Today is the birthday of Harry Einstein, a.k.a Harry Parke, a.k.a Parkyakarkus (1904-1958). Einstein got his start on Eddie Cantor’s radio show, playing a comical Greek. He appeared in a dozen films between 1936 and 1945, starting with Cantor’s Strike Me Pink.
While appearing in New Faces of 1937 he met nightclub performer and contract player Thelma Leeds; the pair married that year. Two of their sons became comedians whose fame would eclipse their dad’s: Bob Einstein (“Super Dave Osborne”) (1942-2010) and Albert Einstein (b.1947), the latter of whom very wisely changed his name to Albert Brooks. A third son of the marriage, Cliff Einstein (b.1939) became a powerful advertising executive and art collector who dabbled in performing; and a son from a previous marriage Charles Einstein (1926-2007) was an author, journalist, and sportswriter with a modest footprint in show business himself: two of his novels were adapted into films; he wrote an episode Lou Grant; and he narrated a documentary about Willie Mays. Of his four successful sons, Charles would prove to be the only one whose reflected glory Harry would live to bask in.
By the late 40s, ill health caused Einstein to slow down, and good financial investments he had made enabled him to do so. Occasionally he would emerge from retirement to perform at Friar’s Club roasts. It was while performing at one of these (a roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) that he died of a heart attack in 1958. He literally collapsed onto Milton Berle.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consultNo Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, for more on comedy film please refer t Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,