Saturday, October 09, 2010
U.K. LOSES WISDOM : Norman Wisdom, 95 "Don't Laugh At Me"
Some British comedy and music travels well. Not all. Norman Wisdom was such a big star in the U.K. he was knighted. In America he's not so well remembered. He had his chance in the mid-60's, when anything British was eagerly brought to Broadway and the Ed Sullivan Show, from Flanders & Swann to Morecambe and Wise. And so it was that Norman Wisdom scored a modest hit with the musical "Walking Happy," and it led to a logical role in the nostalgia-based 'Night They Raided Minsky's" in 1968. But "the little man" had been a U.K. favorite for nearly 20 years before that movie, and he'd be a favorite, and still performing in England, for about 40 years after it.
So ask any Brit about Norman Wisdom, and you'll get many more paragraphs than he gets here…an appreciation of his TV shows and his classic films…including "Just My Luck" (1957), "A Square Peg" (1958) and "A Stitch in Time" (1963) the latter featuring the always reliable British staple, "the bloke in drag." Perhaps another factor in Wisdom's lack of interest in America was that we had our own variations on "the little man," including perky Red Buttons (a big star for a few years on 50's TV). Also, America's post-Chaplin tastes tended to be toward brasher comedy heroes, such as Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and Red Skelton, all movie contemporaries of Norman Wisdom in the 50's. Later, our "everyman" was Jack Lemmon. If we needed an asshole, we had Jerry Lewis.
Wisdom (February 4 1915 – October 4, 2010) was lucky to have such a remarkably long life and career. He announced his retirement at 90, recognizing the fog of old age creeping over him. He did come out of his daze and have enough good days to do interviews and even some cameo roles in films. Having been knighted, he was far from forgotten among fans of British comedy. Sadly, when you live a long enough time in a country that has rampant inflation and high taxes, your nest egg can get fried. And so toward the end the question was whether Norman's bank account would be tapped out before the man himself. Not too funny to think of all the ordinary citizens in their 80's and 90's who are wishing they were blooming well dead.
Your download to remember Sir Norman by? Well, no easy joke about the title of the song, which is "Don't Make Me Laugh," because when he was on, he could make anyone laugh. Don't expect to chuckle…the song is similar to the moment when Danny Kaye would get serious in a musical…and it anticipates the overdone "What Kind of Fool Am I" style of Anthony Newley. Norman himself might prefer a comparison to Charlie Chaplin's self-penned bit of sentiment, "Smile."
The song can be found on the budget 3-CD compilation "The Best of British Comedy," (even if the cut isn't comedy at all). The compilation is a decent initiation for those who are curious about other "U.K. only" names such as Clive Dunn, Al Read, Alfie Bass, Roy Hudd and Dick Emery…as well as the ones most any comedy fan should know, including Benny Hill, Spike Milligan, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Sellers and the aforementioned teams of Morecambe and Wise and Flanders and Swann.
NORMAN WISDOM - Don't Laugh at Me