“This woman has to be gotten to a hospital!”
“A HOSPITAL?!? What is it ???”
“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now …”
Leslie Neilsen who died today at 84, was one of our funniest actors. He kept us in stitches for the past three decades in a string of movie spoofs sending up everything from disaster epics, to crime dramas, to modern slasher flicks and classic horror films.
But it wasn’t always so …
My first memory of Leslie Neilsen was from his role opposite Debbie Reynolds in a “country-come-to-town” comedy called Tammy and the Batchelor. This was way back in the late 50s. Curiously considering the image most people have of Neilsen, his early roles were not funny. He was the handsome leading man in this particular film. He didn’t become the comic master we all grew to love until 1980 when he nailed an hilarious supporting part in Airplane.
Neilsen also starred in a popular Disney series called The Swamp Fox based on the exploits of Francis Marion … the partisan fighter in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.
As a native of the Palmetto State and a history buff, this show was a particular favorite of mine as a youngster.
Still, I have to admit that I was an adult before I put two and two together and became aware that it was Neilsen playing the part.
Leslie Neilsen had an incredibly diverse career. He could play the leading man and the action hero. He was convincing not only as the Captain of a space ship in jeopardy in“Forbidden Planet“, but as the Captain of a doomed luxury cruise liner in “Poseidon Adventure” . If he’d chosen to continue in serious roles, I can certainly picture him playing the President in any number of dramatic films later in his life.
But, he decided to follow his funny bone, and we’re all the more fortunate for it.
Now that he’s gone, most fans probably will not recall his earlier roles. Instead, we will almost certainly remember him as the guy who kept us rolling in the aisles in his later efforts like “Police Squad”, “Naked Gun”, and of course the all-time classic “Airplane”.
We’ll be surfing through the channels and when we spot one of his comic classics playing, we’ll stop and wait … because we know it won’t be long before one of his hilarious quips will come along and we can’t help ourselves … we’ll laugh at it all over again.
“Can you fly this plane?”
“Surely, you can’t be serious!”
“I AM serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”