Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Late Great Tim Conway

Chances are good that if you ask a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer who the funniest man around was, his or her answer would be "Tim Conway." Many Baby Boomers probably first encountered him on The Steve Allen Show, McHale's Navy, or The Carol Burnett Show. Many Gen Xers probably first encountered him on The Carol Burnett Show or one of the many Disney movies he made in the Seventies. He was a comic actor and comedian so funny that he could even make his fellow performers laugh in the middle of skits. Even simply thinking about Tim Conway would put one in a better mood. Sadly, Tim Conway died yesterday, May 14 2019, at the age of 85. The cause was complications from normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Tim Conway was born Thomas Daniel Conway on December 15 1933 in Willoughby, Ohio. He grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with a degree in television and radio. Following his graduation from college, Mr. Conway enlisted in the United States Army. He served from 1956 to 1958 in the Eighth Army Assignment Team. Following his service he took a job working for well known radio personality Ernie Anderson at Cleveland NBC affiliate KYW-TV. Messrs. Conway and Anderson later moved to Cleveland CBS affiliate WJW-TV. There they appeared on the local programme Ernie's Place. Eventually WJW fired Tim Conway because he lacked the skills to direct. The station's termination hardly slowed down Mr. Conway's career, as the legendary Rose Marie discovered him when she visited WJW. Rose Marie would get Tim Conway a spot on The Steve Allen Show on ABC.

It was while he was a regular on The Steve Allen Show that he went from being "Tom Conway" to being "Tim Conway," in order to avoid confusion with British actor (and George Sanders's brother) Tom Conway. Tim Conway remained on The Steve Allen Show until its cancellation by ABC. Mr. Conway was then cast as Ensign Charles Parker on McHale's Navy starring Ernest Borgnine. The show proved to be a hit and ran for four seasons. Tim Conway also starred in two feature films spun off from the hit sitcom, McHale's Navy (1964) and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965).

The Sixties would prove to be a very good time for Tim Conway's career. While his own sitcom, Rango (on which he starred as an inept Texas Ranger in the Old West), only lasted for 17 episodes. he would find a good deal of success on The Carol Burnett Show. Contrary to popular belief, he was not a regular on The Carol Burnett Show from the beginning. That having been said, he first guest starred on the show in its first season and would appear so frequently on the show that he might as well have been considered to be a recurring performer on the show. He would finally join the show as a regular in 1977. Another sitcom, The Tim Conway Show, would have little success, only running for eleven episodes. He was also the host of the short-lived show Operation Entertainment. In 1970 he had his own short-lived variety show, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour.

While Tim Conway saw little success with his own shows in the Sixties, he was a frequent guest star on other shows besides The Carol Burnett Show. In fact, he was the only guest host of the notorious TV show Turn-On, which ended its run after only one episode. He also guest starred on such shows as Channing, That's Life, and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. He appeared frequently on talk shows and variety shows, including The Gary Moore Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Comedy Hour, The Red Skelton Show, The Hollywood Palace, This is Tom Jones, The John Gary Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The David Frost Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.

Tim Conway would continue to see a great deal of success in the Seventies. He joined the regular cast of The Carol Burnett Show in 1977 and remained with the show for the rest of its run. During the 1980-1982 season he had his own variety show, The Tim Conway Show. He also appeared on Carol Burnett's summer replacement series Carol Burnett & Company. He continued to appear regularly on talk shows and variety shows, including The Bobby Darin Show, The New Bill Cosby Show, The Dean Martin Show, Flip, The Mac Davis Show, Cher, Dinah!, The Mike Douglas Show, The Jacksons, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also appeared as a guest on Carol Burnett's summer replacement series Carol Burnett & Company.

The Seventies would also see Tim Conway have a good deal of success in feature films. Starting with The Worlds Greatest Athlete in 1973 he would appear in several Disney movies, including The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), Gus (1976), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). He appeared with Don Knotts in the "Apple Dumpling" movies, and would appear with him in two movies not produced by Disney: The Prize Fighter (1979) and The Private Eyes (1980). Mr. Conway also appeared in the films The Billion Dollar Hobo (1977) and They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way (1978).

In the Eighties Tim Conway had another short-lived sitcom, Ace Crawford, Private Eye. He guest starred on the shows Faerie Tale Theatre and Newhart. He appeared in the feature films Cannonball Run II (1984) and The Longshot (1986). It was in the Eighties that Tim Conway began appearing as diminutive Scandinavian Dorf in a series of direct-to-video films. After first appearing as Dorf in a 1986 sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Mr. Conway would appear as Dorf in six direct-to-video films that lasted through the Nineties. From 2009 to 2010 he appeared as Dorf in videos on the website iSpotSanta, in which Dorf tried to help Santa. He last appeared as Dorf in the 2016 feature film Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf

In the Nineties Tim Conway began recurring roles on both Married with Children and Coach. He began a long stint as the voice of Barnacle Boy on the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. Fittingly, Barnacle Boy was the sidekick of Mermaid Man, who was played by his old McHale's Navy co-star Ernest Borgnine. He guest starred on Carol Burnett's show Carol & Company, as well as the shows The Golden Palace, Cybill, The Larry Sanders Show, Cosby, Touched by an Angel, Suddenly Susan, The Drew Carey Show, Hiller and Diller, Ellen, Clueless, 7th Heaven, Mad About You, and Diagnosis Murder. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Hercules and The Wild Thornberrys. He appeared in the films Dear God (1996), Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), Air Bud: Golden Receiver (1998), and The View from the Swing (2000).

In the Naughts Tim Conway had a regular role on the sketch comedy show On the Spot and a recurring role on the sitcom Yes, Dear. He continued to voice Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob Squarepants. He guest starred on 30 Rock and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He was a guest voice on the animated show The Proud Family. In the Teens Tim Conway continued to be the voice of Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants. He guest starred on the shows Mike & Molly, Wizards of Waverly Place, Hot in Cleveland, Major Crimes, Two and a Half Men, Glee, and Melissa & Joey. He was a guest voice on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Pound Puppies, and WordGirl. He was a regular voice on the animated show Dragons: Riders of Berk. He was a voice in the movie The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015). He appeared in the movies Chip & Bernie's Zomance (2015) and Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf (2016). Chip and Bernie Save Christmas with Dorf would be Tim Conway's last appearance.

Here it must be pointed out that Tim Conway was not simply a performer, but a writer as well. He was one of the writers on The Carol Burnett Show and wrote episodes of McHale's Navy and Ace Crawford... Private Eye. He also wrote the Dorf films as well.  He wrote or co-wrote five feature films: The Billion Dollar Hobo, They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way, The Prize Fighter, The Private Eyes, and The Longshot.

To call Tim Conway a comic genius would be something of an understatement. His talent was such that on The Carol Burnett Show he could crack his co-stars up during sketches, all the while staying in character. Among the most notorious example of this was the sketch "The Dentist", which aired very early in the run of the show (it was in the 20th episode of the 2nd season). Tim Conway played the incompetent dentist so well that Harvey Korman, who was playing his patient, burst out laughing so hard that he wet his own pants, according to Mr. Korman himself.

As good as Tim Conway was at cracking up his co-stars, he was fantastic in making audiences laugh. Mr. Conway's comedy was character driven, and no matter what he did (which often wasn't even in the script) he remained in character. And he certainly had a gift for creating hilarious characters. He had a gift for funny accents (his character of Dorf is a perfect example of this). What is more, he was more than willing to don any number of wigs and costumes to transform into various characters. In addition to Dorf, Mr. Conway played various inventive characters in sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, including Mr. Tudball (a businessman whose accent wasn't quite Swedish or Romanian) and the Oldest Man (who had a variety of jobs, from conductor to fireman). Tim Conways' gift for creating memorable characters wasn't only on display in The Carol Burnett Show. As Ensign Parker he played easily the funniest character on McHale's Navy. Although the show was all too short-lived, he was hilarious as private eye Ace Drummond. Tim Conway could transform himself into any character he chose to, and he could invoke laughs with never breaking character.

What is more, Tim Conway was a master of nearly every aspect of comedy. He had a gift for funny accents and wordplay, but at the same time he could get laughs without saying a thing. He was a master of physical comedy, whether it was the most subtle of body language or outright slapstick. His timing was perfect. Few comic actors or comedians were as good as comedy as Tim Conway was.

While Tim Conway was a comic genius, from all reports he was also truly a nice man. Despite the fact that he was always making them crack up (or perhaps because of it), his co-stars on The Carol Burnett Show loved him. Following his death, Carol Burnett said of Mr. Conway, "He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He'll be in my heart forever." Vicki Lawrence said of him, "Hysterical, crazy, bold, fearless, humble, kind, adorable…all synonyms for Tim Conway. I am so lucky to ever have shared a stage with him. Harvey and Tim are together again. The angels are laughing out loud tonight." Many others who knew him have expressed similar sentiments about Mr. Conway. He was not simply a very funny man, but a wonderful human being as well.

Tim Conway was an enormous talent with a gift for creating memorable characters and eliciting howls of laughter even from his fellow performers. No matter how bad one's day has been, it would be made a little better by seeing Tim Conway perform one of his routines on television or in movies. Tim Conway may have stood only five foot six, but when it came to comedy he was a giant.

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