Monday, November 29, 2010

Hey Look, It's Enrico Palazzo!

I was very saddened to hear of the death of actor Leslie Nielsen this past Sunday. I was a big fan of his and loved him in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies (too bad that OJ kind of ruined the latter for everyone). He never failed to make me laugh out loud.

No actor ever had an odder career than Mr. Nielsen. He started out as a leading man in deadly serious roles, usually as some sort of stern authority figure like a ship’s captain, policeman or lawyer. He seemed destined to play such roles for the rest of his life, until 1980 when he was cast in the comedy Airplane! That movie launched a whole new career for him as a comedic actor, which is reportedly what he’d wanted to do all along.

It’s interesting that he used pretty much the same serious deadpan acting style in his comedies as he did in dramas. He never actually did anything all that funny, but by saying ridiculous lines in a serious tone, somehow he was hilarious.

He also had a penchant for fart humor, which of course made him my hero. He never went anywhere without a little fart machine he kept in his pocket, and would often use it during TV interviews and on talk shows!

Also, kudos to him for having a decades long career in Hollywood without being involved in a single scandal. Not many actors today can say that. 

I met Mr. Nielsen briefly back in the early 1990s. The company I worked for at the time sent me to some sort of class in Hartford, Connecticut, of all places. I was waiting in the hotel lobby for the shuttle bus to take me back to the airport. I looked across the room and saw a sloppy fanboy standing and jabbering away to a seated Leslie Nielsen! Even at 7am Mr. Nielsen looked dapper and well-groomed, like a proper movie star. The fanboy was gushing on and on about how much he liked all of Mr. Nielsen’s work, and doing the “Remember that part where you said that line” thing. Mr. Nielsen, consummate professional that he was, graciously listened to every word and took it all in stride.

The fanboy hung around way too long before finally excusing himself and exiting, leaving me and Mr. Nielsen sitting quietly in the lobby. Just a week or two prior I’d watched the first Naked Gun movie on VHS and laughed until I my stomach hurt. Truth be told, it was all I could do to not squeal like a little school girl and run over to him and act just like the obnoxious fanboy who’d just left. But I figured he’d had enough of that kind of thing for one morning, so I left him in peace. He seemed to sense my reluctance to approach him, so he said hello to me, and we exchanged a few pleasantries until his limousine arrived. Looking back I wish I'd gone ahead and acted like a fanboy too.

I have a feeling Mr. Nielsen wouldn't want us to mourn for too long, so the next time someone says to you, "Surely you're not serious," proudly reply, "I am, and don't call me Shirley!"

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