Thursday, May 29, 2008

Harvey Korman of ‘Carol Burnett Show’ dies
Actor and comedian, 81, suffered aortic aneurysm 4 months ago
The Associated Press, updated 7:22 p.m. CT, Thurs., May. 29, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Harvey Korman, the tall, versatile comedian who won four Emmys for his outrageously funny contributions to “The Carol Burnett Show” and played a conniving politician to hilarious effect in “Blazing Saddles,” died Thursday. He was 81.

Korman died at UCLA Medical Center after suffering complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said. He had undergone several major operations.

“He was a brilliant comedian and a brilliant father,” daughter Kate Korman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “He had a very good sense of humor in real life. “

Second banana
A natural second banana, Korman gained attention on “The Danny Kaye Show,” appearing in skits with the star. He joined the show in its second season in 1964 and continued until it was canceled in 1967. That same year he became a cast member in the first season of “The Carol Burnett Show.”

His most memorable film role was as the outlandish Hedley Lamarr (who was endlessly exasperated when people called him Hedy) in Mel Brooks’ 1974 Western satire, “Blazing Saddles.”

“A world without Harvey Korman — it’s a more serious world,” Brooks told the AP on Thursday. “It was very dangerous for me to work with him because if our eyes met we’d crash to floor in comic ecstasy. It was comedy heaven to make Harvey Korman laugh.”

On television, Burnett and Korman developed into the perfect pair with their burlesques of classic movies such as “Gone With the Wind” and soap operas like “As the World Turns” (their version was called “As the Stomach Turns”).

Another recurring skit featured them as “Ed and Eunice,” a staid married couple who were constantly at odds with the wife’s mother (a young Vicki Lawrence in a gray wig). In “Old Folks at Home,” they were a combative married couple bedeviled by Lawrence as Burnett’s troublesome young sister.

Korman revealed the secret to the long-running show’s success in a 2005 interview: “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

Burnett was devastated by Korman’s death, said her assistant, Angie Horejsi.

“She loved Harvey very much,” Horejsi said.

‘Dazzling’ comic talent
After 10 successful seasons, Korman left Burnett’s show in 1977 for his own series. Dick Van Dyke took his place, but the chemistry was lacking and the Burnett show was canceled two years later. “The Harvey Korman Show” also failed, as did other series starring the actor.

“It takes a certain type of person to be a television star,” he said in that 2005 interview. “I didn’t have whatever that is. I come across as kind of snobbish and maybe a little too bright. ... Give me something bizarre to play or put me in a dress and I’m fine.”

Brooks tapped Korman’s kinetic comic chops often, including roles in “High Anxiety,” “The History of the World Part I” and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It.”

“I gave him tongue twisters because I knew he was the only one who could wrap his mouth around them,” Brooks said. “Harvey was such a good solid actor that he could have done Shakespearean drama just as well and easily as he did comedy.”

Brooks described Korman as a “dazzling” comic talent.

“You could get rock-solid comedy out of him. He could lift the material. He always made it real, always made it work, always believed in characters he was doing,” he said.

Korman’s other films included two “Pink Panther” moves, “Trail of the Pink Panther” in 1982 and “Curse of the Pink Panther” in 1983; “Gypsy,” “Huckleberry Finn” (as the King), “Herbie Goes Bananas” and “Bud and Lou” (as legendary straightman Bud Abbott to Buddy Hackett’s Lou Costello).

In television, Korman guest-starred in dozens of series including “The Donna Reed Show,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Perry Mason,” “The Wild Wild West,” “The Muppet Show,” “The Love Boat” and “Burke’s Law.”

Korman and “Carol Burnett” co-star Tim Conway continued working together into their ’70s, touring the country with their show “Tim Conway and Harvey Korman: Together Again.” They did 120 shows a year, sometimes as many as six or eight in a weekend.

‘He fought until the very end’
Korman had an operation in late January on a non-cancerous brain tumor and pulled through “with flying colors,” Kate Korman said. Less than a day after coming home, he was re-admitted because of the ruptured aneurysm and was given a few hours to live. But he survived for another four months.

“He fought until the very end. He didn’t want to die. He fought for months and months,” said Kate Korman.

Harvey Herschel Korman was born Feb. 15, 1927, in Chicago. He left college for service in the U.S. Navy, resuming his studies afterward at the Goodman School of Drama at the Chicago Art Institute. After four years, he decided to try New York.

“For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway,” he told a reporter in 1971.

He had no luck and had to support himself as a restaurant cashier. Finally, in desperation, he and a friend formed a nightclub comedy act.

“We were fired our first night in a club, between the first and second shows,” he recalled.

After returning to Chicago, Korman decided to try Hollywood, reasoning that “at least I’d feel warm and comfortable while I failed.”

For three years he sold cars and worked as a doorman at a movie theater. Then he landed the job with Kaye.

In 1960 Korman married Donna Elhart and they had two children, Maria and Christopher. They divorced in 1977. Two more children, Katherine and Laura, were born of his 1982 marriage to Deborah Fritz.

In addition to his daughter Kate, he is survived by his wife and the three other children.

Harvey Korman made us - and himself - laugh

by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008 4:24 PM

Harvey Korman, who died today at age 81, appeared in a number of big-name movies, from "Blazing Saddles" to "High Anxiety" (not to mention his voiceover work as The Great Gazoo, or his role in the infamous "Star Wars Holiday Special"). But to a large contingent of fans, he will be remembered as much for how he made himself laugh as for how he made us laugh.

"The Carol Burnett Show" was a highlight of my childhood TV watching. I still remember taking a clunky old tape recorder and pushing it up to the TV to record the show so I could listen to my favorite sketches over and over. (Yes, young folks, this was before we had VCRs and TiVo.) Burnett was the leader, but Korman, Tim Conway and Burnett lookalike Vicki Lawrence were a rock-steady supporting cast.

"Carol Burnett" never went for the low blow, the tasteless joke. The comedians were adults, and came across as such. The infamous "Gone With the Wind" parody and the occasional sketch where a harried homeowner faced down a houseful of product mascots (flushing the Ty-D-Bowl Man, for one) were a precursor to the snarky parodies "Saturday Night Live" would become famous for.

Korman will be remembered for many individual roles -- Eunice's husband Ed on the Mama's Family skits included. He could play a rural American or a snooty British prince with the same ease. He had an imposing stature and voice, but within seconds, his face and body could relax into a comedic doughiness. It's said that "Brady Bunch" star Robert Reed regularly complained about how ludicrous that comedy's plots were and tried to get creator Sherwood Schwartz to change them. You got the feeling Korman would never think himself above a joke...if it was funny, if it made people laugh, he could pull it off.

But when I think of him on the show, the first thing I think of is his inimitable partnership with fellow cast member Tim Conway. There's a famed sketch where Conway plays a novice dentist and Korman his poor patient. Conway tries to follow instructions from a book as he tends to Korman, and ends up numbing his own hand and leg with novocaine. This leads to classic Conway slapstick as he tries to perform dental work with an unresponsive hand.

Korman begins the skit as the classic straight man, but very quickly starts to give in to Conway's mugging. He tries covering his laughter with his hand at first, but slowly he starts to shake and giggle. He manages to grab back his serious mien a few times, but by the end, he's just about sinking out of the dental chair into a puddle of laughter on the floor. I suppose today we might view the onscreen crackup as unprofessional, but it never even occurred to me to view it that way then. It was just a tribute to the show that even those who'd presumably read the lines a dozen times and rehearsed the scenes over and over could still be driven to uncontrollable laughter by them.

That's how Korman, Conway, Lawrence and Burnett always came off...they were professionals, but they weren't on any kind of "Actors' Studio" pedestal. They reminded you of your friends, or your parents' friends, or your funny uncle and aunt...who lived to laugh and were determined to get you cracking up right along with them.

It was comedy you could watch with the kids and with the grandparents, but it never felt dumbed down in order to reach such a broad audience. Korman's death reminds me how much I miss that kind of comedy. He, too, will be missed.

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