Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #27: Happy Birthday, Ruth Buzzi -- One of TV's Top Laugh Ladies!

(We apologize for some formatting errors in this post -- we will correct these asap.)

Great comedy has always been a stalwart of television, and though each era thinks that it's the only one to have enjoyed comic brilliance, audiences have never suffered from a dearth of laughter.  In the 1960s as the older comedians -- Benny, Hope, Lucy among other -- were winding down their TV efforts, there was a resurgence of variety shows starring singers and just before that a show came around that changed the face of American TV comedy.

Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In premiered in September of 1967 and for the next over 130 episodes American comedy was never the same.  U.S. audiences had probably never seen anything quite like it -- it was cheeky, sexy, and lightning fast, featuring an ensemble cast of comedians headed by comics Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.  One of the people making Laugh-In so laugh-filled was actress/singer/comedienne Ruth Buzzi who is celebrating a birthday today. The East Coast-born Buzzi started out as an energetic high school cheerleader whose natural ebullience propelled her into show business where her multiple talents and boundless comedic gifts were soon in demand.

After studying at the Pasadena Playhouse and co-starring in stage and musical engagements across the country, she began to make a name for herself in TV variety shows, eventually leading to her career-making work on Laugh-In.  (Footage of Ruth Buzzi's act with Don DeLuise from a variety show -- probably The Entertainers -- introed by John Davidson is available here.)  She also starred on The Steve Allen Comedy Hour and you can see the beginnings of her famous Laugh-In Glady Ormphby character in this intro sequence:


From Laugh-In onward there was no stopping Ruth Buzzi.  She became known and loved for her versatility, her ability to create characters both hilarious and touching, and for her musical talents which she frequently displayed on Laugh-In and during her ongoing career.  Buzzi was a mainstay on the many variety programs airing during the 1970s and 1980s, and her resume is deep and impressive.  She also made successful forays into dramatic roles which further displayed her vast range.  The best way to appreciate the divine Miss Buzzi is to simply enjoy her performances!

A little of her comedic virtuosity on Laugh-In:


 More here and here.

Night Gallery "Witches Feast" 1971 with Agnes Moorehead


Ruth Buzzi was a frequent guest on The Dean Martin Comedy Hour and on his celebrity roasts:

Ruth also made several guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show during the early 1970s:

She lent her comic gifts to The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour:



ABC Afterschool Special from 1974:


Guesting on Tony Orlando and Dawn:

Ruth Buzzi guests on The Muppet Show in 1976:

  from 1976

Ruth co-starred with Jim Nabors in the Saturday morning kid show The Last Saucer in '76:

Ruth recorded a song which made it onto the charts:

  from 1977

From the TV movie Once Upon a Brothers Grimm in 1978:


The Donny and Marie Show from February 1976:

And assorted other Ruth Buzzi comedy skits and musical numbers from The Donny and Marie Show:



Lyle Waggonner and Ruth Buzzi team for a hosting gig:

Ruth was a semi-regular on Sesame Street starting in the early '90s:



Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi and the cast of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In Past and Present Christmas Special perform on the 67th Annual Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade televised by NBC (1993)

Ruth made a spectacular cameo on the soap opera Passions in 2003:


Ruth being photographed on her Texas ranch in 2010:

And some new comedy from Ruth from 2011:

Ruth Buzzi and her husband have been proud residents of Texas for several decadesand she keeps busy with performing (including lots of voiceovers) and a full schedule of charity appearances for her favorite causes, plus raising cattle on their ranch.  You can also keep up with Ruth on her Twitter account!

The Flaming Nose wishes a very Happy Birthday today to Ruth Buzzi, one of the genuine legends of TV Comedy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #26: Senor Wences -- S'all right!

Completely adorable, utterly unique, indelibly Spanish and indefatigable --  he didn't retire from show business until he turned 100 years old -- the entertainer known as Senor Wences was a legend.  Is a legend, actually, as his routines and trademark phrases continue to be a vital part of popular culture.  Born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1896, Wenceslao Moreno briefly flirted with becoming a bullfighter but soon traded in the red cape for a career in ventriloquism.

Wences is known and loved for his ingeniously simple little friend Johnny -- formed from nothing more than his own hand and a little grease pencil -- and his other cheeky companion Pedro who was a head who resided in a wooden box.  Years touring nightclubs in Europe and the U.S. ultimately brought the popular vaudevillian to nationwide fame when he started appearing on American television variety shows like those headlined by "Mr. Television" Milton Berle, Jack Benny and others, including of course Ed Sullivan.  Senor Wences continued to be a hit performer on the variety stage including a very successful stint on the bill with Danny Kaye when he was one of the most popular headliners in the U.S. and in London.  In fact, when he was 90 years old Wences went on tour with the show Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.

Now let's watch some Senor Wences!  He was also an amazing juggler (which you might not remember).  He is still completely hilarious today, with a delightfully absurd sense of humor that is utterly with-it and not at all corny or dated.  Wonderful timing!

In 1947 he made an appearance in the Betty Grable movie Mother Wore Tights:

An early TV appearance with Ed Sullivan:

Senor Wences' act starts about 27:45 in on this next one, but of course it's from a Jack Benny special so you know the whole thing is great!

Beautiful color footage from The Ed Sullivan Show:

Three hilarious cereal commercials featuring Senor Wences:

Senor Wences on The Muppet Show:

In 1959 Senor Wences released a 45rpm single with songs featuring two of his catchphrases:

Here are a couple more commercials starring Senor Wences:

You can watch a commercial he did for Spain's tourist trade from 1981 by clicking here.

In 1986 he appeared in the Showtime comedy special The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special where Shandling played a talk show host.  If after watching this you want to catch the whole terrific special, you can see it at the link here:

Senor Wences' 100th Birthday in 1996 received a lot of attention especially in the show business community.  Wences at the time lived just a few blocks from the old Ed Sullivan Theater in fact, and he has a street named after him.  Shortly after his 100th Wences passed the torch and his actual puppets over to ventriloquist Michele LaFong who had become one of his close friends and who he believed was the perfect person to keep his beloved characters alive, which she has.  Check out her website here.

(There is a great set of articles about Senor Wences on this Spanish-language site which can be translated.  Very nice!  Be sure to click here to read about a documentary on Wences' life.)

The wonderful Senor Wences passed away on April 20,1999 at the age of 103.  His artistry was incomparable, his act simple and sweet, and his legacy of laughter never-ending.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #25: The Incredible Mr. Don Knotts -- July 21, 1924 - Feb. 24, 2006

Don Knotts had the perfect face and body for comedy -- skinny, wide-eyed, expressive hands and voice just made for playing the high-strung characters he became famous for.  From his days honing his comic persona on The Steve Allen Show to his long-time reign as one of TV's funniest characters on The Andy Griffith Show and later on Three's Company, West Virginia-born Don Knotts never missed a comedy beat or failed to infuse his portrayals with humanity.

Especially Barney Fife.  Without Knotts' tremendous skill as an actor, Barney would have been just a nervous wanna-be with delusions of grandeur, a pipsqueak bully with a badge.  It was Knotts who allowed us to see Barney's vulnerabilities, and Andy Griffith who understood that playing straight man to Knotts would be the key to success for his new sitcom.  Sheriff Andy Taylor was Barney Fife's rock, and Fife knew it.  And America's TV viewers knew it, too.

So here's a little Don Knotts for you.  A brilliant comedian, a talented actor, a funny guy.

As is written on Don Knotts' headstone, "He saw the poignancy in people's pride and pain and turned it into something hilarious and endearing" -- so true.

We fondly salute Don Knotts, born this day in 1924.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #24: James Doohan-- The World's Greatest Starship Engineer!

Today we remember a talented character who became a pop culture icon by virtue of his honored place on the crew of the original starship Enterprise on the legendary Star Trek. D-Day veteran James Doohan, who passed away on this date nine years ago, had been a solid constantly working actor particularly adept at voices and accents at the time he was cast as Montgomery Scott.  Doohan's winning characterization and Mr. Scott's technical prowess made the Chief Engineer a lynchpin on the Enterprise whether down in his engine room, on the bridge, or along with his fellow crewmen on a surface mission.

Doohan passed away nine years ago today, the 2nd of the main Star Trek actors to go (DeForest Kelley died in 1999).  However as we all know, if you've been on Star Trek, immortality is yours.

Here's an assortment of Scotty-ness in honor of our favorite Chief Engineer and the man who portrayed him but first a few of his other TV roles to get a sense of what he was doing before Mr. Scott:

James Doohan also made a wonderful guest appearance as Scotty on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "Relics":

Farewell to TV's Most Dashing Leading Man, James Garner April 7, 1928 - July 19, 2014

Whether on the big screen or television, James Garner was a winner.  So talented, so handsome, so disarmingly charming -- James Garner had it all.  His career path took him from TV to huge movie stardom and then back to TV again where he never stopped pleasing audiences with his rugged visage, no-nonsense acting style and a twinkle in his eye.

He passed away yesterday at the age of 86 at his home in Los Angeles.

Though his movie career was as big if not bigger than his decades-long TV presence, we'll concentrate on just his small screen work here.  We recommend reading something about his interesting life to get a better sense of what James Garner brought to the table.  It was considerable -- no pampered Hollywood brat was he -- and it will make you appreciate the journey he took to get into acting and then to delight us for the next 60 or so years.

James Garner was Maverick from 1957 - 1962:

(You should watch Garner's full interview from the Archive of American Television here.)

In 1971 he came back to series TV in the one-season Nichols co-starring Margot Kidder:

And then came The Rockford Files from 1974 - 1980:

We'll also show you a big selection of Garner's very popular TV commercials for Polaroid, some solo and others co-starring actress Mariette Hartley.  The Garner-Hartley teaming became a phenomenon for the affectionately snarky chemistry between them and some viewers thought they actually were married to each other.  No, they were just acting like a bickering couple...

In 1981 Garner brought back his Bret Maverick character for 18 episodes in the series of the same name:

In 1991 he had a short-lived series Man of the People:

In 1999 he starred in the TV adaptation of Larry McMurty's Streets of Laredo:

James Garner's long, distinguished and enjoyable career made him a favorite of millions.  We'll continue to enjoy his performances for years to come.  Real life is temporary -- TV and movies are forever.

James Garner, 1928 - 2014.