Friday, September 18, 2009

The Late Great Henry Gibson

Henry Gibson, one of the original cast members of Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, passed on Monday at the age of 73. The cause was cancer.

Henry Gibson was born James Bateman September 21, 1935 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He attended Saint Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia. He the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After graduating from college, Bateman served in the United States Air Force from 1957-60 as an intelligence officer. He then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

It was when he returned to New York City that he developed the character of "Henry Gibson," a humble, innocent poet from Fairhope, Alabama. He made his television debut on Tonight Starring Jack Paar in 1961. He went onto appear three times on The Joey Bishop Show as the character of "Henry Schultz." It was that same year that he made his film debut in The Nutty Professor, as "Gibson," a college student. Henry Gibson went onto appear in the TV shows 77 Sunset Strip, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Mike Douglas Show, My Favorite Martian, Laredo, The Dick Van Dyke Show, F Troop, and Bewitched. He also appeared in the films Kiss Me Stupid and The Outlaws is Coming. In 1963 he appeared on Broadway in My Mother, My Father and Me.

It was in 1967 that he appeared in the comedy special Laugh In on NBC. The special proved so successful that it became the series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In in January 1968. Henry Gibson was part of the original cast, and stayed with the show until 1971. A running gag was Gibson's poetry, which he recited with a gigantic flower in his hand. Gibson eventually released two record albums' worth of the poetry, The Alligator and The Grass Menagerie and a book of the poetry, A Flower Child's Garden of Verses. Another character he played regularly on Rowan & Martin's Laugh In was The Parson, who made one liners in a sombre tone.

It was in 1968 that Henry Gibson also became a frequent guest on Hollywood Squares, appearing somewhat regularly until 1970. He also made several guest appearances on Love, American Style. In 1972 he appeared as Clifford Stool in the movie Evil Roy Slade. He provided the voice of Wilbur in the 1973 animated version of Charlotte's Web. Gibson took a more serious turn in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, playing the evil Dr. Verringer. He would also appear in Altman's 1975 film Nashville. Over the next several years he guest starred in the shows McCloud, Barbary Coast, Police Woman, and Wonder Woman. He also provided the singing voice for Max the dog in the animated special Halloween Is Grinch Night and appeared in the TV movies Escape from Bogen County and Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill. He also appeared in the movies The Last Remake of Beau Geste and The Perfect Couple.

It was in 1980 that Henry Gibson appeared in one of his most memorable roles in the film The Blues Brothers, as the Head Nazi. The same year he appeared in the movie HealtH. Throughout much of the Eighties Gibson primarily appeared on television, in such shows as Trapper John M.D., Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, Quincy, The Fall Guy, and the Eighties revival of The Twilight Zone. He was the voice of Aimee's Locker and Doyle's Locker on the animated series Galaxy High School. He also appeared in the movies The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Tulips, Monster in the Closet, Inner Space, Switching Channels, and Brenda Starr.

In the Nineties into the Naughts, Henry Gibson guest starred on Newhart, Evening Shade, Eerie, Indiana, Murder, She Wrote, Tales from the Crypt, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Becker, Malcolm in the Middle, and as voice on Grim and Evil. He provided the voice for television announcer Bob Jenkins on King of the Hill and appeared as Judge Clark Brown on Boston Legal (his last work). He also appeared in the movies Tune In Tomorrow, The 'Burbs, Cyber Bandits, Bio-Dome, Asylum, Stranger in the Kingdom, Never Die Alone, and Wedding Crashers. In 2001 he appeared on Broadway again in Rogers and Hart's version of A Connecticut Yankee.

I remember Henry Gibson not simply from Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, but from his many guest appearances on shows ranging from The Beverly Hillbillies to Bewitched. When I was older I was able to appreciate his talent in movies such as The Blues Brothers. To me he was one of the funniest actors around, whether he was playing wide eyed poet Henry Gibson or a Nazi leader. Although he had a gift for comedy, Henry Gibson also did well in dramatic roles, whether as Dr. Verringer in The Long Goodbye or as sycophantic country singer Haven Hamilton in Nashville. He was a man of no small talent, and I must say that it is very sad to know that he is gone.

1 comment:

Holte Ender said...

A lot of the shows Henry Gibson appeared in before "Laugh In" I never saw. I first remember seeing him in that Rowan and Martin show. My favorite movie roles were in Nashville and The Blues Brothers.

I loved him as the Judge in one of my favorite TV shows, Boston Legal.