Wednesday, December 23, 2009

First Gene, Now Connie and Arnold

This is turning out to be a bad month for the celebrities of my youth.

About two weeks ago, Gene Barry died. And within the last few days I’ve learned that two other performers have gone on to that big rerun in the sky….

Although she did a “Perry Mason” episode that I remember, I mostly associate Connie Hines with “Mr. Ed,” where she very attractively played straight to Alan Young (still alive), who, in turn, played straight to a horse. Kind of a menagerie-a-trois, I guess you’d say.

(Quick: What was Mr. Ed’s real name? Bamboo Harvester. I’ll bet that was your first guess, right? Sorry to say, though, that Ed – or Bamboo – crossed the final finish line some years ago.)….

My first memory of Arnold Stang is from his days as a pitchman for Chunky chocolate bars. “Chunky! What a chunk o’ chocolate!” he was wont to say.

Stang had been in show business long before television, in radio and movies. In movie cartoons he played Herman the mouse and Popeye’s friend Shorty. In the 1960s he was also the voice of Top Cat – something that impressed me at the time (I was easily impressed way back when) because Top Cat’s silky-smooth voice was so different from the goofy voice Stang usually used. It took me some time to figure out that Top Cat was an homage to Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko, the word “homage” being derived from a Middle French term, “le ripoff.”

Then again, the first time I saw the original famed 39 episodes of “The Honeymooners,” the plots seemed tired until I realized I’d seen them before on “The Flintstones.”

(It sometimes takes me a long time to figure out stuff like this. Lately I’ve been hearing that professional wrestling is fixed. Have to look into that one of these days.)

Gene, Connie and Arnold. I’m sorry to see them go, partly because they were fine performers and seemed like nice people, and partly because when people like them leave, parts of my youth go with them as the fabled past recedes – along with my hairline. (Oh, where are the follicles of yesteryear?)

Clarification: Mark Evanier, whose blog, "News From Me," is indispensable (see blogroll) says that although Shorty was featured in three Popeye cartoons, Arnold Stang's voice was featured in only one of them, "Moving Aweigh." In the other cartoons, Shorty was played by Jack Mercer, who also did Popeye's voice most of the time.

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