Posts Tagged ‘In Memorium’

harold-ramisHere we are, yet again, to say goodbye to another comedy genius. Early morning, on February 24, Harold Ramis passed away at the age of 69 from complications due to autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. Ramis was a beloved actor, writer, and director who was involved in some of the most iconic comedies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. To name just a few: Caddyshack, Groundhog’s Day, National Lampoon’s Animal House, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Stripes, Meatballs, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2. While his later work seemed to fizzle out with audiences, Ramis still managed to achieve noteworthy performances in Orange County (2002), Knocked Up (2007), and Year One (2009).

Though he often played second fiddle to Bill Murray during their six-film collaboration, to call Ramis just a straight man downplays his talent as an actor and a comedian. Ramis has always been a more subdued performer, relying on his dry wit to subtly poke fun at or comment on institutions of authority and the new bourgeois culture. This was a man who grew up during the tumultuous era of the 1960s and tried to infuse that same spirit of rebellion into his movies. Take another look at that list up top and it becomes pretty clear that Ramis was all about underachievers and underdogs, turning them into unlikely, though not unwelcome heroes. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, I think, are the best examples. As Egon Spengler, nerds and geeks alike got to see a positive depiction of themselves on the big screen. Spengler and his fellow Ghostbusters were action heroes, but they were also men of science with a sense of humor to boot. Venkman may have been the street-smart, cynical romantic, but Egon was the quintessential nerd and he still got to save the day. Unlike now where nerd and geek culture have been greatly elevated, back in the 80s, this was a huge deal. Above all else, Ramis brought intelligence to his work. Again, it’s too easy to call Animal House or Caddyshack examples of frat house, juvenile humor. Do they have slapstick and low brow jokes, of course, but Ramis was as sly as he was overt in presenting comedy. He’d re-write or punch up scripts to make sure there was something for the audience to latch on to, something that resonated. Case in point, we remember pretty much all of his movies. The good ones at least.

The outpouring of articles and videos honoring Ramis speaks to the long-reaching influence he’s had on at least two generations of movie-goers. Most of his movies are quotable masterpieces of comedy with each sporting at least a scene or a line that sticks in your memory the rest of your life. It’s one thing to write a joke, it’s another to write joke funny enough to get people quoting it the second they walk out of the theater and years later. I should know. I haven’t seen Caddyshack since I was a teenager, but I can still quote a great deal of Billy Murray’s lines. The same goes for the Ghostbusters movies. When I was a kid, I was scared out of my mind because of the ghosts! I still remember hiding my head in my father’s chest or sitting behind the couch because I was freaked out by Ghostbusters 2. In all honesty, I had a better appreciation of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon before I truly enjoyed the movies they were based on, but I still went back and watched them again.

It’s impossible to perfectly encapsulate one man’s impact on cinematic culture, so the best thing we can do is curl up on the sofa and facilitate our own time loops of Harold Ramis movies. All I know for certain is that Mr. Ramis is now a wry grin of stars shining down on us singing “Do Wah Diddy”.

Next time I promise to write about something a bit more positive.


Sid CaesarA few days ago Sid Caesar passed away at the age of 91 from complications due to illness. His passing was mourned by the comedic community, but it’s hard to gauge the reactions of the general public to the death of the patriarch of sketch comedy. Sid Caesar’s influence on comedy is everywhere and you might not even realize it. Caesar was the star of two successful variety shows, Your Show of Shows (1950-1954) and Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957), both of which were live comedy programs that influenced generations of comedians not just through the stellar performances of Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris, Carl Reiner, and Nanette Fabray, but also through the amazing writing talents of Mel Brooks, Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, and Mel Tolkin.

Mel Brooks, as we all know, wrote, directed, produced, and starred in some of the most influential comedic movies and television shows (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, Get Smart, etc.). He even snuck Caesar into small roles in Silent Movie and History of the World Part 1. Reiner used his experiences as a writer and performer under Caesar as the basis for The Dick Van Dyke Show with his character, Alan Brady, Rob Petrie’s boss, based in part, on Caesar. Neil Simon went on to become a prolific playwright, winning Tony Awards for The Odd Couple (1965) and Lost in Yonkers (1991). His 1993 play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, was based on his experiences as a writer for Caesar with all of the characters as stand-ins for his fellow writers and Caesar himself. Larry Gelbart went on to co-create and write the television show M*A*S*H. Mel Tolkin, best known for his work on Your Show of Shows, was also a contributing editor and writer for All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. And if you’re still a fan of Woody Allen, then you know how famous he went on to be as a writer and director. All of these men contributed to the landscape that would influence the next generation of comedic talent, but for every person who quotes a Mel Brooks movie, cites M*A*S*H as a show that changed the format of the half-hour sitcom, or praises a Woody Allen film, they’re inadvertently tracing that comedic lineage back to Sid Caesar.

Caesar himself was wildly praised by his peers and Hollywood for his comedic prowess and the intelligence with which he approached comedy. Even though his shows had to play to audiences most would consider the lowest common denominator, Caesar made sure that sketches never treated the viewing audience as dumb. Amongst his assembled staff of writers, there wasn’t a book read, a movie/play watched, or music listened to that couldn’t be referenced. Astonishingly, Caesar never wrote for his own shows, relying on his staff to create the scenarios and dialogue, though Caesar was still involved in punching up the material, performing the sketches out loud, over and over again, until he was satisfied. Sketches were an average of 10 minutes long so the performers could milk everything out of the material while the camera was allowed to capture every expression, which Caesar and his fellow performers had in spades. Caesar was adept at the art of pantomime, able to capture the simplest task and still make it hilarious, and an expert improviser. He also perfected the art of “double-talk”, which he’d been doing since he was a child in his parents’ diner in Yonkers, New York. Alfred Hitchcock even called him “television’s Charlie Chaplin”.

As a person, Sid Caesar was both praised and sometimes feared by his fellow performers and staff. A bear of a man, Caesar was a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, temperamental personality known for violent outbursts, which you can see even in his comedic approach. In many sketches, the characters Caesar often played reacted by pushing and shoving or through sudden bursts of emotion. One of his more infamous outbursts resulted in hanging a young Mel Brooks over the balcony of a hotel room while the writing staff was pulling an all-nighter for Your Show of Shows. Brooks would later reference another of Caesar’s violent actions in Blazing Saddles. The scene where Mongo punches a horse is supposedly based on Caesar doing the same when his wife was thrown from a horse while out riding. Regardless of his temper, Caesar was also a warm and caring individual; a loving friend, husband, and father, he was also an ardent supporter of the Humane Society who created an award in his name in 2005.

With his passing, I hope more people will rediscover Sid Caesar and understand his place in the pantheon of comedy gods. Caesar was a man who paved the way for other comedians, but his stardom, like the man himself, burnt out quickly in the eyes of the viewing public. I was fortunate to have a mother and grandfather who loved comedy and introduced me to Sid Caesar as a teenager, but there are some who vaguely remember him for his roles in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Grease (1972) and many who don’t know him at all. If you’re a fan of comedy, I encourage you to scour YouTube for sketches or watch interviews of him and his fellow writers and performers. Caesar was insightful, honest, hilarious, and poignant to a fault. The best thing we can do is celebrate him and all that he contributed to comedy because they don’t make ’em like Sid Caesar anymore.

philip seymour hoffmanIt’s with great sadness that I have to report the passing of a great actor of stage and screen, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was confirmed yesterday that Hoffman, age 46, died of a drug overdose in his Manhattan apartment. Sober since he was 22, Hoffman’s problems with addiction were public knowledge as he was very candid about his substance abuse in interviews over the years. Before his passing, he’d checked himself into a rehab clinic after falling off the wagon for 10 days. Mr. Hoffman is survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.

Hoffman has had a varied career in the theater and in Hollywood, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any role he didn’t dive into wholeheartedly. Though he’s had roles in several blockbusters, the most recent being The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hoffman has generally been perceived as a thoughtful and cerebral actor, taking on roles that challenged not just him but the audience as well. It’s what made him a fantastic character actor and the reason he earned his Oscar for Best Actor for his amazing performance in Capote (2005) as the titular character. He followed up that performance with three more Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), and The Master (2012). Hoffman was also an accomplished stage actor and director, earning three Tony nominations for his Broadway performances in True West (2000), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2003), and Death of a Salesman (2012).

I can say, with all honesty, that Hoffman’s death did hit me hard. There are some actors that are almost a source of comfort as a regular movie-goer. When you see their name on a movie poster or notice them in a film you haven’t watched in ages, you feel safe knowing that they’re there. Hoffman was one of those actors for me. Even when he was playing cold, calculating characters or villains there was a sense of warmth about him that made him enjoyable to watch. The first time I noticed him was as the lovable and enthusiastic Dusty in Twister (1996) and it was a joy to watch him rise in Hollywood, earning the respect and admiration he so richly deserved.

So here are some clips of Philip Seymour Hoffman in his various role. Rest in Peace, sir, for you will be missed.

And a warning on these clips, most of them, for language purposes, are Not Suitable For Work.

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Shot and killed outside of the Dakota building in New York by Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s death was a tragedy not just for fans of The Beatles, and Lennon specifically, but the music industry itself because Lennon would never be able to contribute his work and his voice again. Two months before his death, Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, released the album Double Fantasy, marking Lennon’s return to music after a roughly five-year hiatus that gave him time to focus on being a husband and father to his new son, Sean. Renewed and reinvigorated to create once again, we can only speculate how the landscape of music might have changed if Lennon lived.

John Lennon had a life that can only be described as tumultuous. His childhood was full of tragedy and uncertainty, and his formative years were spent struggling to get out of the working-class existence of Liverpool before capturing lightning in a bottle with The Beatles. And while music gave him an outlet for his creativity success drove him to indulge in his darker vices. He was part of one of the most influential bands of the 20th century, but he remained a tortured soul only finding some semblance of peace in the latter years of his life.

His legacy, however, is one of peace and love, something he believed in wholeheartedly. He wasn’t perfect, not by any means, but he influenced generations of musicians and fans alike, to say nothing of the those he touched just by being a part of their lives in some capacity. While I know a lot of radio stations will be playing “Imagine”, I’d prefer to play one of my favorite John Lennon songs, “Instant Karma”. Of the four Beatles, Lennon was the rawest in terms of his voice and his more aggressive, often confrontational approach to song-writing and music. “Instant Karma” embodies all of those qualities.

For John:

Nick CardyIt’s my sad duty to report that yesterday, November 3rd, Nick Cardy, a renowned and respected artist in the comic book industry passed away at the age of 93. Cardy was best known for his work at DC Comics during the Silver Age, bringing well-known characters like Aquaman and the first incarnation of the Teen Titans to life in their solo books.

Born Nicholas Viscardi, shortening it to Nick Viscardi in his early career, Cardy got his start in the industry working for Will Eisner and Jerry Iger’s comic packaging company, Eisner & Iger, at the age of 18, drawing for various titles like Fight Comics, Jungle Comics, and Kaanga Comics. Eisner even had him take over as writer and artist for the popular comic strip “Lady Luck” in Eisner’s own Sunday supplement comic, “The Spirit Section”, from May of 1941 to February of 1942. On “Lady Luck”, Cardy worked under the house pseudonym of Ford Davis, the one used by Eisner, the character’s original creator, but always found a way to get his initials, NV, into the story. It wasn’t until he worked on “Quicksilver” for the National Comics series that he’d shorten his name completely to Nick Cardy.

A veteran of World War II, Cardy served from 1943 to 1945, earning two Purple Hearts. Serving in the 66th Infantry Division, he entered a contest to design his company’s patch, winning with a black panther logo. It was because of his talent as an artist that he was moved to division headquarter after a general recognized Cardy’s work from a magazine. Eventually he was assigned to the Third Armored Division as an assistant tank driver in the European theater, ending his time in the war in the Army’s Information and Education Office in France.

Artist At WarUpon returning to civilian life, Cardy drew for several magazines and comic strips, eventually landing his first gig for DC Comics in 1950 on the title Gang Busters, based on the popular radio show. He later developed his first title, Tomahawk, about an American colonial soldier dressing as an Iroquois warrior to fight the British during The American Revolution. As far as DC Comic’s more recognizable characters go, Cardy was the primary artist for the first 39 issues of Aquaman’s solo book from 1962-1968, though he would continue drawing covers for the title until 1971. He was also brought on board as the artist on the Teen Titan’s solo book in 1966, though he’d previously drawn the Titans, consisting of Robin (Dick Grayson), Aqualad, Kid Flash (Wally West), and Wonder Girl, in their first appearance as a team in Brave and the Bold #60. He would go on to draw interiors for Justice League of America, Superman, Detective Comics, House of Mystery, Action Comics, and All-Star Western, featuring one of my personal favorite characters, Bat Lash. Cardy remained DC’s go-to cover artist until he left the industry in the late 1970s.

After leaving the industry, he became a successful commercial artist, doing magazine and ad illustrations, including some movie posters for The Street Fighter (1974), California Suite (1978), and Apocalypse Now (1979).

So, in honor of Nick Cardy, who is now floating amidst a spiral galaxy, directing the swirls to his liking, I’d like to offer this selection of his vast body of work for you to enjoy.

Aquaman-CardyBat Lash - Cardy

Lady LuckQuicksilver - National Comics

Teen Titans - CardyTeen Titans Wonder Girl - Cardy

The SpectreThe Witching Hour

Mess Line

Cologne Germany Cardy

marcia_wallaceIn a very touching moment, The Simpsons paid tribute to the passing of veteran actress, and the voice of Edna Krabappel, Marcia Wallace during the show’s opening chalkboard sequence. A fitting tribute and one worthy of a character very much beloved by many a Simpsons fan. Wallace passed away last month, at the age of 70, from breast cancer, which she’d been fighting for over two decades. As Bart Simpson’s 4th grade teacher for the last 25 years, Wallace turned a stereotypical hardass and embittered teacher into a sympathetic, warm, flawed, and wickedly funny character, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1992 for the Season 3 episode “Bart the Lover”, which Fox aired last night in her honor. As The Simpsons grew, so did we along with them. And as we grew up, we began to appreciate characters like Edna Krabappel who became a welcome and necessary part of the rich and colorful residents occupying Springfield.

Though Wallace was already a comedic star in her own right with a supporting role as Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show, which was specifically written for her, and various appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, Match Game, Hollywood Squares, Password, $25,000 Pyramid, and To Tell the Truth. She also had numerous guest roles on Bewitched, Murphy Brown, Magnum, P.I., Murder, She Wrote, and Taxi, where she played herself.

Apart from her career as an actress, she was also an active supporter of cancer research and an activist for many cancer groups, lecturing on the importance of early detection.

Not unlike Phil Hartman’s Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, Marcia Wallace’s Edna Krabappel was one of the great characters of The Simpsons. I know I’ll miss her presence, as will an entire generation who knew her only for this one role. But I like to think that she’s up there somewhere giving the universe a good “HA!”

RIP Marcia Wallace and we really will miss you, Mrs. K.

Chalkboard Tribute