Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen and Irving Kershner, RIP. I am serious.

Once upon a time, Leslie Nielsen was famous for starring in what many consider one of the best science fiction epics of all time, the movie Forbidden Planet. He also starred in the famous Poseidon Adventure.

The Canadian lent a gravitas and seriousness to the film's inner reality, for, no less today but especially in those paper machet times, science fiction really needed a straight actor to convey the fantastic reality convincingly.

For three decades, Nielsen pursued such roles, playing authority figures with panache. But by the time I was a boy, he'd parlayed that credibility into a turn in the disaster spoof Airplane!, which literally left me rolling in the floor where I watched it! The doctor's "I AM serious. And don't call me Shirley!" is probably the most quoted comedy line of my generation; heck, even my Mom uses it. "I just want you both to know, we're all counting on you!" was one of the many beautiful touches meant to send up the cliches of the genre it effectively buried. It's so hysterically funny watching him pop into the cockpit repeatedly to say that!

Why the change, though? In his words, from a 1993 Fresh Air NPR interview:
"Today, in my career, I'm doing what I love to do," he said. "And that is, do things for the fun — do comedy. It's a pleasure to go for the laughter."

I thought I was going to die: fortified with a bag of leftover fried chicken wings and legs, I discovered Frank Drebin. Something told me I was into something good!
I was spending the night out at the trailer just off highway 27, over at Shawn Paynter's, as I was fortunate to do after closing time at Po Folks so many times, virtually adopted by his mom and family. We tried a movie called the Naked Gun that had come out some time before. When he hung outside the villain's window by the statue, I was in tears!!! The non-stop Police Squad! silliness, his confrontations with Ricardo Montaban, and his ludicrous love affair with Priscilla Presley's character left me breathless with laughter. "And where the hell WAS I?"

To this day, I stop flipping, just for Leslie's work. How he talked me out of my tumbling career, I'll share some other time. No, not every movie could be Naked Gun-level gold, but you couldn't help being charmed by the gracefully aging actor, and maybe envy him a little that he got to bring so many laughs and call it a job.

Laura Hungerford's comment deserves to be bumped up here: she's written many articles and assembled the most wonderful site I'd like to use, myself. She wrote of this: Wonderful tribute to a comedic legend! We'd love to have you share your amazing memories about Leslie at
So fans, head over there and check it out!
I had to mention that, at the ripe old age of 87, Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner passed away. Did you know he directed the Bond film Never Say Die, as well as Robocop II? I think for lots of people 'Empire' is the most thrilling, satisfying story, due in no small part to his attention to revising the storyline as well as his photographic techniques. It was a hard job, but you have to thank him for doing it. It was so very, very cool. He also passed along a healthy dose of Zen philosophy in the character of Yoda, which may be another reason the 'darker' Star Wars movie is quite possibly its apex. I found one reference to that, here:
Art: ChrissD from this link:

So, good luck to you both. We want you to know, we all counted on you.


Laura said...

Wonderful tribute to a comedic legend! We'd love to have you share your amazing memories about Leslie at

We're all saddened by this loss and want to help keep his memory alive forever on this free friend & family site.

cease ill said...

It would be my honor, Laura. I think personal stories are the best way to pass on the spirit, and I can't imagine my life without his humor.