Tag Archives: Slapstick Comedies

How Bob Denver Made a Career from Playing “Gilligan”
by John Francis

1. Rescue From Gilligan's Island PosterPoor Bob Denver. What, you don’t know who that is? How about Gilligan of “Gilligan’s Island,” the goofy castaway and First Mate of the shipwrecked S.S. Minnow in the 60s sitcom?

Denver made a whole career out of playing Gilligan, not just in the original sitcom, which ran for three seasons from 1964-1967, but made-for-TV movie sequels, TV spinoffs, guest appearances, animated series (where he provided his voice), musicals and video games based on the series, documentaries and docudramas and even a reality show, “The Real Gilligan’s Island,” a Survivor-like competition in which contestants played character types from the original — a goofball like Gilligan, a sea captain, a movie star, a millionaire’s wife, and so forth.

Denver guest-starred on numerous shows after the series ended, but could never shed the image of the affable, but klutzy and simple-minded Gilligan, who always managed to mess things up with his bumbling ways. So he basically went with the flow and pretty much played Gilligan throughout his career. Even a previous character from the 1959 sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” Denver played goofy, but affable beatnik Maynard G. Krebs, essentially Gilligan with a goatee and beret.

2. Bob Denver as GilliganDenver played Gilligan, or as The Skipper used to call him, “Little Buddy,” on nine different series: the original “Gilligan’s Island (1964), “The New Adventures of Gilligan” (1974), “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island” (1979), “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” (1981), “Gilligan’s Planet” (1982), “The New Gidget” (1986), “ALF” (1986), “Baywatch” (1989) and “Meego” (1997).

One of the most-asked questions about the original series, which became popular with a new generation after running for years in syndication, is “Did the castaways ever escape from Gilligan’s Island?” The answer is yes and no.

The hapless castaways never escaped in the original series, but did 11 years later in the 1978 made-for-TV movie, “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island,” in which the seven return to the mainland after lashing their huts together to escape an oncoming tsunami. They are rescued after Gilligan sets the huts on fire trying to cook food (that crazy Gilligan!) and a U.S. Navy helicopter sees the smoke.

The castaways make it back home, but everything has changed in their absence and they can’t quite adjust to life in civilization. On a reunion cruise on the S.S. Minnow II (the replacement for the original boat that they shipwrecked on), they end up marooned on the island once again, not that they mind it this time.

3. Gilligan's Island CastThe plot also involves a Russian spy satellite that crashed on the island containing a disc with top-secret information that Gilligan had found on the island and carried with him as a good-luck charm. Two Russian spies, Dmitri and Ivan, of course, are after the disc, which leads to the usual slapstick and shenanigans (at one point castaway Mary Ann is set to marry Dmitri until The Skipper and Gilligan ride in on a tractor to sweep her away and save the day).

It’s all pretty silly and inconsequential, but fans embraced it, happy to see the seven reunited again (except for Tina Louise, who played Ginger in the original, declined to appear in the film because of a dispute with the studio. She was replaced by a younger actress, Judith Baldwin) and up to their same comedic hijinks.

4. Alan Hale Bob DenverDirected by Leslie H. Martinson, a journeyman television director who directed episodes ranging from “Maverick,” “Ironside” and “Mission Impossible” to “The Brady Bunch,” “Mannix” and “Wonder Woman,” “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island” was virtually critic-proof. The plot, such as it is, is beside the point as long as the characters were being the characters fans knew and loved. The proof is in the pudding: these characters were trotted out numerous times over the years since the original series aired. The series even grew in popularity in the 70s and 80s when it seemed to be everywhere in syndication, especially in the late afternoon, when kids were home from school.

Gilligan — his full name was never revealed and no one knows whether it’s a first name or a last name — has become a true American TV icon. And in real life, Denver was quite the opposite from the bumbling Gilligan. He was talented, shy, quiet and introverted, and well read.

When asked about the silliness of “Gilligan’s Island” he would just say, “It’s silly, yes, but children laugh and adults can if they want to. It’s aimed at the vast everybody.”

Watch Rescue From Gilligan’s Island on MovieZoot.com now!

Jack E. Leonard in “The Fat Spy”
by Chris Hoey

1. Jack E Leonard image 1In 1998’s hit “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry — played by Billy Crystal — asks about the lyrics to the New Year’s tune “Auld Lang Syne.” He wonders if the song was about remembering the old friends we’ve forgotten, which is impossible because, after all, we can’t remember the things we’ve forgotten. Jack E. Leonard is one of those who should be remembered for a style of comedy that has become a classic — the roast. Leonard appeared beside all his generation’s greats, including Frank Sinatra, Jack Paar, Jerry Lewis, and Ed Sullivan. Jack Benny once quipped he could tell a great new talent because he’d laugh so hard he dropped his pencil. (Benny had a reputation for stealing jokes.) Some would argue that the legend Don Rickles imitated Leonard’s act to great success.

2. Jack E Leonard image 2Jack E. Leonard was known for opening his shows with the line “Good evening, opponents.” His style was quick and cutting and everyone understood that to be near him meant that you’d be in his crosshairs with a crack customised to make you laugh at yourself with the rest of the audience. But what happened to Leonard? Why doesn’t his name fall from our lips like so many of his contemporaries? After all, this is a man who accused Liberace of being “no Zsa Zsa Gabor, yourself!”

In order to understand a bit of why he’s faded from memory, it’s important to find what was memorable about him in the first place. When he appeared on “What’s My Line?” as a guest in 1962, the panel was stunned by the ovation he received. Even before signing in, the audience recognized him easily. He had also been a panelist on the show. In fact, the panel he faced needed only five questions before guessing who he was. He was very well-known in his time.

3. Jack E Leonard image 3Phyllis Diller, who starred alongside Leonard in “The Fat Spy,” was well known for decades after working with him. Her style of humor seemed to be to turn the classic roast inward, putting herself in her own crosshairs of wit. She claimed that on her honeymoon, she wore a peek-a-boo blouse. Her husband peeked, and then he booed.

Leonard’s style has also outlived his memory. Steve Martin and Martin Short have taken the roast on the road. Martin Short claims that it’s nice to be on the road with an organ donor, because it makes him feel safe. Short also remembers first entering Martin’s house and asking where he got all the money, because Short had “seen his show.”

4. Jack E Leonard image 4Leonard may have been so closely tied to his time that when the stars of the golden age of television faded, so did his gags. Leonard’s humor needed a target, and if the audience didn’t know or see the target any more, then his jokes also faded. Unlike Phyllis Diller, Leonard passed away suddenly at only 63 years old in 1973.

While his name may have been forgotten, Jack E. Leonard’s humor and style live on.

Watch The Fat Spy on MovieZoot.com.

“At War With The Army”
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Jerry Lewis goofy eyesLong before John Belushi, Rob Schneider, John Candy, Chris Farley, or Jim Carrey, there was Jerry Lewis. His trademark high-pitched, nasally, honking voice, his elastic facial expressions, his bulging crossed eyes, and his silly spastic physical moves made him a global comedic superstar, unmatched by others of his time. Schneider has called the team of Martin & Lewis, “the Beatles of comedy.” Carrey, whose own comedy style was heavily influenced by Lewis, tweeted after his idol’s death at 91, “That fool was no dummy. Jerry Lewis was an undeniable genius, an unfathomable blessing, comedy’s absolute! I am because he was!”

Martin Scorsese, who directed Lewis in “The King of Comedy,” said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “Jerry Lewis was a master. He was a giant. He was an innovator. He was a great entertainer. He was a great artist. And he was a remarkable man. I had the honor of working with him, and it was an experience I’ll always treasure. He was, truly, one of our greats.”

2. Jerry Lewis clownThis entertainment great was born Jerome Levitch or Joseph Levitch (per various entertainment sources) on March 16, 1926 in Newark, NJ into a showbiz family. His father was a “borscht belt” Catskills entertainer and his mother was a pianist. During his career that started in his teen years, Lewis was a successful American comedian, actor, singer, director, producer, screenwriter, humanitarian and headliner. Known for his slapstick humor in film, television, on stage and on radio, Lewis truly reigned as the “King of Comedy.”

He partnered in a highly regarded comedy duo with suave Italian crooner and “Rat Packer” Dean Martin from 1946 to 1956. In addition to their nightclub act, Martin & Lewis starred in a successful series of comedy films for Paramount Pictures. In fact, from 1950 to 1956, they were the world’s top box office earners. They also were featured on NBC radio with “The Martin and Lewis Show” from 1949 to 1953. The Colgate Comedy Hour was their live comedy-musical variety series that aired on NBC from 1950 to 1955. The show featured many notable comedians and entertainers of the era as guest stars.

3. Dean_Martin_Jerry_Lewis_Colgate_Comedy_Hour_early_1950sLewis and Dean Martin appeared in 17 feature films together, including 1950’s “At War With The Army,” one of this week’s MovieZoot.com Watchlist films. This musical comedy, directed by Hal Walker, introduced Polly Bergen. The film takes place at a United States Army base in Kentucky at the end of 1944, during World War II. An unlikely buddy film featuring the characters of First Sergeant Vic Puccinelli (Dean Martin) and Private First Class Alvin Korwin (Jerry Lewis), who were partners in a nightclub song-and-dance act before the Army. Puccinelli wants to see active duty overseas, but is refused a transfer and instead is to be commissioned a Warrant Officer. Korwin wants a pass to see his wife and new baby. In addition, they have to rehearse for the base talent show and avoid the wrath of Korwin’s platoon sergeant, Sergeant McVey played by Mike Kellin. The pair sing together and do an impression of Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald by recreating a scene from “Going My Way” for the talent show. Add in a pregnant Post Exchange worker, a company commander who gets all his information from his wife, a scheming supply sergeant, and a defective Coca-Cola machine, and you’ve got the makings of a typical slapstick Martin & Lewis farce.

4. Martin Lewis and ClooneyOther Martin & Lewis films include “My Friend Irma” (1949), “My Friend Irma Goes West” (1950), “That’s My Boy” (1951), “The Stooge” (1951), “Sailor Beware” (1952), “Jumping Jacks” (1952), “Road to Bali” (1952), “Scared Stiff” (1953), “The Caddy” (1953), “Money from Home” (1953), “Living It Up” (1954), “3 Ring Circus” (1954), “You’re Never Too Young” (1955), “Artists and Models” (1955), “Pardners” (1956) and “Hollywood or Bust” (1956). After a farewell performance at the Copacabana on July 25, 1956, the 10th anniversary of their very first appearance together in Atlantic City, the odd pair of Martin and Lewis went their separate ways.

5. Jerry Lewis MDA TelethonIn addition to his comedy career, Lewis was also known for his charity fund-raising telethons, serving as national chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for many years. In fact, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for his 50 years of raising money to fight muscular dystrophy. He was honored with lifetime achievement awards from The American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and Venice Film Festival, and given two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2005, he received the Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors, the highest Emmy Award. In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

6. Jerry Lewis with CarricatureA favorite in Europe as well as in the U.S., Lewis was nicknamed “Picchiatello” (which translates to “nut” or “crazy”) in Italian. At least three of his movies there use the word in their Italian titles. The French also adored this living legend. For his 80th birthday in 2006, he was inducted with a medal into the Legion of Honor by France and given the honorary title of “Legion Commander.” While he apologized for not speaking French at the ceremony, he said “even if the French people cannot hear my language, they have always heard my heart.” You can be sure that now no matter where his fans were in the world, we all heard his heart and watched his comedic magic in wonder on the big silver screen.

Watch At War With The Army on MovieZoot.com now!