Saturday, September 19, 2009

GONE: Paul Burke (Naked City) Larry Gelbart (MASH)

Via theme songs, the Illfolks blog pays tribute to Paul Burke (died September 13th) and Larry Gelbart (died September 11th).

Back in the late 50's, if you wanted gritty drama, you either ate crackers in bed against wifey's orders, or you both tuned in to "Naked City." Most of us are just catching up to that show, thanks to the DVDs. For those who actually watched it way back when, the news of Paul Burke's death is more depressing, 'cause you're nearly as old as he was when he died.

Paul was a solid leading man so after Burke's law drama ended, he was soon cast on the war drama "12 O'Clock High." After that, he appeared in a variety of guest star roles until he was put on trial with Harry Connick Jr's father, in some kind of influence-peddling scam. Paul was cleared, but he found that the phone stopped ringing for acting assignments, and soon declared an official retirement. Here's the obscure Mundell Lowe version of the "Naked City" theme, which is on a highly collectible Living Stereo RCA album of TV themes.

As for Larry Gelbart, if only he was like his plays; he could've been easily revived. Aside from helping to adapt MASH for TV and writing so many classic episodes, he was responsible for stage and screen masterworks such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (revived a number of times on Broadway) and "Tootsie."

Even a lesser item, like "Sly Fox" won a fairly recent revival, with the George C. Scott role going to Richard Dreyfuss. I saw it twice, first with Dreyfuss, and then understudy and well known typing error Rene Auberjonois in the lead (and thanks, Rene, for recommending "Zen Palate" for dinner). I was backstage talking with the cast, and they were all proud and delighted to flex their skills at the nice combo of wit and farce that Larry'd put together.

Larry, like most writers (Neil Simon) or writer-actors (Carl Reiner), was laid back, unassuming, with no need to prove he was a comic genius by being constantly on. "Suicide is Painless," the lyric version of the MASH theme, was not used on the TV show, so it's rarity makes it a worthy musical tribute here. Using "Comedy Tonight" from "A Funny Thing..." would've been way too gauche, and you don't want Larry rolling over in his grave.
SUICIDE IS PAINLESS, lyric version. Instant download or listen on line

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