From Dad’s talent agency head-shot/statistics sheet, circa 1979
Father’s Day. A bit pretentious of a title for a holiday, but it is what it is. ‘Dad’s Day’ just doesn’t have the panache – except to me, because I had my dad.
Dad died in 1986 – now more than half my life ago, which is an interesting realization to come to – I have lived more of my life without his physical presence than with. In a way, that makes no sense to me. But then again, it does. It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren,
It’s quite natural to wonder what he would think of the here-and-now; what his family has become, his grandchildren, great- grandchild – life in general, the world in which we all live.
Then again, I don’t need to think too hard to a conclusion; he would see my life as it is today with a sense of pride, but also a heightened level of amusement and bemusement.
My dad wasn’t highly educated, topping out the formal end of things with a high school diploma, but he was knowledgeable and well read, a man of continual curiosity about the world. He would have some definite opinions the recent state of affairs of the country and it would be a blunt, probably sarcastic, enlightening and entertaining – LOL commentary. He would have appreciated his grandchildren’s fairly sophisticated interest in things social and political.
Life would still be pointedly funny.
Aside from all of the typical moments I regret my dad and I missed getting to share – the wife and children of mine he never met, my career and creative and milestones, the man I have become – the one thing I get oddly wistful about is the fact that my dad and I never got to sit down in front of a VHS or DVD player and watch funny movies.
That many sound funny as a major regret, but I’m quite serious.
Dad was an aficionado of comedy. He spent the bulk of his working years as a television station film editor in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then Denver. This was back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, when television was still a fairly new and burgeoning entity, and most places had only four-or-five channels to choose from, and aside from their network programming, had lots of local air time to fill. TV stations ran a lot of old movies; my father edited them to fit time frames and insert commercial breaks. He loved movies, and even did some community theatre in his younger, pre-me days.
Most of all, Dad knew comedy and loved a wide array of comedic films and performers. Comedy of all kinds, actually. A favorite comedian’s appearance of a show noted in TV Guide or the newspaper listings and the television appropriated for that time frame: my first, youthful experiences with ‘appointment television’ were comedic in nature. Comedy (and humor – a distinction, to be sure) and an appreciation for things humorous was a love he passed on to me, though we had somewhat divergent viewpoints on what/who was funny, and who wasn’t.
Hence, my regret over his not living to see the home video age come to full bloom.
Born in 1916, Dad’s early experiences with comedy were vaudeville and silent films. He was a fan of silent stars Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and also the Keystone Cops. When I was a teenager, any public television salute to either of those guys was duly noted and watched by my dad, and since we only had one t.v. in the house, me too.
I shared his admiration for all of it.
But dad’s true passion, the guys he found funniest of all, were Laurel and Hardy. They were his heroes – especially Stan Laurel, the skinny straight-man of the classic duo. My dad did a pretty good Stan Laurel impersonation, and even as a young kid I remember seeing a different look in my dad’s eyes when we watched Laurel and Hardy versus other movies or shows.
Stand and Ollie
Nostalgia is funny; sometimes you look back on something fondly, and wonder why, but this is truly not one of those times. I still enjoy watching Laurel and Hardy – probably even more so now that I am older, and grasp their subtle nuances, the pathos in the true to life friendship that their humor (even when absurdist) came from.
I always laughed along with dad when watching Laurel and Hardy; now I know why he laughed much harder at some things than I did. Now I know why, and I laugh at the same things he did.
Watch a Laurel and Hardy short sometime, and you will see that even the physical, slapstick humor has a certain humanity to it, a gentleness. Chaplin is much the same, and him I get in a much different way now than I did as a kid. Dad liked Charlie, and even portrayed him a couple of times for costume parties. He had Chaplin’s waddle and cane twirl down.
IN a very different vein, Dad loved The Bowery Boys; I got quickly bored with their antics; Abbot and Costello did nothing for dad, I found them amusing – though they don’t wear as well as the years move on, so maybe my sense of humor is aging like good wine – or my dad’s.
Larry, Moe, Curly. Soitenly.
My dad also loved the Three Stooges – about as far removed comedically from Laurel and Hardy as you can get, in some regards. There is little subtlety in the Stooges and their eye poking-head smacking mayhem, but my dad enjoyed them as well; as do I, as do both my sons – his grandsons. There is something timeless in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye. Don’t believe me? As an adult, I have, by way of actual demonstration, won a couple of bets on whether or not a pie-in-the-face would get a laugh in most any public setting.
But while I grew up sharing dad’s appreciation for Laurel & Hardy and the Stooges (among others) we parted ways over the Marx Brothers. I was, and still am, a big fan; dad didn’t really find them funny, which has always puzzled me. All he could say in response to my not-concealed disappointment was that he just didn’t find them all that funny.
Funny how seriously a guy can get about a disagreement with his dad.
Ernie Kovacs Nairobi Trio
As well read and cerebral as my dad was in terms of comedy and satire (both on-screen and in real life) the Marx Brothers would seem to be a natural for him. Oh, he watched some Brothers stuff with me a few times, but it just wasn’t really his thing. When I was in high school, PBS resurrected Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life’ quiz show from the fifties and ran them on Saturday nights. I became hooked, and dad actually found Groucho Marx to be a funny guy, much to my relief and vindication of sorts. He still never really cared for their movies, though. Conversely, when PBS resurrected Ernie Kovacs old shows, I was puzzled as what Kovacs bits he liked and which ones he really didn’t. The Nairobi Trio did nothing for him, had me in stitches.
When asked on his deathbed if he was finding it difficult to leave this life, acclaimed actor John Barrymore was quoted as saying, “Death is easy; comedy is hard.”
I get that.
Even though we didn’t get to plunk down in front of a t.v. with a handful of classics in black-and-white on DVD, my dad and I shared numerous moments of comedic television brilliance through the 60’s and 70′, and had quite lengthy and spirited debates about who and what was and wasn’t funny.
Comedians were prevalent on television when I was growing up, and not just late night with Johnny Carson; The Ed Sullivan Show, the Carol Burnet Show, Flip Wilson, there was always somebody funny on. He loved (and I came to appreciate) Myron Cohen and Morey Amsterdam; he couldn’t stand Buddy Hacket or Shecky Greene, puzzled over my love for the insult humor of Don Rickles or the confetti-throwing antics of Rip Taylor. We both liked Jonathan Winters, and I could stay up late on non-school nights to catch Carson.
He was not so old school that he couldn’t enjoy contemporary stuff: he would sit with me on Monday nights and watch The Monkees. He enjoyed the antics, tolerated the music.
Here’s Dan and Dick
Other sitcoms we mostly agreed upon. The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family and M*A*S*H* we watched together and laughed with and at as family. Dad also loved Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, and my daughter Lindsay, now 30, became a fan watching Laugh In reruns in her teens. She now owns some DVD’s compilations of Laugh In and uses a number of the shows memorable lines regularly in her personal repertoire, which would please my father to no end, probably more than it amuses me.
“Eeety beety chunkerdere bork bork bork…”
But the quirkiest bit of humor/comedy that my father and I shared? Dad loved The Muppet Show.
The Swedish Chef in particular always sent him convulsing with laughter, and he enjoyed Rolf the piano playing dog. And Fozzie Bear and Kermit, of course. But the Swedish Chef was a whole different level of gut-buster for my dad. No, he wasn’t Swedish himself, but marrying into an extended family of Norwegian immigrant-types, he could somewhat identify. I think. The Muppet Show aired five nights a week at six-thirty, and if there was a particularly intriguing guest star that night, we had dinner on t.v. trays in the family room – a treat generally resereved for Appolo blastoffs or something equally noteworthy. Or to watch The Muppet Show.
Oh yeah, I get it. Always have.
One of the few ‘grown-up’ movies I ever saw with my dad in a theatre was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. My father loved the earlier Pink Panther movies, and thought Peter Sellers was brilliantly funny. I had only seen bits and pieces of the earlier films on t.v. and was unsure what to expect from a whole movie of Seller’s antics.
It was a memorable experience on a whole lot of levels, as I never saw my dad laugh as hard or as frequently as he did that evening in a Denver movie theatre.
Two things vividly stand out in my mind from going to sse that film with my father. One is a scene in which Clouseau is chasing a villain, and exits a hotel as the bad guy drives off. Clouseau summons a waiting taxi, jumps in the back seat, and in his French drawl yells at the rotund cab driver to “Fullow that caaaaar.” The overweight cabbie responds by looking at Clouseau blankly, shrugging his shoulders, then getting out of the cab and running down the road – following the bad guy’s car. The camera then cuts back to a close up of Seller’s face, mostly his eyes and eyebrows, as Clouseau realizes the result of his order.
My dad had recently had heart surgery, and was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Seriously, I did.
I could watch that scene a hundred times and laugh just as hard as he did then. To this day I wonder what dad found funnier; the line and the cab drivers response, or the look on Clouseau’s face. It is a fond remembrance worth puzzling over.
The other thing of note from that film has less to do with my dad, and more with my relationship with my sons. A few years ago I rented the original Pink Panther movie and my sons and I watched it together. My dad loved one particular scene, and my boys do now too. (Thanks, YouTube!)
Assassins are trying to kill Inspector Clouseau. One assassin dressed as Clouseau enters his hotel room, while another assassin follows and kills him in the bathtub, thinking it is the real Clouseau. When the lovely Russian assassin, Olga, enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces the other assassin in a dimly lit room. He leaves and then Clouseau arrives. He then moves throughout several rooms turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau then escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body of the dead assassin in the bathtub. He calls the front desk and declares “Hello?… Yezzz. There eez a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath. Thank you.” Again, a close up shot of Clouseau’s face – a pause, then his wide-eyed look when he realizes what he has said – the subtle, played straight absurdity of it all, makes the whole scene.
“Heeelo? Izs dis zee front desk?”
That line has become a piece of family folklore.
Whenever we check into a hotel room, one of the Lucker males is sure to pick up the house phone and intone, in suave French accent, “Hello?… Yes. There eeze a dead man in my bathtub, and a naked woman in my bed. Thank you.”
With any luck at all, we remember to hold down the button on the phone so the call doesn’t actually go through.
Treasured keepsake hand-me-downs from my dad. Or at least, of my dad.
He would find that incredibly amusing.