you can't be serious.
there is a beloved comedy icon of the 1980s and 90s, it’s
Leslie Nielsen. His turns as the Doctor in Airplane!
and as Lt. Frank Dreben in Police Squad! and
The Naked Gun movies made him an oft-quoted comedic
inspiration to two generation of comedy geeks. Nielsen died
on Sunday at the age of 84.
most will remember him for his comedy, he was a serious
dramatic actor starting in the early 1950s after brief stints
in both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Royal
Canadian Air Force.
fell into the arts world by becoming a DJ and enrolling
in the Lorne Greene School for the Radio Arts. He took to
acting and started to appear on television, a habit he would
keep up for decades. His appearances on shows like Studio
One had him appearing alongside some of the legends of the
era, including Charleton Heston and Marilyn Monroe. He would
star in Disney’s The Swamp Fox mini-series,
a classic piece of television history.
1950s, Nielsen began to act in film, starting with Ransom
and The Vagabond King in 1956. It was another 1956
film that would be his most geek-relevant. Nielsen played
Commander John J. Adams in Forbidden Planet, arguably
the most important science fiction film of the 1950s. His
performance was pitch perfect and many point to him as the
actual drive behind the film, and his interplay with co-star
Anne Francis was fantastic. I always thought he carried
the film all by himself.
of his other films in the 50s and 60s were pretty forgettable,
save for the WWII film Counterpoint, but he would
shine as Captain Harrison in The Poseidon Adventure.
first worked on a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker movie uncredited
in Kentucky Fried Movie, a send-up of just about
everything directed by John Landis. When the ZAZ crew made
Airplane!, they cast Nielsen as Dr. Rumack.
was Nielsen’s first big comedic role, and he was deadpan
perfect, a trademark he would keep throughout the next twenty
years. His classic line “…and don’t call
me Shirley” has been quoted again and again and again.
ZAZ combo then cast him in Police Squad, a take-off
on the Quinn-Martin cop shows that were so popular in the
1970s, and many of which Nielsen had guest-starred on. It
was cancelled after only 4 episodes (2 more are on the DVD),
but ZAZ then made three movies in The Naked Gun: From
the Files of Police Squad series.
would become the icon of the joke machine gun satires that
would follow, including showing in up in the Scary Movie
franchise as the President of the United States. Every surrealistic
comedian and deadpan delivery specialist of the last twenty-five
years took something away Leslie Nielsen’s performances
in the ZAZ films.
story I’ll always remember, largely because my friend
Tol always tells it to me every time I run into him, was
how Leslie Nielsen was advertised at a convention in LA
in the late 1990s. He had actually never been contacted
and the guys who put the con together had advertised a dozen
stars who they had never actually contacted and absconded
with the gate.
folks checked into the convention center, they were told
by the folks who were working on the convention that no
one was there and they weren’t sure who was coming.
Someone got in touch with Leslie and he agreed to come down
and chat with the fans for the afternoon, sign autographs
and take pictures.
when one of the organizers peeked in, he lit into him for
his dishonesty and apparently it worked as they refunded
much of the fans’ money and even paid some of the
stars who they had advertised.
Such was the power of Leslie Nielsen.