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Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen, R.I.P.

From Mark Evanier's blog ""

There was a time when, if I'd told you the number one film comedy star in America would soon be Leslie Nielsen, you'd have had men with nets come and get me. Mr. Nielsen was the serious (too serious) star of TV shows like Bracken's World and The Bold Ones, and movies like Forbidden Planet and Tammy and the Bachelor.

But as it turned out, Mr. Nielsen had a wonderful, largely undisclosed sense of humor. Folks who knew him knew it but the public didn't. As I learned the few times I met him, that sense of humor was vast and rich, though it did have a special flair for fart gags. At the time, he was apparently never without a little plastic cylinder called a Handi-Gas. This is (or was — I don't think they still make them) a noisemaker that could emit the sound one is apt to make after a major feasting on Van Kamp's Pork and Beans followed by a Chili Malted. You kept the Handi-Gas casually concealed in your hand and then you squeezed it at just the right moment, simultaneously making some sort of body movement to suggest that the sound came from your orifice. (It would probably be simpler to just fart but that wouldn't be much of a trick now, would it?) The idea, I guess, was to see how much you could embarrass people around you by making them think you'd embarrassed yourself.

Or something like that. I'm not big on fart humor but I found Leslie to be a very funny gent in spite of his ominpresent Handi-Gas. I especially liked the deadpan way he'd carry a joke to the wall in Airplane or the "Naked Gun" movies. And I really enjoyed the short-lived TV series that came between them...Police Squad. I was working on another ABC show at the time and I witnessed a curious occurrence: Everyone at the network — or at least, everyone I knew — was simultaneously saying, "Boy, that's a funny show" and "God, we've got to get rid of that thing as soon as possible." The initial ratings were pretty bad but somehow, I guess because it was so different, there was an inexplicable urgency to terminate the series. It was like they had to get it off the schedule immediately...and they did.

An agent I knew whose firm represented Nielsen told me that, at least on a financial basis, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. If it had just been a successful TV show running a few sewasons and then being cancelled, that's probably all Leslie N. would have done for the rest of his career. As it was, its cancellation led to the "Naked Gun" movies and their high grosses led to him being offered a steady stream of leads in comedy films, often for huge sums of money. He struck me as a man who was very, very happy with the bizarre left turn his career had taken.

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