Monday, June 29, 2020


Martin Alan Feldman was born in East London on July 8, 1934.  He was the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.  Growing up, Feldman had musical aspirations, dropping out of school at fifteen to become a jazz trumpeter.  He'd give it up in a few years however, setting his sights, figuratively, on comedy.

In 1954, Feldman formed a writing partnership with comedian Barry Took that would endure for the next two decades.  The two wrote episodes of popular BBC sit-coms, including The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge.  Click on the titles to see an episode of each series.

Feldman wouldn't become a serious performer until 1967, when he was cast on the sketch comedy series At Last the 1948 Show.  He was teamed with future Monty Python members John Cleese and Graham Chapman.  Here's an episode in its entirety.

Cast of At Last the 1948 Show.
The series proved popular enough that Feldman was given one of his own.  Marty premiered in 1968 and would last for two seasons, earning Feldman two BAFTA awards.  Here's a clip from the series.

American audiences would first meet Feldman in 1971, when the ABC network aired his series The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine.  It would only last for one season, but Feldman left a memorable mark.

The pinnacle of his career, both in America and abroad, came in 1974, when he was cast in the Mel Brooks classic Young Frankenstein.  Writer Gene Wilder commented that he created the part of Igor specifically for Feldman, having been a fan of his multiple BBC series. Many of the film's more memorable lines were in fact ad libbed by Feldman and Wilder.

A few years later, Feldman would put in a memorable performance on The Muppet Show, including a sequence wherein he and the Cookie Monster try to outdo one another in a contest of odd eye contortions.  Really.  You can see that episode in its entirety here.

In 1982, Feldman was in Mexico filming the movie Yellowbeard when he suffered a fatal heart attack.  He passed away on December 2nd and the film was subsequently dedicated to him.  Here's the theatrical trailer.

He was buried in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in the Court of Valor, not far from his idol, Buster Keaton.

Court of Valor
Map #H02, Lot #5400, Space #4
Inscription: He made us laugh. He took my pain away.  I love you. Lauretta
Here's a shot from the internet of how it looks all cleaned up.

Rest in Peace, Igor.

  • Feldman's distinctive look was the result of a thyroid condition known as Graves ophthalmopathy, which caused his eyes to protrude and become misaligned.  Regarding the role it played in his career, Feldman once stated "If I aspired to be Robert Redford, I'd have my eyes straightened and my nose fixed and end up like every other lousy actor, with two lines on Kojak.  But this way I'm a novelty."

  • His role as Igor won him the first ever Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.

  • Feldman released two musical albums, Marty (1968) and I Feel a Song Going Off (1969).  Although currently unavailable, the latter does have a page on Amazon.  You can also listen to the track "A Joyous Time of Year" here.

  • Feldman was working on his autobiography before he died.  It wouldn't be released until 2016, when it was finally completed by good friend Eric Idle.  You can pick up a copy of Eye Marty: The Newly Discovered Autobiography of a Comic Genius from Amazon.

  • Wanna see some Young Frankenstein bloopers?  Here you go.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Ray Combs - Good Answer!

Raymond Neil Combs, Jr. was born in Hamilton, Ohio on April 3, 1956.  He had a gift for comedy, which would ultimately take him to Hollywood.  There he became a household name, but a series of unfortunate setbacks would bring it all crashing down on him.  Ultimately, Combs would take his own life.

He began his career in stand-up in the late 1970s, appearing in comedy clubs throughout the Cincinnati area.  At the Red Dog Saloon, he became famous for audience singalongs of sit-com theme songs. But he'd soon be movin' on up to better things.

In 1982, after receiving some encouragement from David Letterman, Combs gave up his day job as a furniture salesman and moved his family to L.A.  Once there, success came quickly.

Combs doing his stand-up routine on
An Evening at The Improv.
After beating out more than 200 others in a comedy competition, Combs was picked as a warm-up comedian at tapings of The Golden Girls and Amen.  He proved so popular in this role that soon other sit-coms, including The Facts of Life, began altering their production schedules just so Combs would be available!  Reportedly, the laughter at these tapings was so overwhelming that Johnny Carson personally invited Combs to appear on The Tonight Show. You can watch one such appearance here.

His big break came in 1988, when he was hired by Mark Goodson to host a revival of Family Feud on CBS.  Watch his very first episode right here. Two months later, Goodson launched a syndicated version of the series, which Combs hosted as well.  For the next five years, he'd be the busiest host in the game show business.

By 1993, ratings on the daytime version had dropped dramatically, leading CBS to cancel the series.  The syndicated version wasn't faring much better, and producer Johnathan Goodson, who had taken the reigns from his deceased father, decided to replace Combs with original Feud host Richard Dawson.  Bad answer!  The Dawson revival would only last one season, with most markets placing it in late, overnight time slots.  Combs was extremely bitter over his dismissal, but more on that later.

In 1994, things went from bad to worse.  Two comedy clubs owned by Combs went into foreclosure, bringing great financial stress to the unemployed comedian.  That same year, he injured his back in a serious car accident.  It would cause him severe, constant pain for the rest of his life.

Then in 1995, Combs separated from his wife of 18 years.  Ultimately the couple would reconcile, but they would never return to married life.

By 1996, Combs was growing more and more despondent.  He was deeply in debt, owing more than $100,000 in back taxes on top of a $470,000 mortgage.  The constant back pain and a failed marriage contributed greatly to the decline in his mental state.

It all came to a head on June 1, 1996.  Police were sent to the Family home at 1318 Sonora Avenue in Glendale after receiving a report of a disturbance.  His estranged wife Debbie informed the officers that Combs had destroyed much of the interior and was now suicidal.  He was taken to nearby Glendale Adventist Medical Center and placed on a 72-hour watch.  He'd only need twelve.  Early in the morning of June 2nd, nurses found him hanging from bedsheets in his closet.  He was dead at the age of 40.

After a memorial service in Glendale, Combs was returned to his hometown in Ohio, where he was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery.  He was survived by his parents, his wife and his six children.

Section #14, Lot #348, Space #4
Inscription #1: Beloved Son, Brother, Father
Inscription #2: Always Loved, Never Forgotten
I visited the grave in 2014 on a particularly rainy day.  After nearly twenty years, the elements had already started to take their toll on the marker.  While the point of this blog is to share photos I have personally taken, here's one from the internet showing how the grave originally appeared.

Rest in peace, Ray.

  • As mentioned above, Combs was very bitter at being let go by Family Feud.  At the conclusion of his final episode, he opted not to stay and chat with the two families.  Watch him make a mad dash for freedom in this clip, his final on the show.  Bonus: the winning family bombs at fast money, giving Combs utter delight.

  • After he was let go from the Feud, Combs hosted a similarly titled game show in 1995 called Family Challenge, which aired for one season in syndication.  Check out an episode in its entirety here.

  • Once Combs assumed hosting duties for the Feud, CBS had him make the rounds on their other daytime game shows in an effort to get the word out.  Here he is surprising Bob Barker during a taping of The Price is Right.  Bonus: Dian Parkinson!

  • Remember the NBC sit-com 227?  They did an episode wherein the characters duked it out on the Feud.  Watch Combs appear as himself in this clip.  Similarly, here he is on In Living Color.

  • Sixteen years to the day after Combs died, original Feud host Richard Dawson also passed, on June 2, 2012.

  • Five months after Combs died, Feud announcer Gene Wood appeared on a Game Show Network Thanksgiving Day special, wherein he paid tribute to his former colleague.  Watch that tribute here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Florida in Florida

NOTE: This blog does not condone trespassing. 

Esther Rolle (pronounced Roll) was born to Bahamian immigrants on November 8, 1920 in Pompano Beach, Florida.  She was the tenth of 18 children in her family, which included two sisters who were also actresses and one very tired mother.

Rolle was well educated.  She began her college education at Spelman University in Atlanta but would eventually study at Yale. After college, she set her sights on acting.

She moved to New York City in the 1940s, where she joined the Negro Ensemble Company as well as Shogola Obola, a dance troupe that she would later direct.  Stardom was years away however, as she wouldn't land her first rolls on Broadway until 1964.  She is well remembered for her 1977 off-Broadway portrayal of Lady MacBeth, a role for which she would bring great passion and ferocity.  Here's a New York Times review of her performance.

Bea Arthur and Esther Rolle in Maude (1972).
After finding success on the stage, Rolle made her way to Hollywood.  In 1972, she was cast on the sit-com Maude, a spin-off of the very popular All in the Family.  Rolle played Florida Evans, housekeeper to Bea Arthur's title character. 

The character proved popular enough that CBS decided to give Rolle a spin-off of her own.  In 1974, it launched Good Times, the series for which Rolle is most famously known.  It was an overnight success for CBS, due in large part to the relationship between Rolle and her on-screen husband John Amos as Florida and James Evans.  As originally pitched, Florida was to have been a single mother raising three kids.  But Rolle fought for the creation of the James character in order to combat the stereotype of absentee fathers in the African-American community.

Good Times cast photo, 1974.
The series also introduced an up-and-coming comedian named Jimmie Walker, who's character grew so popular that it would shake the very foundation of the series.  Upset with the depiction of Walker's J.J. character and the direction the series was taking, Amos voiced his concerns to producer Norman Lear, who, in a bit of spite, killed James off rather than recasting or otherwise explaining his absence.  The show would never be the same.  Watch how Florida reacted to her husband's death in a deleted scene here.  A year later, Rolle would also leave the series, but would return for its final season

The series ended in 1979.  Rolle resumed her stage career while continuing to appear on television and in films.  She had a memorable appearance in the 1990 film Driving Miss Daisy, and an oddly chosen role in an episode of The Incredible Hulk.  See Hulk smash!

Rolle had a history of diabetes, which affected her ability to work through most of the 1990s.  It ultimately took her life on November 17, 1998, just nine days after her 78th birthday.

She was interred in her hometown of Pompano Beach at the Westview Community Cemetery.

While I mean no disrespect to Rolle or anyone else buried there, Westview is the only cemetery I've ever been to where the burial vaults are above ground.  It truly is a sight to behold.  And you won't have any trouble finding Rolle's final resting place, as her's is the only one that comes with a headstone, honoring her role on Good Times.

Westview is in a sad state of disrepair and neglect, so much so that it is often mistakenly considered to be abandoned.  Great confusion exists as to who exactly is in charge of the park.  Watch one truly disturbing local news report from 2018 here.

I came on a day during normal visiting hours to discover that no one had unlocked the front gate.  But knowing the park's troubled history and seeing other visitors hop the fence, I figured that was part and parcel and followed suit.  While there I met a park employee who told me it's an everyday occurrence.  I asked him why the gate wasn't unlocked, to which he had no answer.

I don't claim to understand why Rolle is buried there or what her family thinks of the situation.  But it is a sad ending to a cherished television icon.

Rest in peace, Florida.

  • Although they played husband and wife, Rolle was actually twenty years older than John Amos.  In turn, Amos is only seven years older than Jimmie Walker.

  • While Good Times was officially a spin-off of Maude, there are great discrepancies between the two series.  While Maude was centered in Tuchahoe, New York, Good Times took place in inner-city Chicago.  No mention of a move was ever made on the series.  In fact, the dialogue often indicates that the Evans family had always lived in Chicago.  There was also never any mention of Maude herself or of any of other characters from that series.  Additionally, Florida was gainfully employed by Maude, but was often out of work in Chicago.

  • Rolle released a gospel album in 1975 entitled The Garden of My Mind.  There's music and a chorus, but Rolle doesn't really sing, it's more of a spoken word thing.  Check out one of her tracks, "I Can Feel Him Moving," here.

  • Rolle won an Emmy Award in 1979 for her role in the made-for-TV film Summer of My German Soldier.  Watch her acceptance speech here, presented by John Ritter and Norman Fell.  Have a hanky ready.  And here's the film in its entirety.

  • Rolle appeared with Danny Glover in a 1989 television adaptation of the play A Raisin in the Sun.  Watch that film here.  And a quick sidebar.  Rolle's Good Times co-star Ralph Carter came to the series from a stage version of Raisin.

  • Fellow blogger and journalist Billie Rae Bates interviewed John Amos in 2014 at the Hollywood Show in Chicago.  Watch him reminisce about the series here.

  • Near the end, Esther appeared in a series of commercials for a phone psychic hotline, My Caring Psychic Family.  View one of those spots here.  And tell 'em Esther sent you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Boss Hogg

Sorrell Booke was born on January 4, 1930 in Buffalo, New York - a far cry from fictitious Hazzard County. He was extraordinarily bright and exceled in school, graduating Bennett High School as class valedictorian in 1948.  He'd later earn degrees from both Columbia and Yale Universities.  Really!

He was talented as well.  Booke was known around Buffalo for his impersonations, which landed him his first acting jobs on local radio. 

After college, Booke joined the Army and served as a counterintelligence officer during the Korean War.  His fluency in five foreign languages, including Japanese and Russian, undoubtedly served him well.

Following the war, Booke began acting professionally on the New York stage.  His most prominent role was that of Billboard T. Rawkins, a Boss Hogg-esque character in a revival of Finian's Rainbow.  

Booke with former Six Feet Under Hollywood
profilee Carroll O'Connor.
Armed with a theatre degree from Yale and more than ten years experience on the stage, Booke made his way to Hollywood, where he found roles easy to come by.  One of the earliest was in the 1963 musical Purlie Victorious, the story of a traveling preacher during the era of Jim Crow.  The film was written by and starred Ossie Davis and included other up-and-coming actors such as Alan Alda, Helen Martin and Ruby Dee.  You can watch the film in its entirety here.

Booke also began appearing on television in the 1960s, including an episode of Dr. Kildare, for which he earned an Emmy nomination.  He'd appear in other series as well, including Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-0, before landing a recurring role on All in the Family as Archie Bunker's boss, Mr. Sanders.

All of this was leading up to the role for which he is most famously associated, that of Boss Jefferson Davis Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard.  The series was an overnight success for CBS and it propelled Booke into the national spotlight.  For seven seasons, he served as the corrupt county commissioner and main antagonist for the title characters Bo and Luke Duke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat).  Booke was one of only two cast members to appear in all 147 episodes, the other being Denver Pyle, aka Uncle Jesse.

The series spawned a spin-off titled Enos, on which Booke made an appearance, as well as a Saturday morning cartoon series, simply titled The Dukes.  You can watch the series intro here.

When the series folded in 1985, Booke resumed his voice acting career, on such series as The Smurfs, Captain Planet and the made-for-TV movie Scooby Doo Meets the Boo Brothers. Watch a clip here, wherein Booke plays Sheriff Rufus Buzby. Fair warning - this clip includes Scrappy.

Booke had a history of cancer.  Eagle-eyed fans may notice that during the show's first season, Boss Hogg had a distinctive mole on his chin that disappeared by Season 2.  He'd battle it throughout the show's run and long after, before finally succumbing on February 11, 1994.  He was 60 years old. 

Sorrell Booke was laid to rest at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California.

Location: Court of Dedication, Block #2, Plot #72, Space #4B
Inscription: Beloved Pa, Grandpa, Brother and Boss

Rest in peace, little fat buddy.

  • Three years after Booke passed away, CBS reunited the surviving Dukes cast members for a reunion movie of the week.  The film was dedicated to Booke, but unfortunately, they misspelled his name.

  • As noted above, Booke served as a counterintelligence officer with the Army during the Korean War.  Twenty years later, he'd play a U.S. Army general in two early episodes of M*A*S*H.

  • Several cast members were given the opportunity to direct Dukes episodes, and Booke was no exception.  He directed four in all, including one of the derided Coy and Vance episodes, as well as the "Spock's Brain" of the series, "Strange Visitor to Hazzard."  Never seen it?  Watch a clip here.

  • What do you get when you combine Sorrell Booke, Scott Baio and the Krofft puppets?  The CBS Saturday Morning Preview, one of the most bizarre TV specials you'll ever run across.  Watch it in its entirety here.

  • Good answer!  Watch Booke and his Dukes co-stars take on The Waltons in a celebrity edition of Family Feud here.

  • Fellow blogger and Dukes expert Billie Rae Bates released her book Them Dukes! Them Dukes!: A Guide to TV's The Dukes of Hazzard in 2014.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Cowardly Lion

Irving Lahrheim, aka Bert Lahr, was born in New York City on August 13, 1895. He was the son of German immigrants and was raised in Manhattan.  He knew from a young age that he wanted to entertain others, dropping out of high school to go professional.  He never looked back.

He began in vaudeville at age 15 and found great success as a singer, dancer and comedian.  It would eventually carry him to the Broadway stage, where he made his debut in the 1927 show Delmar's Revels. He played to sold-out houses on a daily basis, and other shows would follow.  In 1932, he headlined Hot-Cha, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, of Zigfield Follies. 

The role that made him king.
One of Lahr's shows would eventually take him to Hollywood, when MGM decided to adapt Flying High for the silver screen.  Other films would follow, including that for which he is most famously known, The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939.  A natural comedian, Lahr was perfect as the story's Cowardly Lion, while pulling double duty as farmhand Zeke.  Much of the Lion's dialogue in the film was ad-libbed by Lahr.

Following the film's success, Lahr returned to the Broadway stage.  In 1946 he began a two-year run as Skid in a revival of Burlesque

Skid, Burlesque (1946)
In 1951, he joined the production of Two on the Aisle playing multiple roles, including that of Queen Victoria.

His greatest success on the stage wouldn't come until 1964, when he won the Tony Award for Best Leading Male Actor in a Musical for his role in Foxy.

Lahr made many memorable appearances on TV as well, including several on the game show What's My LineHere he is in an episode with The Harlem Globetrotters.

In late 1967, Lahr, who was 72 at the time, was working on the film The Night They Raided Minsky's.  According to his son John, Lahr faced a number of obstacles in the role, including extremely late hours and damp working conditions.  In late November, he developed pneumonia, which would ultimately take his life on December 4th.  Fortunately for producer Norman Lear, most of Lahr's scenes had already been filmed, but some creative editing was required in order to complete the film.  While the official cause of death is listed as pneumonia, John contends that his father actually died of cancer, a condition he never knew he had. 

Lahr was interred in the family plot at Union Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.

The Lahr family plot.

Bert's headstone.  Note the lion peeking out up top.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lahr.

  • Lahr appeared in the 1944 film Meet the People, wherein his character uttered the phrase "Heavens to Murgatroyd!"  This would later become the catchphrase of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss.

  • As mentioned above, Lahr headlined for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway.  Ziegfeld was the husband of actress Billie Burke, who played the part of Glinda, the Good Witch.

  • Lahr's great-grandson appeared on a 2013 episode of the series Antiques Roadshow.  He brought Lahr's original Oz shooting script.  How much was it worth?  Watch the clip here.

  • The Cowardly Lion is the only character in the film to be given two solo performances, with "If I Only Had the Nerve" and "If I Were King of the Forest."  Eat your heart out, Judy Garland.

  • In 1966, Lahr appeared in an ad for Lay's Potato Chips that would be deemed politically incorrect by today's standards.  Check it out here.

  • John Lahr's book Notes on a Cowardly Lion: The Biography of Bert Lahr, is available from Amazon.

  • In 2019, this blog paid it's final respects to Lahr's co-star Judy Garland.  Re-visit both of her graves here.

  • Union Cemetery doesn't have a lot of famous names beneath its soil and Lahr's is certainly the most prominent.  One of his neighbors however is character actor Robert Lansing, whom Star Trek fans will remember as the enigmatic Gary Seven.