Saturday, March 4, 2006

The Dramatic Roles of Gene Kelly

Gene Kelly is best known as a dancer and the star of classic musicals. When most people think of his non-musical parts, it seems to me that they think of his comedy roles, such as Pinky Benson in What a Way to Go and Mike Andrews in The Happy Road. But Kelly was more than a dancer and a comic actor. He did have his fair share of dramatic parts.

Sadly, his earliest dramatic roles were hardly impressive. It seemed that MGM was reluctant to cast Kelly in any non-musical part that might display the full range of his acting talent (which, in my humble opinion, has always been underrated). His first dramatic part in a film was as pilot Vito S. Alessandro in Pilot #5 in 1943. Pilot #5 is hardly a bad film. Indeed, it is entertaining; however, it is also a rather obvious piece of World War II propaganda. Perhaps because of this most of the characters come off more as caricatures than real people, including Kelly's Alessandro.

Released the same year was The Cross of Lorraine, another war film. This time he played Victor La Biche, one of the soldiers held prisoner by the Nazis. Like Pilot #5, The Cross of Lorraine is entertaining. Also like Pilot #5, The Cross of Lorraine is a World War II propaganda film. Again, its characters tend to be caricatures. That having been said, Kelly does breath a bit of life into La Biche, although he admittedly had little to work with.

Kelly's next dramatic role cast him against type. He played Robert Monette in Christmas Holiday, very loosely based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel of the same name. Monette is one of the few unsympathetic roles Kelly would play in his career. Monette is jealous, sociopathic, and ultimately murderous. Among other things, having escaped from jail, he threatens to kill his wife (Deanna Durbin in one of her earliest adult roles) and even holds a reporter hostage. There are even hints that Monette is homosexual! A far cry from Kelly's other roles, I think he is largely convincing in the role. If there was any doubt that Kelly could act before Christmas Holiday, there should have been no doubt that he could afterwards.

If Kelly was cast against type as Monette, he arguably suited to play D'Artagnan in the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers. Of course, it is debatable whether any version of The Three Musketeers can be considered drama, given the comedic content of most of the films. This version is no different. In fact, it may well be the strangest version of the novel ever made. Much of this is due to the rather strange casting--June Allyson as Constance, Gig Young as Porthos, and so on. That having been said, Kelly does very well as D'Artagnan. He gets a chance to show off his acrobatic skills and does very well in the swordfights. He is also convincing as a country bumpkin who becomes one of the greatest swordsmen in all of France.

Of course, if Kelly was born to play D'Artagnan, I think it can be said that he was not born to play Johnny Columbo, his character in The Black Hand. The movie centres on Columbo, an Italian-American seeking revenge against the Black Hand, the criminal organisation that murdered his father. The problem is that Kelly, Irish in descent, is hardly convincing as the son of an Italian immigrant. Indeed, Columbo sounds more like his immediate ancestors came from Pennsylvania than Italy. In Kelly's defence, I suppose it must be pointed out that dialects and languages are very hard to do, and not every actor has a gift for them. While I do think Kelly has largely been underestimated as an actor, I do think he had his limitations.

Gene was better utilised in The Devil Makes Three. In this film he plays Captain Jeff Elliot, an American military man in post war Germany who seeks to thank the German family that hid him during World War II. While the role of Elliot isn't terribly demanding (I don't think Kelly ever had any problems being charming...) , I think Kelly does a good job with it.

Seagulls Over Sorrento (also known as Crest of the Wave) once more found Kelly in the military. In this film he played Lt. Bradville, one of a group of Naval officers investigating why an experimental torpedo blew up too soon. The film is very deliberately paced. It is also very character driven. The focus in Seagulls Over Sorrento on the personalities involved in the investigation. Kelly is very convincing in a role that it is much more laid back than his usual, very active roles (Bradville is not D'Artgnan by a long stretch).

Kelly would also do well in Marjorie Morningstar, a soap opera based on Herman Wouk's novel of the same name. Kelly played Noel Airman, an underachieving but charming performer who becomes the love of Marjorie's life. In many ways, Airman was not too different from many of the other roles Kelly played in his career (Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain, Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris and so on). Unfortunately, the movie is largely undermined by Natalie Wood's performance as Marjorie Morningstern (aka Morningstar). She always seemed to me to be miscast and is hardly convincing in the role.

Kelly's role as reporter E. K. Hornbeck in the film adaptation of Inherit the Wind would be the last dramatic role he would play in a film. In a way this was perhaps fitting, as I think it is one of the best performances he ever gave in a drama. There are those who claim that Kelly was miscast in the part, but I do have to disagree. Like many of Kelly's characters, Hornbeck is charming. But he is also cynical, sarcastic, a bit smug, and given to spouting aphorisms. There is little doubt that Hornbeck would actually sneer at the open romanticism of some of Kelly's more typical characters! Hornbeck was sadly a change of pace for Kelly that we would never see again.

Throughout the Sixties Kelly started acting less and less, so it is little wonder that he never again played a dramatic role (unless one counts his role in Viva Knieval, which I think hardly qualifies as drama...). I've always thought this was a shame, as I honestly believe Kelly had a real talent for acting. I rather suspect that the only reason that his acting talent has not been recognised more often is that most people tend to think of him as a song and dance man. Quite simply, Kelly's talent as a dancer and choreographer tended to overshadow everything else about him. To me this is a bit of a tragedy, as he had quite a gift for acting as well.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Another Actor's Death: Jack Wild

It seems the past week that several celebrities have died. Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, and Dennis Weaver all died over the weekend. The lastest celebrity to die is not near as famous or as beloved as those men, but he made an impression on many of us nonetheless. Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger in both the original London musical and the film based upon it (and before someone else points it out to me--yes, I know Davy Jones played the role on Broadway...) and who played Jimmy on H. R. Pufnstuf, has died. Wild passed on March 1 at the age of 53 from mouth cancer.

Wild was born on September 30, 1952 in Royton, England. He was discovered by talent agent June Collins (who also happened to be the mother of rock star Phil Collins of Genesis fame) while playing football (soccer to we Americans) in London. By age 11 he was already auditioning for roles. Eventually Wild won the role of the Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver, which debuted on London's West End in 1960. Wild's career was under way.

By 1965 Wild was appearing on British television in such series as The Wednesday Play and George and the Dragon. In 1967 he appeared in his first film, Danny the Dragon. By 1968 he had a role in the short lived British TV series Knock Three Times. Nineteen sixty eight was perhaps the turning point in Wild's life. It was that year that the film version of the musical Oliver! was released, complete with Wild as the Artful Dodger. As the Artful Dodger, Wild received nominations for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Male.

Having seen Wild in the movie Oliver, producers Sid and Marty Kroft offered the young actor the lead in an American Saturday morning TV series they had in development--H. R. Pufnstuf. The series centred around Jimmy (played by Wild), a boy with a magic, talking flute named Freddie. Kidnapped by the witch Witchiepoo, who wants Freddie for her own ends, he is taken to the Living Island. There he is rescued by the island's mayor, the dragon-like creature called H. R. Pufnstuf. The series was a combination of live actors (Jimmy and Witchiepoo) and puppets (H. R. Pufnstuf).If the series sounds more than a bit strange, it was. It was also fairly successful. It debuted in 1969 and ran for a total of five years on network television.

Indeed, Wild soon found himself a pre-teen idol. His face could be seen on any number of teen magazines of the era. And he even received a recording contract. He released three albums in the early Seventies. Movie roles followed. Naturally, he was the lead in the film version of Pufnstuf, but he also had major roles in Melody (1971), Flight of the Doves (1971), and The Pied Piper (1972). Sadly, his success began to fade almost as quickly as it had come about. Wild took to drinking, which certainly did not help his career. His appearances on film are somewhat sporadic after 1973, with his most notable role being a bit part in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

I must say that I am saddened by Wild's passing. I always did like the musical Oliver, and his performance as the Artful Dodger always impressed me. And I must admit that I did watch H.R. Pufnstuf loyally as a child. While I have no idea if the series was actually any good (one's tastes do tend to change as one grows into adulthood), I do have fond memories of the series. It is one of the few Saturday morning shows from the Seventies that I actually recall liking, which must say something. In my humble opinion, it is a tragedy that Wild's career disentegrated the way it did and that it never did recover. He was clearly a talented young man and I think he could well have been successful as an adult if things had unfolded differently for him.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

"You don't get to choose. You just fall."
(Unknown, referring to love)

"So taunt me, and hurt me,
Deceive me, desert me,
I'm yours, till I die....."
(Cole Porter, "So In Love," Kiss Me Kate)

I have to admit that I don't write about books very often, which I most seriously regret. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to read any more. That having been said, I have done quite a bit of reading in my time. Among my favourite books is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. There has always been debate as to what is Dickens' greatest work, but I have always thought it was this book.

Great Expectations was first published as a serial in All the Year Round from December 1860 to August 1861. It is a Bildungsroman, or a novel which traces the development of its protagonist. In the case of Great Expectations, that protagonist is one Philip Pirrip, better known simply as "Pip." Two events shape the life of Pip, a poor boy who would eventually be apprenticed to the blacksmith Joe. The first event is meeting the beautiful Estella, Miss Havisham's ward. As a child he is brought to play at Miss Havisham's house where he meets Estella, the eccentric old woman's ward. Sadly for Pip, he falls totally and irrevocably in love with Estella. The second event occurs when a mysterious benefactor gives Pip an enormous fortune and sees to it that he is trained to be a gentleman. The novel traces the impact that these two events have on Pip for several years of his life, as Pip moves in the upper crusts of Victorian England and yearns to win Estella.

The most central theme of Great Expectations is simple: one's personal ethics, love for others, and loyalty to one's friends is ultimately important than social status and wealth. These themes are explored as Pip constantly seeks to better himself, spurred by his longing for Estella. They also create a constant source of conflict for Pip. On the one hand, he wants to constantly better his social status, never quite satisfied with the current level he has attained. On the other hand, he also wants to be a good man, disappointed when he does not measure up to his own ideals of morality. Indeed, Pip's wish to become a gentleman and his quest to be a good person are two of the things which motivate Pip in his life. Of course, the third is his love for the beautiful Estella.

In some respects, it is little wonder that Pip loves Estella, for the two have a great deal in common. While Pip was trained to be a gentleman by a mysterious benefactor for that benefactor's own purposes, Estella is raised by the eccentric Miss Havisham to break men's hearts. Having been stood up at the altar by the wealthy but immoral Compeyson, Miss Havisham seeks revenge on all men by moulding Estella to toy with men's affections and ultimately destroy them. Sadly, the only man Estella nearly destroys is the one least deserving of it--Pip. Estella is largely the opposite of most love interests in Victorian novels. While most Victorian heroines are kind and friendly, Estella is distant, cold, and manipulative. At the same time, however, like Pip, Estella genuinely wants to be good. She constantly regrets the harm she causes Pip and enourages Pip to forget about her and to look to his own happiness (never mind that Pip cannot be truly happy without her...). The relationship between Pip and Estella is one of the most fascinating aspects of Great Expectations. While many lovers in romances are kept apart by circumstances, in Great Expectations it is Pip and Estella themselves who largely create the conditions that prevent them from being together. As a case in point, Estella marries the wealthy but cruel nobleman Drummle instead of Pip, who genuinely loves her. This and other actions Pip and Estella take are largely what causes them to be apart for much of the novel. In many ways the romance between Pip and Estella is one of the most realistic in Victorian literature.

Of course, this also points to the fact that Pip is perhaps the most realistic progtaonist Dickens ever created. While the heroes of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield are largely one dimensional (the secondary characters are always more interesting), Pip is a fully developed, realstic character. Pip's desire to be a wealthy gentleman sometimes conflict with his desire to be a good man. He longs to be with Estella but can never quite achieve that goal. The realness of Pip especially demonstrated by the fact that Pip, when he is older and wiser, narrates the novel. While the older Pip lets us know how he felt at any given time when he was younger, he also sometimes displays amusement at the foibles of his youth. This should be expected as Great Expectations is largely about Pip's development as a person. He is signficantly changed at the end of the novel from what he was at its beginning.

One aspect of Great Expectations that is particularly interesting is that Dickens wrote two endings for the novel. The original ending was a sad one, in which Pip has again lost Estella. Dickens' friend Wilkie Collins (most famous as the author of The Woman in White) objected to the ending, feeling that it would be a disappointment to readers. Dickens then wrote the ending with which we are now familiar, which is a bit more ambiguous. It appears that Pip and Estella might finally be together, although there is room for argument that this might not be so. There has always been some debate as to which ending is better. Some have argued that the second ending is much too conventional and too upbeat for a novel which is largely unhappy. Others have argued that the second ending simply continues the separations and reunions that have plagued Pip and Estella throughout their relationship. Personally, I prefer the second ending. Besides the fact that it would appear that Pip and Estella can finally be happy (after all the sturm und drang the two go through, they would seem to deserve a bit of happiness), I feel that Pip at last understands Estella and as a result he can finally, truly love her. In other words, the ending portrays another step in Pip's development as a person.

Great Expectations is a complex work with one of the most interesting protagonists of Victorian literature. It covers a number of different themes with regards to morality, social class, and even love. Arguably, this was Charles Dickens at the top of his game. In my humble opinion, it is quite simply the greatest novel written by one of the greatest writers (short of Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest) in the English language.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Daredevil: Yellow

Some of you may well be familiar with the Marvel Comics hero Daredevil, at least from the movie with Ben Affleck (which I have yet to see--the casting of Jennifer Garner as Elektra discourages me from seeing it...). Daredevil is lawyer Matt Murdock. Blinded as a child by radioactive material, he develops heightened senses and a "radar sense" that compensate for his lack of sight. When his father, boxer "Battling Jack Murdock," is killed for not throwing a fight, he becomes the costumed crimefighter Daredevil.

For many the comic book Daredevil was at its best during Frank Miller's run. Miller gave Daredevil a noir feel and placed the Man Without Fear against organised crime rather than the usual costumed villains. Miller's work was widely acclaimed and brought Daredevil to new heights of popularity. But while I am a huge fan of Frank Miller (I love both The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City), I always preferred Daredevil in its early days. In the comic books from the Silver Age Daredevil was much more a blind swashbuckler and he battled such costumed villains as Mysterio and The Owl. In many respects I found the comic book much more interesting at that time.

It should be no surprise, then, that I would like Daredevil: Yellow. Daredevil: Yellow was a six issue miniseries published in 2001. It was collected into a trade paperback in 2002 (okay, so it took me a while to get around to reading it--I am way behind on my comic books). A retelling of Daredevil's origin and his early days as a superhero, Daredevil: Yellow was written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale, the same team behind Batman: the Long Halloween.

Daredevil: Yellow captures the feel of the Silver Age Daredevil comics quite well. Everything is there. The self doubts that usually plagued Marvel superheros of the era (Spider-Man wasn't the only one who was a bit neurotic), a guest appearance by the Fantastic Four, and the battles with supervillains. Indeed, among the highlights are fights with Electro (usually a Spider-Man villain), Killgrave the Purple Man, and The Owl (Daredevil's archnemesis in the early years). There are even the touches of humour that often permeated the works of Stan Lee (even in the midst of fighting supervillains--witness the fight with the Purple Man...).

The one thing that separates Daredevil: Yellow from the original Silver Age comics is that Matt Murdock (and hence Daredevil) is so much more developed as a character. In fact, we learn that the Man Without Fear is not exactly without fear. He has his own share of fears and doubts and concerns. Im effect, he seems much more real than he did in the Silver Age.

Daredevil: Yellow is written as a letter from Matt Murdock to Karen Page, who was long ago killed by the supervillain Bullseye (Marvel Comics seems to have had a habit of killing off the best girlfriends--just look at Gwen Stacy....). It should then be little surprise that much of Daredevil: Yellow focuses on the relationship between Murdock and Page. Sadly, this is also Daredevil: Yellow's greatest weakness. While Matt Murdock, his law partner Foggy Nelson, and his father "Battling Jack" Murdock are fairly well developed characters, Karen Page is sadly underdeveloped. She is beautiful, blonde, sweet, young, and a bit naive, but not much more than that. We don't get any real sense of her inner feelings and she comes off as little more than the token love interest. Granted, that is the way she was written in the early days of Daredevil by Stan Lee, but one would have expected a bit more in character development in a mini-series written in the Naughts.

Regardless, that is the only real shortcoming of Daredevil: Yellow. It is very well written and beautifully illustrated, with a real feel for Silver Age comic books. I would recommend anyone who admires the comic books of the Silver Age or any fan of Daredevil to read Daredevil: Yellow. It is certainly a remarkable piece of work.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dennis Weaver 1924-2006

It is a rare thing that three television legends die within a few days of each other. Sadly, that rare thing has happened. We have lost both Don Knotts and Darren McGavin. And then I heard that Dennis Weaver had also passed on. Weaver died from cancer Friday in Ridgway, Colorado at the age of 81. He was best known as Chester, Marshall Matt Dillan's lame sidekick on Gunsmoke and as Marshal McCloud on the series McCloud.

Dennis Weaver was born in Joplin, MO on June 24, 1924. He attended the University of Oklahoma where he studied drama and also achieved success as a track star. During World War II he was a pilot for the U.S. Navy. He tried out for the Olympics in 1948, but failed to make the American decathalon team. It was then that fellow Missourian and actor Lonny Chapman persuaded him to go to New York to take up acting full time.

It was largely due to Chapman that Weaver got his first big break on Broadway. He was an understudy for Chapman in the play Come Back, Little Sheba and would eventually take the same role for the play's national tour. He later enrolled in the Actor's Studio. There he met starlet Shelley Winters who helped him get a contract with Universal Studios. Weaver made his first film appearance in Horizons West in 1952. For the next few years he would appear in small roles in various films, including the movie version of the TV show Dragnet (1954). Not surprisingly, he would also make various guest apperances on that show, as well as Schlitz Playhouse and The Lone Ranger.

It was in 1955 that Weaver got the biggest break of his life, the role of Chester Goode on Gunsmoke. Chester walked with a limp, spoke with a countrified accent and was known for his coffee. Chester was very open and honest, but also extremely gullible. Contrary to popular belief, Chester was never Dillon's deputy, merely a good friend. Gunsmoke soon became one of the most popular shows on television and as a result, Dennis Weaver received national recognition. He was even nominated for an Emmy for Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series in 1958 and won the award in 1959.

Dennis Weaver left Gunsmoke in 1964 for his own show, Kentucky Jones, a family drama on which Weaver played a vetrinarian. The show did not last long, but Weaver would not be out of work for long. He was an actor in demand and continued to make guest appearances on television on such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, and The Name of the Game. He also appeared in several TV movies and miniseries, including Steven Spielberg's Duel, Centennial, and The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd. Weaver also appeared as the regular (often the lead) in several series, including Gentle Ben, Emerald Point: NAS, and the ABC Family series Wildfire (his last appearance on screen).

Of course, besides Gunsmoke, Weaver's greatest claim to fame was the role of Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud on the series McCloud. McCloud was one of the rotating elements of the umbrella series The NBC Mystery Movie. MCcloud was a U.S. Deputy Marshal from Taos, New Mexico who finds himself assigned to duty with the N.Y.P.D. His tendency to dispense with procedure and his Western ways sometimes clashed with his superiors, but his arrest record proved him indispensable. Weaver played McCloud for seven years and would later do so again in a reunion movie.

Growing up I must admit that Dennis Weaver was one of my favourite actors. I was too young to remember him as Chester on Gunsmoke. In fact, for most of my childhood I didn't know that Matt Dillon had a sidekick before Festus! I rather suspect I first encountered him in the role of Tom Wedloe, father of Mark Wedloe (played by Ron Howard's brother, Clint), on the series Gentle Ben. On that series Mark happened to have a very unusual pet--a bear named Ben. I don't know if it actually was a good show, but it was enough to keep me entertained at four years of age.

Like many of my generation, instead of Gunsmoke, I remember Weaver from McCloud and Duel. I must confess that I watched McCloud avidly as a child (it was my favourite NBC Mystery Movie series besides Columbo and Hec Ramsey). The show's appeal for me was that it was a classic fish out of water situation. Indeed, as someone who grew up in the country I could identify with McCloud as he wrestled with big city ways. The series earned Weaver two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. Weaver wasn't nominated for Duel, although he should have been. In that classic telefilm he played David Mann, the poor guy who crosses paths with a psychotic trucker with road rage to spare. As David Mann, Weaver plays an everyman who falls victim to every doubt and fear the average American might have about commuting.

I think that is largely why Dennis Weaver always appealed to me. He was a bit of an everyman (indeed, he is one of the very few actors who didn't speak with an accent...). Whether playing Chester on Gunsmoke or Sam McCloud, he was the sort of fellow one could easily identify with. It is sad to think that he is gone, but at least he has left a fairly large legacy of television roles for us to remember him by.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Darren McGavin R.I.P.

Actor Darren McGavin died this Saturday of natural causes at age 83. Older viewers probably remember him as monster hunting reporter Carl Kolchak. Younger viewers more likely remember him as the irascible father in A Christmas Story. Regardless, McGavin had a long and prolific career.

McGavin was born William Lyle Richardson in Spokane, Washington. He was working as a painter in 1945 at Columbia Pictures when he tried out for a bit part in A Song to Remember. McGavin appeared in a few more bit parts before moving to New York City. There he studied acting with both the Neighbourhood Playhouse and the Actor's Studio. It was in 1951 that he played in his first TV show, the lead role in Crime Reporter.

Although he appeared in movies and played on Broadway, it would be in television that McGavin would do most of his work. He was the lead in such shows as Mike Hammer (1956), Riverboat, The Outsider, Banyon, The Rookies, and Kolchak: the Night Stalker. It was the last series that would be his greatest claim to fame in television. The show revolved around Carl Kolchak, a reporter with a knack for encountering supernatural menaces. The series was a spin off of two TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. While it lasted only one season, it became a cult series and McGavin was forever identified with the role. On Murphy Brown he played Murphy's father in many episodes. McGavin also made numerous guest apperances, on shows including Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The X-Files. He also has a major role in the mini-series adaptation of The Martian Chronicles.

While the bulk of McGavin's work was in television, he did appear in a good number of movies. He played the pusher Louie in The Man With the Golden Arm, Jerry Lewis's parole officer in The Delicate Delinquent, and the father in A Christmas Story. He also appeared in films ranging from Beau James to No Deposit, No Return (alongside Don Knotts, who just died Friday) to Billy Madison.

McGavin also appeared on Broadway. He made his first apperance there in the play My 3 Angels. He would go onto appear in such plays as The Rainmaker, The Lovers, and Tunnel of Love.

As a child I must confess that I was a loyal viewer of Kolchak: the Night Stalker. As an adult I must also admit that I find the series a bit goofy. I mean, how many times can a reporter just happen upon a vampire or a werewolf or some other monster every week? I do still enjoy the show, and I must admit that much of it is due to McGavin as Kolchak. Kolchak was a grumpy, curmudgeonly, wisecracking reporter who would have been at home in any number of films noir. Or detective magazines published in the mid-20th Century. No matter how absurd any given episode might be, McGavin always played Kolchak straight. Quite frankly, I think the show would not have worked if he'd played it tounge in cheek. Of course, I also must say that A Christmas Story is one of my favourite movies of all time. Much of that is because of McGavin's performance as the Old Man. Indeed, no one can fake cussing as well as McGavin could!

As the man who played Kolchak, I must say that his death makes me sad. He was a very talented actor who played a large number of varied roles. In some respects it seems a shame that he will be primarily remembered as Carl Kolchak and the Old Man, as he had a number of other great parts as well. At any rate, I don't think Darren McGavin will soon be forgotten.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

See You Later, Barney

The past year has not been kind to television's greats. Last year alone saw the passing of Paul Henning, Eddie Albert, James Doohan, and Bob Denver. This past Friday another one of televisions greats passed on. Don Knotts died at age 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Beverly Hills from lung cancer. He was surrounded by his family as well as close friend Andy Griffith and his wife.

Knotts will be forever remembered for playing one of the greatest characters ever on a television series--nervous, bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Barney could be overzealous, self important, and hot headed. He could also be inept. Because of a tendency to accidentally discharge his revolver, Andy required Barney to keep his one bullet in his shirt pocket. The role would have so much impact in American pop culture that Barney Fife would become a slang term for any overzealous, but inept police officer.

The Andy Griffith Show not only brought Don Knotts fame, but recognition from his peers as well. He won the Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor three years in a row. After he had left the show he would win two more Emmys for guest apperances as Fife on the show. Knotts also played lascivious landlord Ralph Furley on Three's Company for five years. Both characters have been seen in reruns ever since their first appearance.

Don Knotts was born Jesse Donald Knotts in Morgantown, West Virginia. While still in high school he performed for schools and churches. During World War II he served as an entertainer. Once the war was over he earned a degree in theatre at West Virginia University. Upon graduation he left for New York City where he got the role of handyman Windy Wales on Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders. He remained on the show for five years.

Curiously, his first job in television was not on a comedy or variety show, but on a soap opera. From 1953 to 1955 he played Wilbur Peterson on Search for Tomorrow. As might be expected, his big break would emerge from his talent as a comedian. He became part of the cast of The Steve Allen Show in 1956. It was in that show's "Man on the Street" interview segment that Knotts established the character of a fidgety, nervous man that would become his trademark.

It was also be at this time that Knotts would win a role that would change his life forever. He was cast as an Air Force psychiatrist in the Broadway play No Time For Seargeants. Knotts would also appear in the film version of the play. In both the play and the movie the lead actor was Andy Griffith. When Griffith received his own series and realised that they needed someone to play Sheriff Taylor's deputy, he naturally thought of Don Knotts. No Time For Seargeants then led to Knotts' most famous role.

Kmotts played Barney Fife for five years, leaving only because he thought Griffith wanted to end the series. He then made a career out of various family friendly comedies, such as The Reluctant Astronaut., The Love God, The Shakiest Gun in the West, and The Apple Dumpling Gang. He continued to appear on television in guest appearance and even on his own short lived variety series The Don Knotts Show. In most of his movies he played nervous, highstrung characters similar in many respects to Barney Fife.

His second most famous role came about after the orginal landlords on Three's Company, The Ropers, were spun off into their own series. Like Barney, Ralph Furley was nervous and highstrung. That having been said, he was a bit more lecherous than Barney and, unlike Deputy Fife, was not the sort to always do things by the book. He was a fairly original spin on the twitchy persona Knotts played for much of his life.

Knotts continued to make movies even after he joined the cast of Three's Company. He made sequels to The Apple Dumpling Gang, the comedy Private Eyes, and appeared as the mysterious TV repairman in Pleasantville. His TV appearances included a recurring role on Andy Griffith's series Matlock and guest apperances on Newhart and Burke's Law. Both he and Griffith appeared in the The Andy Griffith Show reunion movie Return to Mayberry. His last work was as the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in last year's Chicken Little.

I am truly saddened by the passing of Don Knotts. He was truly a comic genius. My favourite character on The Andy Griffith Show was always Barney Fife, and with good reason. He was easily the funniest character on the show. Barney was nervous, highstrung, self important, and overzealous, with a tendency to try to go too much by the book. He was a perfect comic foil for the usually calm, collected Andy Taylor. I honestly don't think anyone else could have played the part as well. Lest anyone think that Deputy Fife was the only character Knotts could play, it must be pointed out that he played Ralph Furley on Three's Company as well. Like Barney he was nervous and highstrung. And like Barney he thought he was a ladies man. But the similarities end there. Unlike Deputy Fife, Mr. Furley did not care much for doing things by the book. While similar, the two characters are fairly different.

While I have fond memories of Don Knotts as Barney Fife from my childhood, I also remember his movies. I must admit that as an adult I find many of them to be subpar, but I remember as a child enjoying The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Even when his movies weren't the best, Don Knotts could play very appealing characters.

Knotts was truly one of television's greats. If The Andy Griffith Show still airs in reruns to this day, it is largely because of the comic genius of Don Knotts. There are not many actors who have created two of TV's most memorable characters (Bob Denver was one of them), and I doubt that there will be too many more. Quite simply, we'll never see the like of Don Knotts again.