Posted Saturday night, April 8, 2017.
Don Rickles went and died, the hockey puck.
For a long time when I was young, I thought of Rickles as an actor more than as a comedian. This was probably because I got to know him through his guest appearances on the sitcoms I used to watch on days I was home from school. (He was never on Bewitched, but he did show up on many of my favorites and on an episode of The Wild, Wild West.) It was only later, when I was old enough to stay up for The Tonight Show and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts that I learned he had another line of work. But it was a while before I warmed up to that side of Mr Warmth. I still would rather watch him at work acting than insulting. I can't remember for sure, now, but it may be that he'll always be an actor to me because the first thing I saw him in, in which I was aware of him as a real person apart from the character he played and so was able to judge his perormance as a performance, was Kelly's Heroes. I saw it at the drive-in on Cape Cod with the Mannion clan---it was the second feature and all the other kids had fallen asleep. I forced myself to stay awake. Rickles helped make that easy. He played the wheeling and dealing quartermaster sergeant named Crapgame. He was my fourth favorite character. You can guess the first three.
Here are some things to watch in honor of Rickles focusing on his acting and not his stand up. Start with Kelly's Heroes.
Or Casino. Yeah. Scorsese knew.
Then there’s this episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. “4 1/2”. Rickles plays an old friend of Rob and Laura’s name Lyle Delp---“Yeah. Lyle Francis Delp. Wanna make something out of it?”---whom they met under unusual circumstances.
Mel: How did you know he was a hold-up man?”
Rob: He held us up.
CPO Sharkey was a pretty good service comedy. When the full-length version of this picture appeared on TV Guide back in the day, in which you could see the crate the 5'6" Rickles had to stand on to look the 6'7" Peter Isakson as the well-meaning, good-natured, impossible to insult (to Sharkey's frustration) Seaman Pruitt, I showed it to Pop Mannion and said it looked like the two of us---I had passed Pop in height in ninth grade and by this time I'd reached my full height but only had five inches on Pop, 5'11" to his Rickle-esque 5'6". There's nobody with a less irascible demeanor than Rickles' than Pop, but he has his own way of letting you know he thinks you're a hockey puck. He only frowned at the picture for a second and then pointed out matter of factly that he had more hair than Rickles. What I should get the next time we visit the Old Mannion Homestead is a picture of Pop with his 6'3" grandson Ken. I'll ask. If Pop doesn't fix me with a Rickles-esque glare letting me know I'm being a you know what and consents to standing on the crate, I'll post it here.
And of course there are all the Toy Storys. Whoever had the idea to cast Rickles as Mr. Potato Head was inspired.
“I’m a married spud. I’m a married spud.”
But if you're looking for an appreciation of Rickles the person and the comic, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project is a very good documentary.
Oh, I almost forgot.
Rickles and Don Adams were good friends.
You know who else loved Rickles? Bob Newhart. Rickles didn't make any guest appearances on Newhart's first show, although they must have talked about how much fun they'd have if Rickles showed up as one of Bob's patients. I'd have loved to see him as one of Bob's rivals. A psychologist who's the anti-Bob but has great success with his insult therapy. Oh well. He did appear on Newhart, though, in an episode titled, of course, "The Nice Man Cometh."
How do I know this stuff? Rickles must have meant more to me than I realized.
Of course, he did. Dummy!
Kelly's Heroes, Casino, the Toy Story Movies, and Get Smart are available to watch instantly at Amazon. CPO Sharkey is only on DVD. The Dick Van Dyke Show is available on Hulu and Netflix. Mr. Warmth is streaming on Neflix.