in the world. I found something I always wanted to do and have enjoyed every minute of it."
BARNEY MARTIN (82) March 21, 2005
Fans of "Seinfeld" remember Barney Martin as the surprisingly hefty father of rail-thin Jerry. The veteran character actor had a long acting career before his late sitcom stardom, and actually started out as a New York City detective, which might account for the acerbic toughness that was still a part of the hapless Morty Seinfeld pesonality
Martin was born March 3, 1923 in Queens, joined the Air Force, and then spent 20 years on the NYC police force. He began to moonlight as a writer, working on city-based quiz and comedy shows including "Name That Tune" and "The Steve Allen Show."
His first film role was in Mel Brooks' "The Producers" in 1968. He later turned up in a variety of Broadway shows, most notably "Chicago" where he was the original "Mr. Cellophane," husband to glamorous and murderous Roxy Hart. His sitcom parts pre-"Seinfeld" included "The Tony Randall Show" and "Zorro and Son." In past years Martin was often at memorabilia shows signing souvenirs for "Seinfeld" fans, accompanied by his sitcom wife. He said when the show ended its run in 1998, "Playing Jerry's dad was like having whipped cream on top of a mountain of ice cream." He's survived by his wife and a son. Martin died of cancer, the disease that also claimed his daughter in 2002.
PAUL HENNING (93) March 25, 2005
Ordinary episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" are STILL on the World Almanac's list of "Top 50" highest rated programs of all time...right alongside the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and "Roots."
Paul Henning created the show. He was born on a Missouri farm and raised to be a lawyer, thanks to the advice of a Missouri politician he'd met named Harry S. Truman
After graduating from the Kansas City School of Law, Henning found radio more fascinating, and began writing for "Fibber McGee and Molly" and "Burns and Allen" on radio. In the 50's he worked on "Love That Bob" and two rural sitcoms, "The Real McCoys" and "The Andy Griffith Show." In 1962 he produced "The Beverly Hillbillies" and even wrote the theme song. The show ran for nearly a decade and spawned "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres."
MITCH HEDBERG (37) March 30, 2005
Mitch Hedberg, a favorite on shows hosted by Howard Stern and David Letterman, and a regular on the comedy club circuit, was found dead in a New Jersey hotel room. He was touring, but reports indicated that he had been having some problems that led to show cancellations. A few weeks before his death, he'd been scheduled for five nights at the Funny Bones club in Richmond, Virginia. Each night he called to say he wouldn't be in. Other club owners reported that Mitch was capable of doing a fantastic show one night, and a mediocre one the next...a situation exacerbated when he was trying out new material and openly reading from notes.
Considered one of the more promising new comics (Time Magazine once called him "the next Seinfeld") Hedberg appeared on MTV's "Comikaze" show where his trademark sunglasses and long hair made him seem more like a member of a garage bang. He was a voice on "Crank yankers," and after being signed to their label, was part of a Comedy Central-sponsored tour along with Lewis Black and Dave Attell.
The Minnesota-born comic was sometimes compared to Stephen Wright for his distant, shy personality and odd one-liners: "Rice is great when you're hungry and want 2,000 of something"; "I drank some boiling water because I wanted to whistle." "I would imagine if you understood Morse code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy"; "An escalator can never break. It can only become stairs." "I haven't slept for ten days. Because that would be too long." "When someone hands you a flier, it's like they're saying, 'Here, you throw this away.' " He found an audience but he said that a lot of the crowd "figure I'm stoned all the time." A natural assumption, considering his well-known appreciation for marijuana and harder drugs. He was reported to have been arrested in 2003 for heroin possession, but insisted it was "possession of paraphernalia and pills and things like that. My actual bust was minor." Hedberg's problems were documented as early as 1994, when club owner Scott Hansen caught Mitch shooting heroin in the dressing room of the St. Paul Comedy Gallery. His mother said that "It's not a secret Mitch used drugs. Whether that played a role in his death or not, we don't know." She also mentioned that he was born with a heart condition.
He wrote and directed a film, "Las Enchiladas," which along with his stand-up work led to Time's praise in 2000. He made a few more film appearances and released two comedy albums. His widow is comedian Lynn Shawcroft.
DEBRALEE SCOTT (52) April 26, 2005
A sitcom co-star and perpetual quiz show guest, Debralee Scott made her film debut in "Dirty Harry" (1971) but was better known for her TV roleas Cathy Shumway in "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and "Hotsy Totsy" Totzie in "Welcome Back, Kotter." Aside from these 70's sitcoms she appeared in "Police Academy" (1984) and "Police Academy 3: Back in Training" (1986). She also spent a lot of time brightening up the panel on daytime game shows from "Match Game" to "Hollywood Squares," and from "The $20,000 Pyramid" to "Chain Reaction" and "Password Plus."
In her 40's Debralee worked as an agent with a New York City company, Empowered Artists, and seemed headed for romance with Officer John D. Levi, of th Port Authority police. He was killed in the 9/11 terror attack.
HERB SARGENT (81) May 6, 2005
One of the real legends in the world of comedy writing, Herb Sargent worked on "The Colage Comedy Hour," "The Victor Borge Show," "That Was the Week That Was," the "Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live." He won six Emmy Awards for his television work....and that was only part of his output. He also wrote the screenplay for "Bye Bye Braverman" and special comedy material for a variety of top-name singers and comedians.
I used to see Herb when Steve Allen and Mort Sahl had local radio shows. Alot of us were there just to "hang out," not necessarily to yock it up or compete. If somebody put a microphone in front of Herb, his attitude seemed to be take it (away) or leave it. There was a modesty to him; he'd throw in an ad-lib like tossing poker chips in the pot...more as an obligation to keep the game going than wanting to show off
Comedy was his love and both his work and recreation.For example, "New York" magazine used to have contests on the back page. Herb couldn't resist. If the assignment of the week was to come up with a proverb that seemed intelligent but wasn't...Herb would jot down a line and send it in: "A Fool Has No Business Inside a Balloon." It wasn't that he wanted to see his name in the paper, or to win a year's subscription. It was just what he liked to do. Be funny.
Raised in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, an architecture student at Penn State, Herb served in World War II , graduated from UCLA and then wrote for radio and TV. A true student of comedy, he was with "Saturday Night Live" for 20 years, adding his wit where there was none, giving some guidance to a budding performer, coming up with some brilliantly creative idea when everyone else was stumped; a true professional and one of the good guys. Hardly retired, he spent the past decade as president of the Writers Guild of America, East Coast. He leaves his wife, brother Alvin, and a host of comedians and writers who treasured him as a creative comedy mind and a good friend
MASON ADAMS (86) April 6, 2005
One of the most distinguished voice-over and radio performers, Mason Adams' folksy tones were probably best remembered by the phrase "with a name like Smuckers, it has to be good." You can hear his voice in your head when you repeat that line, can't you?
Mason also played Charlie Hume, a key figure on Ed Asner's "Lou Grant" program. But the reason he's here is not just the chucklesome and wry voices he used for commercials or his occasional character parts in comic films. He was half of "The Idiots and Company," a neglected duo that worked stark territory that might best be described as Bob and Ray with the sensibilitis of Nichols and May. They favored dark sketches exposing the underside of human nature, and could be very dark indeed, as with the radio-styled and lengthy one-act comic masterpiece "So is Dr. Mitchell" on their lone Riverside album.
He lived just a few blocks from me, and I was privileged to spend some time with him talking about that album, and other aspects of his career. He was a great gentleman of intelligence, taste and talent. As a performer and co-worker he was steady, professional, and dependable. There aren't many around like him, and now there's one less; a decent man in all the ways that matter most.
FRANK GORSHIN (71) May 17, 2005
A brilliant impressionist, Frank Gorshin was one of the first to contort his face into as much of a perfect caricature as the voice. His Kirk Douglas/Burt Lancaster bit was legendary, but he also did unbeatable versions of Richard Burton, Marlon Brando and Dean Martin among many others.
It was an irony that during his many years of nightclub work he never did George Burns...but ended up playing him in a Rupert Holmes one-man show that arrived on Broadway. The show capped Frank's career, a career that held such great promise when he played Broadway the first time (1969), in the musical about Mayor Walker, "Jimmy." It was sadly during the run of the Burns play, this great triumph for him, that Frank was diagnosed with lung cancer. He managed to survive several years beyond the diagnosis, and was touring in "Say Goodnight Gracie" up till the last month of his life. Only a few days after his death, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" broadcast what turned out to be his final television role.
Grim ironies were part of his life almost from the beginning. Back home in Pittsburgh he won a talent contest via his Al Jolson impersonation. The prize was a gig opening for Alan King in a local club...but two days before the big show, Frank's brother was killed in a car accident. Frank did "go on with the show," but he could hardly recall his "big break" with great fondness
I think anyone who spent time with Frank was instantly aware of two things...he took things a little too seriously, and he smoked way too much. Perhaps these facts were related. But he was also a great talent and a truly nice guy, and very tolerant of all the fans who primarily sought him out because he starred as Bele in a memorable "Star Trek" episode about racial problems, and played The Riddler on the old "Batman" show. He was Emmy-nominated for the Riddler role, and it was one of the most manic and memorable on that campy show....making him clearly the most popular of all the male villains. Frank was in dozens of films including "Studs Lonigan" and "Where The Boys Are," as well as the cult classic "Invasion of the Saucer Men." His later years were definitely brightened by his admiring lady friend, Haji, the star of her own cult-classic films including "Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill."
HOWARD MORRIS (85) May 21, 2005
Undersized and underrated, Howard Morris had a genius for comedy, most often seen via supporting roles, whether literally hanging onto Sid Caesar's leg in a "Show of Shows" parody of "This is Your Life," or playing the literal Lil' Old Man in Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety." He was a busy "cartoon voice," portraying Gopher in "Winnie the Pooh" cartoons, "Atom Ant," "Jughead," "Beetle Bailey" and many more. He starred in many serious TV programs including "The Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and directed a number of films including "Who's Minding the Mint," "With Six You Get Eggroll," and "Don't Drink the Water," as well as episodes of "Hogan's Heroes," "Gomer Pyle," "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
For many, Morris is best remembered as psychotic Ernest T. Bass. This would explain why his "official" website, run by his son, is ErnestT.Com. His son David explains on the opening page: "The Andy Griffith Show became a major part of my father's life. He appeared in only five episodes. Regardless, he made a permanent impression on so many people, and was always amazed by and grateful for all of the love and support his fans gave to him."
David also told fans, the day after his father's passing, "I shared with Howard every bit of mail that came in, so I know firsthand how important your cards, emails, and gifts were to him over the years.
All I can really say now is that I miss him beyond words."
THURL RAVENSCROFT (91) May 22, 2005
He had a jovial, gooey baritone singing voice and that brought comedy fans a lot of joy via his own novelty tunes (including "Wing Ding") and songs on TV specials ("You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch") and even Spike Jones albums ("Teenage Brain Surgeon.")
Primarily Ravenscroft worked for Disney, and could be heard in most of their animated classics including 'Dumbo," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Lady and the Tramp."
Ravenscroft was mostly known as a singer after World War II when he joined the Mellomen, a group that backed many top stars of the day. He continued to work in groups through the 50's and 60's, notably as one of the Johnny Mann Singers. As a backing vocalist, his bass voice rumbled thorugh recordings by everyone from Doris Day and Mario Lanza to Jim Nabors and Arlo Guthrie.
He lent his voice to religious recordings, donating time to read in "books for the blind" programs and even producing a spoken word album, "God's Plan for You." Of course his best paying gig was "Tony the Tiger," which began via commercials in 1952. For several generations of kids, frosted flakes were "ggggggreat!" On his passing, David Letterman told fans that after the funeral, Thurl would be "buried in a grrrrrave!" Dave did sort of wonder if this was just a tad tasteless, but who knows...Thurl Ravenscraft appreciated and performed in a lot of goofy humor in his long, long lifetime
EDDIE ALBERT (99) May 26, 2005
It would be hard to point to Eddie Albert and say he was a great comedian. Or a great actor. He was an easy-going guy who made everything look easy, whether it was "best friend" movie roles (the kind his colleague Ronald Reagan often played) or the soft-spoken straight man to Eva Gabor in the forgettable yet memorable "Green Acres."
Eddie received a Bronze Star for service during World War II and married his wife Margo in 1945. She passed on in 1985. Margo was a singer who wisely did not use her given name: Maria Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y O'Donnell. Yes, O'Donnell.
Eddie was a fitness buff who maintained good health for a long, long time, although in later years he suffered from Alzheimers. Before folks began buying up the first season of "Green Acres" on DVD, Eddie had already weighed on on his enduring fame: "I don't really care how I am remembered as long as I bring happiness and joy to people." And that is something he continues to do with his charm, whimsy and on "Green Acres" a serious dedication to silliness
LEON ASKIN (97) June 3, 2005
Most people know Leon Askin via "Hogan's Heroes," but his was hardly a comic role. While fellow Jews John Banner and Werner Klemperer burlesqued their Nazi identities, Askin had to play the dour, fat General Burkhalter, with an insinuatingly high-pitched nasal voice close in nastiness to Otto Preminger.
It was his sourkraut threat of sending Klink "to the Russian front" that sent the Colonel into comic trembles. For Askin, the popularity from the role was bittersweet: "Beverly Hills school children would call after me 'Klink, Klink!' That was the name of the colonel who, due to his stupid behavior, continuously caused trouble for my character, General Burkhalter. Even my frequent threats - 'I send you to the Russian front!' - had no educational effect on Klink. People driving through Beverly Hills who saw these children raising their arms in the Hitler salute couldn't continue out of sheer shock and amazement and brought traffic to a standstill."
Born on Yom Kippur in Vienna as Leo Aschkenasy, Askin made his stage debut in 1925, became saw his career climb until 1933 when the SS seized him, beat him, and made clear that his Jewish heritage was the end of his career and perhaps his life. He managed to make it to France and in 1940 came to America. He worked in the theater until 1952 when he finally got a film break. He spent many decades working in a variety of roles on stage and screen, and ultimately, in 1994, came back to Vienna. He had a very full life there, which included another marriage at the age of 92.
Looking back, he said: "“At the end of my life, I have achieved belated fame and recognition in the city of my birth. In 1988, I was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art; in 1994, I was presented with the Silver Cross of Honor and, in 2002, with the Gold Cross of Honor for service to the City of Vienna; in 1996, I was granted the honorary title of Professor by Minister Scholten; and in 2002, I was honored with the Austrian Cross of Honor, First Class, for Science and Art. This unexpected success and these honors have meant more to me than belated amends; they have prolonged my life, by giving my life new meaning and renewed security.”
PAUL WINCHELL (82) June 24, 2005
We've all heard "Grit your teeth and bear it," but here was a guy who gritted his teeth and was funny. Ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff enchanted the first generation of TV viewers as Edgar Bergen did on radio with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Handsome, mildly irked by his dummy co-horts, Winchell not only appeared on TV and made a bizarre album of sober twist-ending tales ("Chips of Wisdom") he also was chosen to star in "Stop Look and Laugh," a Three Stooges compilation film that was the first to exploit the new-found popularity of Moe Larry and Curly
During a career spanning more than six decades, Winchell saw television evolve from his best asset to something of a nemesis for ventriloquists. "Television and its use of computers can make everything talk, so there's no need for the art of ventriloquism anymore," he told The Times in 1998. "I don't think young kids today would even understand it." Yet it was television that dramatically showcased Winchell's art. By the time he published his book "Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit" in 1954, he had built a base of ready buyers.
Born in New York City, December 21, 1922, "Paul Wilchen" was indeed influenced by Edgar Bergen and took up ventriloquism to overcome shyness and a speech impediment. He went to Columbia University and became interested in many offbeat subjects, including acupuncture and hypnosis. He studied theology to overcome depression, and had experimented with show biz as early as 1936 when he won first prize on a "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" show
In 1947 he starred on NBC's "The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show," and created Knucklehead Smiff two years later. He and "the boys" starred on a variety of TV shows through the 50's and he guested on "The Ed Sulilvan Show," "The Dean Martin Show" and even "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."
Winchell's achievements in ventroliquism would pale next to the 30-odd patents he received as an inventor, most notably for an artificial heart device built in 1963 and which, modified by others, became the Jarvik 7 and was used successfully in the 80's. Among the odder patents he held: a flameless cigarette lighter and an invisible garter belt.
"Winch" (as Jerry called him, and the title of Paul's autobiography) continued to use his vocal talents through the 60's and 70's and most too young to remember the old TV days know him best via animated cartoon voices such as Tigger in the1968 Disney Academy Award winning film "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day." He voiced Tigger until 1998 when the chore proved too much and others took over. He won a 1974 Grammy for his record "The Most Wonderful Things About Tiggers" and could be heard on a Saturday morning as any number of characters from Gargamel in "The Smurfs," to Dick Dastardly (opposite "Mutley) and Boomer in Disney's "The Fox and the Hound."
The enduring later cartoon work was perhaps bittersweet for Winchell, who discovered that there was no way posterity could judge his early days with Jerry and Knucklehead: few of the live shows were kinescoped. Many were deliberately erased, and in 1986 Winch won $17.8-million from Metromedia for their negligence in having erased 288 shows done between 1964 to 1968.
He's survived by wife Jean Freeman, five children and three grandchildren. His daughter April is a radio personality and runs a website loaded with examples of weird and incredibly strange novelty tunes and obscure singles. Sadly April's website had to note that he was "troubled" and "unhappy," to the point where he evidently had very little connection with her or his other offspring. She wished him better luck in the afterlife.
FREDDY SOTO (35) July 10, 2005
From El Paso High School to "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, it seemed like Freddy Soto had come a long, long way. He starred in "Comedy Central Presents Freddy Soto," Showtime's "Latino Laugh Festival" and the concert film "The Three Amigos." He played Vegas, opened for a lot of well-known singers, and even starred in a sitcom pilot or two. Married with a two year-old daughter, Freddy augmented his stand-up with acting assignments, and appeared recently in Adam Sandler's film "Spanglish."
He went to bed on Saturday night...and simply didn't wake up the following morning. A family spokesman has guessed that Freddy's death was caused by an aneurysm.
FRANCES LANGFORD (92) July 11, 2005
One of the most underrated of comic wives, Frances Langford was "Blanche Bickerson" opposite Don Ameche in some of the funniest husband-and-wife sketches to be heard on radio. The "team" later performed the best of them over again for two Columbia albums in the early 60's.
Langford's Blanche was a wonderful mix of sexiness, dumbness and shrewishness, and she enhanced Philip Rapp's scripts with a unique comic and human touch. Two reasons she's not better known for this, is that "The Bickersons" have been perceived by some as the ultimate cliche of "husband and wife" vaudeville battling, and Frances was always better known as a singer. She toured in USO shows with Bob Hope performing "I'm in the Mood for Love" and other winsome ballads that made the guys fight just a little harder for the girls back home.
Langford also performed for the soldiers in Korea and in Vietnam. The blonde 5'1" "Sweetheart of the Fighting Fronts" said in a 2002 interview that performing overseas "was the greatest thing in my life. We were there just to do our job, to help make them laugh and be happy if they could." She even wrote a newspaper column, "Purple Heart Diary" based on her overseas experiences.
She starred in many musicals including "Every Night at Eight" (featuring her signature tune "I'm in the Mood for Love") "Hit Parade," and her last, "The Glenn Miller Story" in 1954. She semi-retired in 1955 when she married second husband Ralph Evinrude (of the motor boat company) and moved to Florida. Her previous marriage was to actor Jon Hall. Frances entertained at the Outrigger Resort she and her husband owned at a marina on the Indian River. Widowed, she married Harold Stuart in 1994 and they enjoyed yachting and studying ocean life. He survives her.
DANNY SIMON (85) July 26, 2005
A veteran comedy writer, Danny Simon began his career after World War II, writing radio jokes for Milton Berle. He thrived in the golden age of television, working for Red Buttons, Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason, serving as head writer for the "Colgate Comedy Hour" and joining the staff of the legendary "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour" with Sid Caesar. Working with Sid Caesar also gave Danny a chance to work with his younger (by eight years) brother Neil Simon.
In 1955 the brothers worked on a short-lived Broadway revue, but after that, Neil decided to continue with the stage, and Danny stayed with television, adding many shows to his credits including "The Carol Burnett Show," "My Three Sons," "Diffrent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life." Danny not only produced great comedy, he nurtured new talent. One of his staff writers was Woody Allen, who later paid tribute: "I've learned a few things on my own since, and modified some of the things he taught me, but everything, unequivocally, that I learned about comedy writing I learned from Danny Simon. Also, he was very nice." Danny went on to lecture for 15 years at the University of Southern California, coaching would-be comedy writers.
Danny's 1961 divorce, and a brief stay at the home of a male friend, led Neil Simon to create "The Odd Couple." Danny was also given a percentage of the profits. Neil Simon said:"He was a character (in more ways than one) in at least nine or ten of my plays, and I'm sure will probably be there again in many plays to come." Danny is survived by a son and a daughter.
PAT MCCORMICK (78) July 29,2005
One of the pioneers of bizarre humor, Pat McCormick helped quirk up Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" for many years. One of Pat's classics for Johnny was a topical line about an earthquake: "Due to today's earthquake, the God is Dead rally has been canceled."
McCormick also wrote some good quips for himself: "I gave up drinking booze when my liver started showing up on airport metal detectors." Although he was never a force in stand-up, McCormick moved from comedy writer to sidekick (on a Don Rickles tv series), performed voices for TV commercials and was a character actor in films, notably the "Smokey and the Bandit" series. He was at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital since 1998 when he suffered a stroke.
Born on June 30, 1927, in Lakewood, Ohio, after army service Pat went to Harvard. He dropped out of Harvard Law School, tried a few "straight" jobs, and then with the help of Jonathan Winters, he began writing for Jack Paar. He also wrote stand-up material for Winters, Henny Youngman and Phyllis Diller, and tried to create a comedy act with another writer-friend, Marc London
Paar had an affinity for offbeat humorists such as Jonathan Winters and Jack Douglas, but didn't usually perform their wildest gags. But when Johnny Carson took over "The Tonight Show," he liked the weird visual cartoons of Pat's one-liners: "If you want to clear your system out, sit on a piece of cheese and swallow a mouse."
Long before Steven Wright, McCormick was bewildering audiences with thinking man's humor. A switch on the usual fat man joke: "I've fallen down and not known it." And, "Beethoven was so hard of hearing, he thought he was a painter." As Shelley Berman eulogized, "Few, very few, will ever be able to craft a joke as beautifully as Pat. He was able to just make it all happen. I don't think he was great at telling them, but he was sure great at putting them down."
Like so many comics, Pat was always "on," and his mind ever alert. Actor Jack Riley remembers a typical McCormick moment: "I was walking with Pat one night outside of the Braille Institute on Ventura Boulevard. Pat looked to the second floor and noticed five or six totally darkened windows, 'Ah," he said, 'I see they're working late.' His mind went to places that most people's don't.... truly original places where poets are found."
BOB DENVER (70) September 2, 2005
With one exception, Bob Denver's death was considered sad news. The exception? Not Tina Louise, who actually appeared on a radio show to praise Bob's intellect and talent (after years of feuding with him and the show's memory). It was David Letterman, who instantly joked in his monolog that it was a tough for the world...the death of the Pope, and now, Gilligan.
But for many, the few seasons of "Gilligan's Island," replayed endlessly, became a sitcom icon, and much of the focus was on the guileless Denver and the way he updated a Jerry Lewis-type role into something not only tolerable, but lovable. He became everyone's "Little Buddy," not just the Skipper's. In an unusual move, the New York Post offered not just an obituary, but an editorial that praised him and mourned his passing.
Bob first attained sitcom fame as Maynard G. Krebs, the cheerful beatnik on "Dobie Gillis." The 1959 series typed him for a while, and he nearly lost "Gilligan's Island" to Jerry Van Dyke, but once he got aboard that "three hour tour," his world changed forever. The 1964 series was never forgotten, although his residuals were. He and the cast didn't see much money from the re-runs but they did continue to get "Gilligan" work via made-for-tv sequels and guest-star roles. Bob appeared in everything from the 1981 movie "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" to Gilligan-referencing appearances on "Baywatch," "ALF" and "Roseanne."
Denver also retained his youthful befuddlement long enough to star in two more light-hearted TV shows, "Dusty's Trail" (1973) and "Far Out Space Nuts" (1975. His book "Gilligan, Maynard & Me" (1993) managed to annoy Tina Louise, since he commented on her lack of enthusiasm for the show but her loud dressing room enthusiasm for sex (not with any of the cast members, obviously!) But a dozen years later, Tina and a surprisingly large number of people around the world expressed their shock and sadness at his passing. Bob had quadruple bypass surgery in May, but his death was due to complications of cancer.
Almost immediately the news was on his website, via a statement from his wife. The site continues to be a permanent shrine to his memory.
TOMMY BOND (79)
September 23, 2005
Another of the last surviving members of the "Our Gang" and "Little Rascals" lost his place on the "last surviving members" list. If you're not up on your komikal kids, Thomas Ross Bond played "Butch the Bully," the one who usually targeted and tormented Alfalfa.
Bonds was born September 16, 1926 in Dallas, and it was a long drive from Dallas to Los Angeles, but a talent scout had assured the youngster and his mother that fame was waiting. And it was, sort of. After Tommy outgrew his Rascal role, he hung on for a while and played Jimmy Olsen opposite Kirk Alyn's Superman, and was Joey Pepper in "The Five Little Peppers." Outgrowing teenager roles, Bonds gave up acting in 1951 and worked behind the scenes for the next 40 years in production work. He leaves behind his wife, his son Thomas Ross Bond III, and a grandson.
DON ADAMS (82)
September 25, 2005
"Sorry about that..."
"You sure know how to hurt a guy..."
Were two apt catch-phrases from Don Adams, for fans hearing the news of his passing. Don's health had not been good in his late years. He had suffered a broken hip in 2004 and ultimately died of a lung infection.
Adams, born Donald Yarmy, was best known for "Get Smart," but he'd honed the character of the flinty-eyed William Powell-voiced pseudo-hero in his stand-up act and as Glick the house detective on "The Bill Dana Show."
From that series he landed "Get Smart," which was a Top 20 hit in 1965 and 1966. He won three Emmys for his role, which managed to blend swagger and stupidity into a comic character that was a fan favorite. The most famous catch-phrase for Maxwell Smart was "Would you believe..." as he found himself desperately trying to bluff his way out of danger until he had to give up with simmering chagrin:
"I'm a well trained agent and I can withstand eight hours of torture...would you believe six hours of torture...how about five minutes of spanking?"
Don's "Get Smart" was one of the few series to be axed by one network (NBC) and picked up by another (CBS). He later starred in "The Partners", the syndicated "Don Adams' Screen Test" and voiced the cartoon series "Inspector Gadget." Probably his best known film was...yes...a full-length Maxwell Smart adventure titled "The Nude Bomb: Return of Maxwell Smart."
CHARLES ROCKET (56)
October 7, 2005
The October 22nd broadcast of "Saturday Night Live," which heralded the return of Tina Fey, ended with a photo of Charles Rocket, and the dates 1949-2005.
It's probably that most audience members had no idea that he had a brief stint as the Weekend Update anchor in 1981. One reason for its briefness was that the inexperienced actor blurted one of the 7 words you can't say on TV during a February, 1981 broadcast. Rocket told the media he wasn't "proud" of what happened, and it was "just a slip," not any Lenny Brucian attempt at rebellion. Nevertheless, he was fired from the show (which was going through a low period and more critical abuse than usual) and spent the next two decades foraging through a variety of film and TV roles ranging from Bruce Willis' brother on "Moonlighting" to Geena Davis's husband in the movie "Earth Girls are Easy." He was in "Dumb and Dumber" in 1994 and his last film was "Shade" in 2003.
Born Charles Claverie in Maine, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design, had varied jobs in rock bands and even managing a Providence nightclub, ending up an actual TV news reporter at WPRI in Rhode Island before moving on to other news stations, changing his name to Charles Kennedy, and ultimately becoming Charles Rocket and parodying the news world via "Saturday Night Live." Despite his attempts at success in Hollywood, still made the East Coast his home. He lived in Canterbury, Connecticut, and was found out in a field near his house, his throat sliced; a suicide. He left behind a wife and son.
LOUIS NYE (92)
October 9, 2005
Louis Nye was probably best known for his fey cry of "Hi Ho, Steverino," as the simperingly self-giddy Gordon Hathaway character on the old "Steve Allen Show." This "Man in the Street" character not only appeared on a Steve Allen album by that title, but Nye's own "Heigh-Ho, Madison Avenue," a studio album of rather stark satire and songs about advertising and Madison Avenue
A reliable character actor who could always register comic tenseness, confusion and anxiety, he was a guest on dozens of shows ranging from "The Munsters" and "Beverly Hillbillies" to "Happy Days" and even "Curb Your Enthusiasm," giving him a span of over 40 years in sitcoms.
GORDON LEE (71)
October 16, 2005
While Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat parody included the happy cry of "Otay!" it originated, according to the obituaries, with Gordon Lee's character of "Porky," who played the porcine little brother to "Spanky" McFarland in the "Our Gang" comedies
Lee was credited with over 40 appearances in shorts between 1935 and 1939 as he and other comically robotic children recited their lines and got into lovable and unforgettable mischief. One of Lee's entries, "Bored of Education," won the Academy Award for best short in 1937.
Lee was born in Texas. Originally named Eugene, his adoptive parents called him Gordon, in homage to Lee's comedy director Gordon Douglas. Lee's path out of Hollywood led to Colorado where he worked as a schoolteacher, and ended in Minneapolis (where his son lived). His last days were spent in a nursing home suffering from lung and brain cancer