Monday, November 29, 2010


Last night I received a text message for my friend Karin; R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen. Aw hell, I said to myself.. not Leslie Nielsen! 
Who didn’t love Leslie Nielsen? You’d just see his face (and that great white hair) and you'd smile… then he would do something silly and make you fn crack up! Sometimes you’d just laugh, just because here was this old dude, who was fearless when it came to doing a comedy bit… he just went for it! And you always felt that he was having such a great time doing it too... a true man to admire... he was just getting a second career going, when most men were getting ready to retire. Leslie Nielsen was proof that you were never too old to try something fun & new. The real funny thing was that “funny Leslie Nielsen” wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a little 1980 movie called AIRPLANE! A rip-roaring parody of the AIRPORT disaster films of the 70’s, co-directed by Jim Abrams and David and Jerry Zucker. They were brilliant with who they cast. Nielsen  with a slew of familiar actor who where famous for playing tough-stoic characters; Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves. Nielsen played the doctor aboard the ill-fated airplane. 
I remember working as an usher at The Village Theater in Westwood, Ca. the first time they screened a trailer of AIRPLANE! It was a Friday night and the house was packed, the crowd was screaming with laughter. The funny thing is nobody believed it was a real … people came out of the theater shaking their heads asking “is that an actual movie?” I said..."aah, I think so?"
 And Nielsen (in my opinion) gave of the silliest (in a funny way) lines in movie history.  When the entire flight crew is knocked out of commission by a bad fish dinner, there only hope of landing is in the hands of ex-fighter pilot, Ted Striker (Robert Hayes.) But now, Striker has a fear of flying and it’s Nielsen’s doctor who tells him that he has to land the plane;

"Surely you can't be serious?"

"I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

When Nielsen said that line, his career was never the same again. As I had stated, Nielsen (born in Regina, Canada) was a fixture usual cast in the 60's & 70's as a cold-hard ass bastard, who usually turned up as the heavy on such Quinn Martin TV shows as; THE STREETS OF SAN FRANSISCO & CANNON.  As a kid, my favorite role of his was on an episode of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY, called A Question of Fear.  Nielsen played Col. Malloy a tough as nails (one-eyed) ex-mercenary who stands to earn $10,00 if he's brave enough to spend one night in a haunted house. (You can catch it on Hulu for free.)

Nielsen was also one of the last of the MGM contract players starring in such pictures as; RANSOM!, TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR as well as the 50’s Sci-Fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET. And as ship’s captain in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE… who can forget the look on Nielsen’s face, as he see that giant tidal wave that’s about to hit his ship.
After the great success of AIRPLANE! The guys wrote a TV show around Nielsen; POLICE SQUAD! The show was a parody of the tough cop shows of the 50’s and 60’s with Nielsen cast as the tough but stupid, Sergeant Frank Drebin. Nielsen who had years of experience reading curt dialogue on TV was simply a master now, the creative team gave him the most inane deadpan lines and he delivered them with great relish. Despite critical praise the ABC show was canceled after only a few episodes. But great ideas sometimes don’t die, the Zuckers and Paramount Pictures to their credit brought Nielsen’s Drebin back (six years later), only this time on the big screen; THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD! The picture was a hit and it spawned two hit sequels … erasing practically all of Nielsen’s former career as a serious actor. 

From these pictures on (thirty years) Nielsen was known as a comic actor, as his forte was to be comic parodies from anything from DRACULA to JAMES BOND or THE FUGITIVE. A whole generation only knew him as a man who makes you laugh. I was fortunate enough to meet Leslie Nielsen when I was working on the ABC lot in Hollywood (damn, I didn’t have a camera!) He was doing a guest bit on FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS. It was dinner break and he was hangin' out, being friendly with the crew. I remember that he had this little devise that made loud fart noises as unsuspecting folks would walk by… he truly was a silly, good-hearted fella. Like I said; “Who didn’t love Leslie Nielsen? So long pal… thanks for all the laughs.

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