There is a reason that The Andy Griffith Show, of the 1960s, remains in the list of Top Ten Classic TV Shows of All Time.
Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith), his son Opie (Ron Howard), Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and a host of others from Mayberry, North Carolina provided great life lessons with both humor and sometimes drama.
One notable episode focused in on the importance of parenting when outside influences come in to disrupt. It’s a wonderful lesson even today.
The episode, “Opies Hobo Friend,” aired on November 13, 1961:
🔹Deputy Barney remains determined to round up what he is convinced is a Chicago gang on the lam.
🔹A life lesson appears in learning how to tell good from bad.
🔹Andy makes certain that Opie learns that lesson.
🔹Earl Hagen’s evocative theme played on harmonica that captures the slowed-paced and seemingly innocence of small-town America just when the post-war 50s were giving way to the New Frontier of the 60s.
🔹Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz” 1939 movie, before he became ill from the silver body paint), played the guest star role as hobo David Browne. He is dressed just a shade better here than he is when “The Beverly Hillbillies” television program starts its run the following year.
Deputy Barney tells his boss, “Oh, Andy, everything’s breakin’ loose. First, Mrs. Tillman has an apple pie stolen from her window. Now, Jess Crawford just reported a chicken thief. It’s a regular reign of terror!”
David Browne, a hobo, appears in Mayberry and befriends Opie. It becomes obvious that Andy must put away the welcome mat when the likable drifter starts putting Artful Dodger-ish notions into Opie’s head.
David Browne: You know, I’ve grown awful fond of that young fellow. What’s wrong?
Andy Taylor: Well, there seems to be something wrong with his thinkin’. He’s gotten a little twisted on things lately, like bein’ able to tell the difference between right and wrong.
David Browne: Oh.
Andy Taylor: Not that that’s an easy thing. A lot of grownups still strugglin’ with that same problem, but ‘specially difficult for a youngster, ’cause things rub off on ’em so easy.
David Browne: Well, Sheriff, maybe I do look at things differently than other people. Is that wrong? I live by my wits. I’m not above bending the law now and then to keep clothes on my back or food in my stomach. I live the kind of life that other people would just love to live if they only had the courage. Who’s to say that the boy would be happier your way or mine? Why not let him decide?
Andy Taylor: Nah, I’m afraid it don’t work that way. You can’t let a young ‘un decide for himself. He’ll grab at the first flashy thing with shiny ribbons on it, then when he finds out there’s a hook in it, it’s too late. The wrong ideas come packaged with so much glitter it’s hard to convince him that other things might be better in the long run, and all a parent can do is say, “Wait. Trust me,” and try to keep temptation away.
Somehow, along the way, we have lost this basic truth. As parents, we must protect our children from harmful indoctrination and propaganda. Too many people are more concerned about being their child’s friend, than in being a parent.
When William Szathmary died on June 15, 2017, in Nashville, Tennessee, millions of fans who knew him, did not know him by his birth name.
Eleven years prior to his death, meeting American comedian Bill Dana was a complete surprise, because I had completely forgotten about the entertainer.
Like many baby boomers growing up in the 1960s, Dana would make America laugh with his signature, “Hello, my name is Jose Jiminez” astronaut routine. It was so popular, another celebrity, a country and western singing star, would adapt his own stage introductions with “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash!”
In 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting Buzz Aldrin, Wally Schirra, Gene Krantz, and other space related notables at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.
Among some of the “celebrities” I talked with were movie and television stars James Drury (The Virginian, Disney’s Toby Tyler), Lana Wood (The Searchers, Peyton Place, Diamonds Are Forever) Clint Howard (Gentle Ben, Apollo 13), and Warren Stevens (Forbidden Planet). It was certainly an unexpected eye opener to spend some time with Bill Dana.
“Okay, José, you’re on your way!”
With those words, radioed to Alan Shepard as he lifted off to become the first American astronaut to fly into space on May 5, 1961, Bill Dana’s role in NASA history was sealed.
Because of his popularity portraying “José Jiménez,” Dana was bestowed the title of being the eighth of the Mercury 7 astronauts.
When he died on that June 15th in 2017, Dana was 92.
“He’ll be missed not only by the astronaut family, but many more around the world,” said Tammy Sudler, president and CEO of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. “Bill Dana was lovingly known as our honorary Mercury 8 astronaut.”
First created in 1959 for “The Steve Allen Show” and later appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” José Jiménez held several positions, including an elevator operator, a bobsled racer, a Navy submariner and a lion tamer, but it was as the shiny-spacesuited, reluctant astronaut that the Bolivian character became famous (Dana was of Hungarian-Jewish ancestry in reality).
“What do you consider the most important thing in rocket travel?” asked Ed Sullivan, playing the straight man during one of Dana’s better-known skits.
“To me the most important thing in the rocket travel is the blast-off,” said Dana.
“The blast-off…” repeated Sullivan.
“I always take a blast before I take off. Otherwise, I would not go near that thing,” Dana quipped as Jiménez.
Dana’s José Jiménez routine was later released on record albums, rising to the Top 20 on the Billboard charts, which drew the attention of the real-life Mercury astronauts.
“The astronauts, especially Shepard, absolutely loved the record, and listened to it in the office after intense training sessions,” author Neal Thompson described in “Light This Candle” (Crown, 2004), his biography of the first astronaut. “Shepard even tape recorded the album and during lulls between training exercises or during test launches at the Cape would play the tapes at full volume near the Mission Control loudspeakers.”
The astronaut and comedian first met at a Cocoa Beach night club, where Shepard — from out in the audience and without the prior knowledge of Dana — took on the role of the straight man, setting up Jiménez’s replies. Soon, fellow astronauts Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton joined in.
“The club was roaring as the three astronauts took turns,” wrote Thompson. After the show, Dana hurried to a phone to call his producer in New York.
“‘They know us. They know every word. And they love us,” exclaimed Dana, as described by Thompson.
Shepard and the other astronauts’ fondness for Dana and his character led to José Jiménez becoming the unofficial mascot of the Mercury program.
In addition to inspiring the 1961 launch call between Slayton (in the blockhouse) and Shepard (on top of a Redstone rocket), Dana performed at President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball with Shepard in attendance.
The comedian also inspired a “gotcha” – a practical joke – that Shepard arranged in secret for John Glenn to discover once aboard his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. Opening up a pouch while in orbit, Glenn was surprised by a small stuffed mouse floating free, a reference to the “leetle mice” Jiménez would cite as fellow test subjects in his routine.
Sammy Davis, Jr. Meets Archie Bunker
One of the most celebrated televised episodes of the classic and controversial All in the Family aired in 1972. It’s the tale about the time entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. stopped by to visit the Bunkers.
It begins with a briefcase he left in Archie’s cab and ends with the kiss of infamy. Very few people are aware that the writer of this episode was Bill Dana.
🔹Born William Szathmary in Quincy, Massachusetts on Oct. 5, 1924, Dana served as a gunner and mortarman in the U.S. Army during World War II.
🔹He began his career in comedy as a page and a writer for other comedians’ stand-up routines.
🔹Dana was also a screenwriter for television and movies, writing the Emmy-Award-winning “All in the Family” episode, “Sammy Davis Visits Archie Bunker” (1972), penning jokes for the “Donny and Marie” show (1977-1978), and co-writing the script for the “Get Smart” film “The Nude Bomb” (1980).
Dana also showed up as José Jiménez in a number of TV cameos, including as part of a 1966 episode of “Batman,” appearing alongside the late Adam West and Burt Ward.
The first long term contract ever given to a Black actor in Hollywood was written for Fred Morrison.
Frederic Ernest “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, born in New Orleans started out in films called the Baby Marie Osbourne series. He earned his “Sunshine Sammy” nickname for his big smile and easygoing personality.
Producer Hal Roach had originally planned on giving him his own series, but “The Sunshine Sammy Series” failed after a few attempts. Hal and his wife brainstormed the idea of expanding it, not on just one character, but to a band of “Rascals.”
Mrs. Roach, very impressed with Morrison, suggested that her husband should get the 7-year-old under their studio contract. With the addition of more children, the “Our Gang” series was born. Sunshine Sammy Morrison ended up working in the aerospace industry and died of cancer when he was 76.
When Roach first started making the shorts way back in 1921, the “Our Gang” the short films were shown in theaters prior to the main picture. When they eventually made the jump to television, the series became “The Little Rascals.”
After the 23 years of “The Little Rascals” run came to an end, 220 films had been made. Reruns ensured generations of fans would continue to enjoy the series.
PETEY THE CIRCLE EYED DOG
Who remembers Petey, the adorable dog with the black circle under his eye?
He was portrayed by a pit bull named Pal who had the naturally-occurring marking—accented with makeup to complete the ring.
Pal was introduced into the series as just a 6-month-old pup. He became a massive star and the beloved family pet of trainer Harry Lucenay. Tragically, in 1930, Pal passed away after being poisoned.
“The Little Rascals” was still going strong, and the gang needed their Petey. Pal’s own son, Peter, stepped in as the new “Perry.” Makeup artists drew the distinctive circle around Peter’s opposite eye, in tribute to his much-loved father.
Carl Switzer spent five years portraying the very popular role of “Alfalfa” in 75 films. When he became to old for the part, his intention in 1940 was to continue his career in show business. Often uncredited, Switzer appeared in small parts in nearly sixty films, including My Favorite Blonde (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), Going My Way (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), State of the Union (1948), Pat and Mike (1952). Switzer even played a slave in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).
In early 1959, Switzer was breeding and training hunting dogs. He was hired to train the hunting dog of a man named Moses Stiltz. While training the dog, it took off. Desperate, Switzer offered a reward.
The dog was returned, Switzer ended up paying up, then decided to go to Stiltz to try to get his reward money back. The two men got into a fight, and Switzer was shot in the groin. He died when he arrived at the hospital.
JACKIE COOPER, A TOUGH RASCAL
Jackie Cooper passed away in 2011 and the world mourned the loss of the Superman film’s Perry White. Older fans knew Cooper had been one of “The Little Rascals.”
Director Norman Taurog, told the young actor that he would shoot his dog if he didn’t cry on command during the filming for a 1931 film.
In “Our Gang,” Cooper was called “the little tough guy,” and unlike many of the kids who came and went through the “Rascals” roster, Cooper stayed in show business. (Which wasn’t entirely surprising, as his father was a studio production manager, and his uncle was the director that threatened to shoot his dog. He’s pictured signing his contract with MGM.)
OTHER NOTABLE RASCALS
🔹Norman “Chubby” Chaney died of a heart condition when he was 21.
🔹Billy “Froggy” Laughlin was riding a scooter when he was hit by a car and killed.
🔹Alfalfa’s brother, Harold “Slim” Switzer, took his own life at the age of 42.
Hours before he was found dead, Bob Saget released this last selfie:
When Saget arrived back in front of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, he handed his rental car keys over and posed for a selfie with valet worker Orlando Nunez, 21.
Orange County, Florida police investigators don’t believe the late comedian’s head injuries were caused by slipping in the shower of his $800 a night hotel room that night.
On Tuesday, March 22, 2022 photos from a forensic investigation at Saget’s Ritz-Carlton suite #962 were released. Police were looking for evidence of a blow from a hard surface or corner that would have likely broken the skin and left a more distinctive injury.
Although no such tissue or matter was found, the final police report suggests Saget, 65, died from a strike on the head on the floor, bed headboard or some other hard surface in the early hours of January 9.
“Our purpose was to locate specific places or items in the room that could have caused the trauma found on autopsy,” the final investigation report stated. “The countertops, tables, nightstands, and other hard furniture in the room all had sharply defined edges and corners and were thought to be unlikely due to the fact that they would have lacerated the skin.”
Saget’s night stand showing his iPhone, iPad, glasses, AirPods, Chapstick and more are shown.
Only one cup appears to have been used in the barely touched mini-bar.
Saget had driven himself back from a stand-up performance two hours away in Jacksonville before handing over the keys to his Chevrolet Impala and walking into the Ritz-Carlton at 2:13am.
“The counters in the bathroom and the shower stall were ruled out for the same reason,” the investigation report continued. “Most of the chairs and couches were thickly upholstered and were too soft to have caused the type and extent of injury Mr. Saget suffered. As mentioned earlier, most of the suite was carpeted. The headboard of the bed was lightly padded and set slightly out from the wall.”
Shower inside Bob Saget’s Florida hotel suite is pictured in crime scene photos taken immediately after his death.
The door to room 962 was latched from the inside and there was no sign of struggle, nothing was damaged and no trace of blood on his sheets or bedding, the report indicated.
“These are listed here as possible mechanisms of injury, but nothing was located in the room that allows for a definitive conclusion,” the report said.
Police saw, via CCTV security camera, Saget walking “purposely across the lobby” before entering his room at 2:17am. When he failed to check out later that day security entered his suite at 3:53pm and found Saget slumped dead in his bed with swelling and small bruises in the corner of his left eye.
The internal door to the adjoining room, 961, was found unlocked but staff established that nobody had been inside it while Saget was there.
The hotel parking valet said he “didn’t see any injuries, he didn’t seem hurt, he wasn’t slurring his words – he was exactly as I remembered while watching him on the TV as a child. I was in awe.’
Nunez and Saget chatted warmly for several minutes about the pandemic, their families and their home state of California before they huddled for a photo on his cell phone.
“He said he’d just driven back from Jacksonville but he didn’t seem tired at all, it was like he had just stepped off stage,” Nunez recalled.
“We talked about Covid and he made a joke about how there are so many strains now they are giving them sorority names,” he continued. “If anything I was very cautious about the picture as I wanted to be polite and respectful. But he said get in here, c’mon.”
“I’ve met a few celebrities who barely say a word but Bob was the most genuine, approachable guy. When I heard what had happened the next day I was devastated.”
Saget’s death stunned his fans and concerned his distraught wife Kelly Rizzo who indicated her husband was the happiest he had ever been and was in great health.
Experts also ruled out drugs or alcohol as the cause, attributing the beloved funnyman’s death to ‘blunt force injuries to the head’ including various abrasions to the scalp and fractures to the base of the skull.
Saget was on the road for his ‘I Don’t Do Negative Comedy Tour’ tour when he died.
By 1940, the Three Stooges were at their peak when they starred in the comedy short You Nazty Spy! It was a hilarious hit piece as Moe, Larry and Curly openly lampooned Adolph Hitler.
The Nazi dictator was so outraged by the short that he officially listed Moe Howard, Jerry “Curly” Howard and Larry Fine as “favored casualties” on his personal “death list.”
The Three Stooges began as part of a vaudeville troupe known as “Ted Healy and His Stooges” in 1922. Howard brothers Moe and Shemp, along with violinist Larry were the original cast.
When the Stooges were offered a studio contract by 20th Century Fox in 1930, it was without troupe leader Healy. Healy took offense to this and saw to it that Fox withdrew the offer, claiming that the Stooges were his employees and couldn’t leave him.
With Ted Healy exerting full control over the Stooges in these early years, the trio found its professional life to be difficult. Healy was harsh and irritating. Although he had made Moe the trio’s business manager, for Shemp the fun was gone. Shemp left the Stooges to make comedy films in Brooklyn.
Curly, Moe’s younger brother, was recruited to replace Shemp. In reality, Curly was a quiet man who kept a low profile in public and preferred the company of dogs to people. He only acted as he did on screen when he was with the other Stooges and preferred to keep a low profile.
Healy’s tyranny grew and was becoming more unbearable to be around as he began drinking heavily. A huge rift grew between him and the Stooges until 1937.
On the night his son was born, the quick tempered Healy drove to Sunset Strip to celebrate. He died mysteriously that evening, allegedly of a heart attack at age 41. Bruising on his face, coupled with reports of him starting a fight soon surfaced and coupled with his aggressive nature keep the idea of him being killed lingering to this day.
The Stooges were soon signed by Columbia Pictures with a heavy requirement to produce at least eight short films in a period of 40 weeks. Their hard work paid off and they became immensely popular with audiences who lapped up the trio’s hilarious antics. However, the trio were purposely being kept in the dark about their fame by Columbia president Harry Cohn, who saw them as a cheap commodity with enormous market potential.
Cohn kept an open option placed in their contracts so that every year they would have to re-sign. This tactic caused the Stooges to believe they were unpopular with audiences, and thus Cohn could fire them at will.
On top of Cohn’s open contract, the Stooges were not paid as much as their box-office draw suggested. When they first signed the contract with Columbia, they earned $1,000 a week. This was good money in the 1930s, equivalent to over $16,000 in 2022. They quickly realized that they were being treated as one single performer, which meant they had to split that $1,000 between them.
It wasn’t until 1934, that the Three Stooges became Oscar nominees for their film Men in Black, which was a spoof of the Clark Gable/Myrna Loy film Men in White (1934). This was the the Stooges only nomination ever, but two good things came about:
🔹It brought heightened respect and absolutely shut their critics up at the time.
🔹Their earning, divided by three, grew to $7500 per week (2022 value is over $121,500 each week).
The Stooges were recognized for their hilariously dangerous stunts in their films. Usually these were faked for the camera, but sometimes they weren’t. In a scene when a character acted as a human dartboard, Larry got a fountain pen lodged in the back of his head. In another gag Curly had to get stitches in his forehead, and within hours he was back on set wearing a wig that covered the bruising.
While filming Three Little Pigskins (1934), the Stooges drew a line in the sand. They were supposed to be stampeded by a group of professional football players, but they stood their ground and refused. Stunt doubles were called for the scene and they ended up getting seriously injured, suffering cracked ribs and broken bones.
A common skit seen in The Three Stooges films was a manic Curly running around in circles. In later scripts this was written in on purpose because audiences thought it was hilarious. But it actually began as complete improvisation for whenever Curly forgot his lines.
The Stooges used many physical idiosyncrasies for the sake of comedy. But one of these was not faked; it was caused by a childhood accident.
Curly’s limp was a hilarious antic of his character’s appeal and he worked to make it more comical in their Shorts and Live acts. The limp was actually natural, a result of having shot himself in the ankle when he was cleaning a rifle as a child.
Jerome “Jerry” Horowitz originally shaved his head to secure the part of Curly after his older brother Moe told him a studio executive didn’t believe he looked like a person that could make people laugh. He actually had a thick mop of hair and a handlebar mustache, but shaved it all off. Although successfully funny, the shaved head embarrassed him because he felt women didn’t find him attractive. He would take to wearing hats often to cover up his bald head. This anxiety led him to drink and eat excessively when touring, and by the mid 1940s his weight was causing him serious health problems.
Moe noticed it was becoming more difficult for his little brother to perform in their films. Curly’s career came to a screeching halt in 1946 when he suffered a stroke. He was able to appear briefly in one last Stooges film as a train passenger before suffering a second stroke and spending his final years in a wheelchair. Jerry “Curly” Howard was the first of the Stooges to die, at just 48.
Moe truly was the brains for The Three Stooges and their films were always popular with audiences. To Hollywood, they were seen as B-movie pictures in the industry. Because of this, they were often forced to cut corners and work on sets that had previously been used by other films.
It wasn’t merely sets that they borrowed, but also props and entire wardrobes left over from other productions.
Being the business manager of the team, Moe was also the most money conscious of the brothers. He felt responsible for making sure the small budgets on the films made good use of their limited resources and props. Though there were many pie-throwing scenes in the films, there were not actually that many pies available on set, so Moe felt it was important to always hit his target. He developed a way of throwing the pies; he could tell by the weight of the pie how far it could travel and how likely it was to hit some unlucky person in the face.
Moe’s head was one of the most instantly recognizable of the trio’s due to its bowl-cut style. Ironically, it was Moe who had curly hair as a child, as his mother had wanted a daughter and decided to grow her son’s hair out. A nasty dose of school bullying caused Moe to cut his hair by himself, and he kept the bowl cut for the rest of his life.
Larry Fine, the most musically inclined of the three, had unique violin-playing skills. This came about when he was very young. Larry’s father was a jewelry maker and used acid to etch his jewelry. Larry tried to drink the acid one day, and his father knocked it out of his hand. Some of the acid landed on Larry’s arm, corroding its skin and muscle. To help strengthen the damaged muscles in his son’s arm, his father sent him to violin lessons, which seemed to help restore some of the damage.
As a man, Larry absolutely loved dancing. He would dance at any opportunity and was often found at the Triangle Ballroom in Brooklyn. Often, he would be late for filming and rehearsal because he was overcoming the effects of his many nights out at dance halls. In his retirement, when he was confined to a wheelchair, he would attempt to dance even though he was mostly paralyzed.
After Curly’s first stroke, Samuel “Shemp” Horowitz rejoined the Stooges. For the films made in this era, Shemp found that directors and movie executives wanted him to play a similar role to the one played by Curly before he had left. Audiences had reacted to Curly the best, but Shemp didn’t want to mimic his brother’s style. When he did try, critics and audiences found his performance to be lackluster.
On November 22, 1955, Shemp was coming home after attending a boxing fight. He had told a joke and lit a cigar when he hunched over to Al Winston and burned his friend. He died of a heart attack. Having just completed four out of eight scheduled films, producer Jules White used stand-ins footage of them that was cut alongside pre-existing footage of Shemp to give the impression that he had completed these films.
In the years since, body doubles used to replicate an actor who has passed away has come to be known as a “fake Shemps.” Some examples include using Fake Shemps for Natalie Wood, Bela Lugosi, Bruce Lee and John Candy after their deaths during productions of Plan 9 From Outer Space, Brainstorm, The Game of Death, and Wagons East, respectively.
The 1950s were an usual time for the Stooges. On a personal level, Moe and Larry were dealing with the deaths of Curly Howard and Shemp Howard. However, professionally the act was experiencing a new rush of popularity thanks to their shorts airing on television. By 1959, all 190 Stooge shorts were airing regularly on television.
When Joe DeRita replaced the late Shemp in the mid-1950s, he wore his hair in a style similar to Shemp. Because of the awesome popularity of the group’s shorts on television, DeRita was asked first to buzz his hair, then totally shave his head in an attempt to resemble Curly Howard. He was dubbed “Curly-Joe.”
The Three Stooges remained active throughout the 1960s, appearing in full length feature films such as:
🔹Have Rocket Will Travel
🔹It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World
🔹The Outlaws Is Coming
🔹Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze
🔹The Three Stooges Meet Hercules
🔹Snow White and The Three Stooges
🔹The Three Stooges in Orbit
They filmed the pilot of a potential travelogue/comedy hybrid show known as Kook’s Tour. The series would’ve followed the “retired” Stooges to various real locations around the world. However, tragedy struck during production…
Their syndicated shorts continued on television, and they had a successful live tour. By the end of the decade, age had begun to catch up with them, making their traditional brand of slapstick stunts untenable.
They began filming a pilot program for television to be called Kook’s Tour in 1969. Before completion, Larry Fine suffered a massive stroke, paralyzing him. Fine would spend the next five years in a wheelchair. After several more strokes in late 1974, he died in January of 1975.
In 1974, the Stooges, with Moe, Curly-Joe, and the yet-to-debut Emil Sitka, were scheduled to star in the film Blazing Stewardesses. The casting was announced, and publicity photos were taken. Just prior to production, Moe Howard was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to disband the Stooges. He passed away in March of the following year.
Awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1983, The Three Stooges continue to live on in the numerous remakes, re-releases and animated adventures that have been released over time.
The bizzare and original comic-magician Amazing Johnathan died at his home in Las Vegas on Tuesday, 2-22-22.
Johnathan (AJ) whose legal name was Johnathan Szeles, passed away about 11:30 p.m. with his wife, the sideshow stunt artist Anastasia Synn, by his side.
Although I enjoyed his performances four times over the years at the Golden Nugget and Sahara, it was after a show at the Koval Theater at Miracle Mile Shops in 2007, I was able to interview him and meet his then sidekick, the kooky Psychic Tanya, Penny Wiggins.
“These shows take the breath out of me,” AJ, obviously tired, wisecracked as he apologized for cutting my time short “Maybe I will need to renegotiate my contract to have more time off.”
Little did he know at the time a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy was in his future. First diagnosed in 2009, as his heart muscle weakened and became more degenerative, doctors told AJ that he only had a year to live. In November 2014, he told an audience at an ENTSpeaks event at Inspire Theater in downtown Las Vegas the sobering news.
He stunned the crowd by stating, “The greatest time of my life was spent here. I made millions of dollars, I have two beautiful houses, and everything came crashing … down. And I was told I have a year to live.”
A single laugh came from the crowd, and A.J. said, “It’s not a joke…So. Um … I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry, but, it’s very scary,” his voice quivered. “My heart is failing. My wife says it failed long ago. But it is actually failing, for real.”
“The last thing I said to him was, ‘I love you, honey, I’ll be with you when you get up from your nap,’ ” his wife Anastasia Synn said almost midnight Tuesday night. “We were feeding him oranges and strawberries. He was so peaceful. He said, ‘Yay!’ He had the most pure and sweetest look on his face.”
Johnathan did not wake up from that nap.
“For the next 36 hours, he was unresponsive,” Synn said. “We spent that time snuggling with him.”
The Las Vegas Journal-Review reported “Synn, Magic Castle official and longtime family friend Erika Larsen, and caregiver Stephanie Castellone of the BurlyCares nonprofit medical assistance organization, were with him at the end. Castellone is herself a performance artist, a contortionist, and was in A.J. and Synn’s wedding in June 2014.”
“I did my best to keep his medicine in his system, clean his foot wounds, do everything a nurse would do and I’m not a nurse. But I loved him so much,” Synn said. “He wanted to pass at home. For the past six months I was begging him to go the hospital, but he absolutely hated going there.”
Born in Detroit on Sept. 9, 1958, Johnathan act was in line with my wicked sense of humor. Before many of his shows a camera would focus on audience members projecting putdowns, bizzare accusations and sick captions. These were definitely adults only performances.
AJ was hands on, inviting unsuspecting members of the audience on stage for saucy humor. If an innocent onlooker was reluctant, he would often go into the audience for a one-on-one routine. I’ve seen him appear to magically swallow his eyeball, skewer his tongue with a spike and take a swig of Windex.
Since the mid-1980s, AJ appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman” and Fox’s “Comic Strip Live.” He was extremely popular on Comedy Central and hosted his own variety specials.
In January 2016, he reunited for a final time with Wiggins, who played Psychic Tanya for more than 15 years, to host a midnight variety performance at Baobab Stage at Town Square.
At the top of the show, Wiggins greeted A.J. with a line he’d actually written, “Weren’t you supposed to be dead two years ago?”
Wiggins, an outstanding comic actress in her own right, cried late Tuesday remembering Johnathan as “the nicest man and one of the funniest people I knew.”
Mac King, currently performing at Excalibur and currently the longest-running headliner on the Strip, posted, “So sad to lose my friend Johnathan, absolutely one of the funniest guys in the world. Thanksgiving will never be the same.” A.J. was a frequent guest at King’s holiday party.
Johnathan is survived by his sisters, Nancy Rogers and Gail McGuire, and his first wife, Sandra Bowing. A.J. had been saddened over the recent death of his mother, Doreen Szeles.
“He was so loved,” his wife said. “I want him to have the biggest celebration, with everyone who loved him tell the stories of the pranks he played on people. There was nobody else like him.”
In late 1960s, before cable television had been invented and there were only three networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS), Tommy and Dick Smothers challenged those who tried to tame their wildly popular show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Their show premiered on CBS in 1967 and was cancelled suddenly in 1969. Because the show reflected the counter culture and the anti-war movement, there were frequent battles with network censors.
🔹The Smothers Brothers had quite the following and by 1967, Tom was an occasional onstage presenter, at the Monterey International Pop Festival, scouting such breakthrough acts as the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Ravi Shankar.
🔹In 1968, Tom was an early champion of the Broadway show Hair, and instrumental in bringing the show to the West Coast.
🔹In 1969, Tom could be found at the bedside of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, playing guitar and singing with Lennon as a group of friends recorded the classic anthem “Give Peace a Chance.”
Most families had just one television and they watched it together. Tom and Dick Smothers used their show as a platform to young writers, like Steve Martin and Rob Reiner, new bands like The Who and Jefferson Airplane, and performers who opposed the war in Vietnam, like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.
They had Kate Smith and Simon and Garfunkel on the same show. They had Mickey Rooney and The Who on the same show and appealed to both, you know, generations. But they were known for giving network censors fits.
“And so they would put in things that really meant nothing and instruct the crew and the writers and everybody around to laugh, like, dirty, sniggering little laughs,” explained TV critic, David Bianculli, author of book about the Smothers Brothers, called Dangerously Funny. “And so the censors would say well, you can’t say ‘rowing to Galveston.’ And they’d say, well, why not? Well, you just can’t say it. So they would drive them crazy just for the fun of it, too.”
In 1964, the Beatles made history with their first American appearance on Ed Sullivan, CBS, Sunday night. It made the Beatles, the whole British Invasion and changed society.
Four years later, the Beatles have stopped touring. They’re still the biggest thing in the world, and they’ve made this new thing called videos – of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution,” – and so for the United States premiere, instead of giving them to Ed Sullivan, Sunday night at eight, they gave them to the Smothers Brothers, Sunday night at nine. Attitudinally, the Beatles wanted to side with their generation. They wanted to be where the Smothers Brothers were in society.
At the beginning of an episode, George Harrison walks on stage unbilled–a Beatle, just to show up on the Smothers Brothers.
Looking a bit startled, Tommy Smothers asks, “Do you have something important?”
“Something very important to say on American television,” Harrison replied.
“You know, we don’t, we – a lot of times, we don’t opportunity of saying anything important because it’s American television, and every time you say something…”
The surprised audience roared with laughter and applause.
“…and try to say something important, they…”
“Well, whether you can say it or not, keep trying to say it,” Harrison encouraged.
Thomas Bolyn Smothers III was born February 2, 1937 at Fort Jay Army Hospital on Governor’s Island in New York City. His brother Dick would be born over a year later.
They were the sons of Ruth (née Remick), a homemaker; and Major Thomas B. Smothers, an army officer who died a Prisoner of War in April 1945.
After moving to California, he graduated from Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. Tom was a competitive unicyclist, a state champion gymnast in the parallel bars and at San José State University, participated both in gymnastics and pole vault for the track team.
The Smothers Brothers initially set out to be folk musicians. Tom did not feel that he was good enough to be a professional musician, but he was funny enough to do comedy. The two began adding comedy bits to their act.
It was a series of performances when we started out as a duet in Aspen. I did all the introductions. I’d just make up stuff for every song. And Dickie said, “Why don’t you try repeating some of that stuff?” I said, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know that you could repeat the stuff. And I started repeating it and Dickie would say, “That’s wrong.” And pretty soon he’d say, “That’s wrong, you’re stupid.” It sort of became an argument.
Tom’s first foray into the medium of television was as a regular on The Steve Allen Show in 1961. He followed that role with a single episode of Burke’s Law.
The brothers next appeared on the CBS sitcom The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965 to 1966. Tom felt that the show did not play to the brothers’ strengths and gained creative control over their next venture: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
“The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen,” said Tom.
The brothers’ oppositional politics led to their show’s demise, with David Steinberg later observing that “The most innovative variety show on television shut down because of political pressure”.
After television, “Yo-Yo Man” became part of their touring shows with Tom’s mostly non-speaking character performing of tricks using a yo-yo. The term “Yo-Yo Man” is registered in his name. In their 2008 tour, Yo-Yo Man was listed as the group’s opening act.
In 2008, during the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, Tom was awarded a special Emmy.
Tommy Smothers is now the owner of Remick Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, with his wife Marcy Carriker and two children, Bo (born 1991), and Riley Rose (born 1996). He also has a son, Thomas Bolyn Smothers IV (Tom Jr.), from his first marriage, and one grandson, Phoenix Parrish-Smothers.
The most I ever laughed in a cemetery was in December 2011. I remember it well because a few days later my father died.
The eccentric oddball that I am, on a Disneyland vacation with my two youngest sons, Jack and Brady, I took them to Hollywood first. Talk about weirdos, they were all out on the Hollywood Walk of Fame between Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Wax Museum.
Batman, The Flash, a John Wayne Gacy Clown, a Dracula, and a Pokemon character I’d never heard of, were hustling to pose for cameras and pandering for dollars.
Then we went by the Westwood Mann Theater where in 2007, I interviewed Justin Timberlake, Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Julie Andrews, Tippi Hedron, Antonio Banderas, Selena Gomez, and others at the red carpet premiere of the Shrek the Third movie.
After a bite nearby, I drove us to one of my favorite LA destinations, the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary.
The intent was to show reverence and respect for entertainment history. I explained who baseball great Joe DiMaggio was and how each week, until he died, had red roses sent to Marilyn Monroe’s resting place.
It was DiMaggio, her ex-husband, who was responsible for Monroe’s funeral arrangements in 1962. He selected Westwood Cemetery because it was the gravesites location of her mother’s friend, Grace Goddard, and Goddard’s aunt, Ana Lower, both of whom had cared for Monroe as a child.
Near her crypt was Dean Martin’s, who I vividly recalled seeing perform at the Las Vegas MGM (now Ballys) Hotel Celebrity Theater in 1986.
One of the primary reasons I want to visit this cemetery is to pay respects to one of my favorite singers Roy Orbison. On this occasion I was upset because after 23 years since his death, there was still not a headstone. Because there was none before, I made a note to identify his site beforehand. Beside his grave was a newly buried site that I found out later was his wife Barbara Orbison, who passed away just two weeks before. I wonder if there’s a tombstone now?
Both sons were unexpectedly intrigued as we walked among the gravesites of television stars like Don Knotts (they knew who he was), Carroll O’Connor, Robert Stack, Bob Crane, Brian Keith, Farrah Fawcett, Sebastian Cabot, Jack Klugman, Merv Griffin, Peter Falk, Eddie Albert, Jonathan Harris and Jim Backus.
Movie stars Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donna Reed, Janet Leigh, Karl Maldin, Eva Gabor and James Coburn.
They were especially curious about the tragic deaths of Natalie Wood, Dorothy Stratten, Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunne, and Victor Kilian.
Music entertainers are Beachboy Carl Wilson, Janis Joplin, Mel Torme, Minnie Riperton, Frank Zappa, Buddy Rich, Peggy Lee, Ray Conniff, and Les Brown.
Notable authors and writers included Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Robert Block, Jackie Collins, Harry Essex, Ariel and Will Durant.
Seeing the marker for comedian Fanny Brice (later, Tim Conway would be laid there) made me smile.
We remained respectful and solemn until we walked by the gravesite of the man born Jacob Cohen, who later legally changed his name to Jack Roy.
The tombstone was etched “RODNEY DANGERFIELD.” The epitaph reads:
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Amongst the peaceful chirping of birds in gently waving trees, amid the serenity and beauty of that well manicured cemetery, I roared with laughter.
Hilariously funny in life, Rodney remains funny after death. Rodney passed away on October 5, 2004 in Los Angeles.
Here are some of Rodney Dangerfield’s memorable one-liners:
🔹My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.
🔹I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.
🔹I looked up my family tree and found three dogs using it.
🔹I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.
🔹When I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up.
🔹I could tell that my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.
🔹My mother had morning sickness after I was born.
🔹What a dog I got, his favorite bone is in my arm.
🔹When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.
🔹My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet.
🔹A bike in town keeps running me over….
….It’s a vicious cycle.
🔹Is a cow that won’t give milk a milk dud…. ….or an udder failure?
🔹I’m so good at sleeping…. ….I can do it with my eyes closed.
🔹I took a video of my shoe yesterday…. ….It has some great footage.
🔹Today at the bank, an old woman asked me to check her balance…. ….so I pushed her over.
🔹My wife says I’m absolutely useless at fixing appliances…. ….Well, she’s in for a shock.
🔹How many lawyers does it take to fill an ambulance?…. ….I don’t know. No-one’s ever tried to save one.
🔹A horse walks into a bar…. ….The bartender says, ”Hey.”…. ….The horse replies, “Sure.”
🔹To improve my sex life I took Viagra and a bit of cannabis….
….I just ended up with stiff joints.
🔹Two guys walk into a bar…. ….The third one ducked
🔹I’ve been watching women’s beach volleyball, and there was a wrist injury…. ….but I should be okay by tomorrow
R.I.P. Rodney Dangerfield. (November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004)