Monday, November 29, 2010
Remembering Leslie Nielsen
So there I was chatting up Canadian comedy legend Leslie Nielsen just a few short years ago when he was filming a stint as host of a CBC salute to Canadian comedy legends.'
He remembered the first time I interviewed him in the early Seventies he was a dead serious actor.
"Airplane changed all that," he chuckled. "Nobody takes me seriously any more."
"No, Les," I interjected. "One line turned you into a class funnymam."
In 1980's Airplane Nielsen wonderfully cast as Dr. Rumack was told "Surely, you can't be serious."
And he retorts: "I am serious and don't call me Shirley."
Nielsen died from effects of pneumonia in Florida at the age of 84.
Credits indicate he was still working with one completed movie Stonerville ready for release and another The Waterman Movie in production.
Way back in the Seventies he was one of the staples of American TV. He mentioned a recent gig as Barbara Stanwyck's lover in the 1973 TV flick The Letter. And he'd costarred during the 1970 season as John Bracken in the series Bracken's World.
Born in Regina, he'd lived in the Northwest with his RCMP constable father and a mother who often had to look after three obstreperous young boys. The senior lad grew up to be Conservative cabinet minister Erik Nielsen.
Nielsen had originally studied acting and TV announcing at Lorne Greene's Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto but in 1950 aged 26 decided to venture to New York where he worked constantly in the pioneering medium of live TV.
"We'd open and close in a production the same night, it was the greatest experience possible fpr a young guy."
In 1956 he'd been signed by MGM to a star contract and made his debut opposite Glenn Ford in Ransom. But his second feature Forbidden Planet was a wild success as was 1957's Tammy And the Bachelor opposite Debbie Reynolds.
"That was it, MGM was quietly going to seed. I stayed in L.A. to do filmed television and I always worked. Occaasionally I'd come back home for a CBC TV production like Death Of A Salesman because I've always remained a proud Canadian."
Nielsen made multiple appearances on The Fugitive, Wagon Train, The Defenders, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Peyton Place.
"It's easier to list the few series I never was on."
After Airplane his movie career soared: Prom Night (made in Toronto),The Naked Gun, Dracula: Dead And Loving It, Mister Magoo.
But here he was in a Toronto TV studio at 80 doing pratfalls with abandon and loving all that attention. A icer guy I've never met and totally talented.
"Nobody told me comedy was so much fun. But I'm still loving every time I'm back in my home country."