We mourn the loss of the 20th century’s greatest American comedy writer, Neil Simon, and of Barbara Harris, the effervescent star of films like “Nashville,” “Freaky Friday” (the Jodie Foster version), and “A Thousand Clowns.”
Here Harris appears in one of Simon’s films, “Plaza Suite,” with Walter Matthau as a suburban mother meeting with her lecherous former boyfriend, a Hollywood producer, for the first time since they were teenagers.
May their memories be blessings. And may this sad news inspire us all to revisit their best work.
We bid a sad and fond farewell to Rose Marie, a star from the era of radio to the era of Twitter, who died yesterday at age 94. She is best remembered today as Sally Rogers, the wisecracking comedy writer (inspired by Selma Diamond) on the fictitious “Alan Brady Show” in my all-time favorite television series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Sally’s brash humor, mostly directed toward herself and her single status, was a perfect counterpoint to Van Dyke’s suburban dad and Morey Amsterdam’s non-stop one-liners. For me, and I imagine for many girls and young women across the country, the writer with the bow in her hair who was the only woman in the room was an inspiring example of an independent, respected working woman. In her appearances on talk shows and “The Hollywood Squares” she was as quick and funny as the character she played. And could she sell a song.
After all, she had been a singing superstar as a little girl with a very big voice and and a bigger personality, billed as “the child wonder.”
Here she gives her thoughts on comedy.
And how the Sally Rogers character was based on her own personality.
I was proud to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary about Rose Marie that came out earlier this year. It includes many remarkable stories about her early days as a child superstar and her appearances in Las Vegas back when the mob was running the casinos.
Carl Reiner, creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” wrote on Twitter:
I was so sad to learn of the passing of Rosemarie. There’s never been a more engaging & multi-talented performer. In a span of 90 years, since she was four, dear Rosie performed on radio, in vaudeville, nightclubs, films, TV, & Vegas & always had audiences clamoring for “more!!”
Bill Persky, a writer for the show, paid tribute on Twitter as well: “Laughter lost a friend today with the passing of Rosemarie, Every line we wrote for her was guaranteed, she never failed to deliver, The New Year will be less happy with her gone.”
We bid a sad farewell to Robert Guillaume, who has died at age 89. The deep-voiced actor of great presence performed on stage in the Broadway musical “Purlie” and became best known to audiences as Benson, the butler on “Soap,” who became so beloved by audiences and by his peers that he became the first black actor to win an Emmy for comedy and his character became Lieutenant Governor to give Guillaume more scope and airtime.
My favorite of his performances was in the neglected gem, “Sports Night,” where he played Isaac, the boss of the all-sports television station. In fact, this scene is one of my favorite moments in any movie or television show ever.
I was also very moved by the way he and the show incorporated his real-life stroke into the storyline, making even more clear his courage, determination, and magnetic screen presence.
We mourn the loss of one of the great figures of 20th century entertainment, Jerry Lewis, a performer who was at the top in nightclubs, movies, radio, and television. He was a successful and innovative director of film as well.
He was an extraordinarily gifted physical comedian.
He liked to describe his act with Dean Martin as “the handsome man and the monkey.”
After Martin left him, Lewis was devastated. In one of his most successful solo films, “The Nutty Professor,” a sort of reverse Jeckyll and Hyde story, he essentially played both roles.
Lewis became a director who learned every technical aspect of filmmaking, down to loading the camera. He invented the instant video feedback system that is now standard.
He was also a superb dramatic actor, most notably in Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy,” playing a kidnapped talk show host, opposite Robert de Niro.
He was also a tireless, if sometimes controversial, fundraiser for muscular dystrophy with annual Labor Day telethons.
Shawn Levy’s insightful book, King of Comedy: The Life and Art Of Jerry Lewis, has the best description I’ve seen of the complicated relationship between Lewis and his audience. His talent could be overwhelmed by his voracious need for attention and his barely hidden hostility. He had a rare combination of ferocious commitment to entertaining, putting everything he had into it, but holding a great deal back, never showing us who he really was, as any truly great entertainer should do.
But at his best, with Martin and working with director Frank Tashlin, he was as good as it gets.