R.I.P. Dick Gautier

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Okay, they’re officially dropping faster than I can pump these out. My normal rule is I only bother with a tribute if I have things to say, but I may have to amend that.

At any rate, I have plenty to say about comic actor Dick Gautier, who passed away yesterday at age 85. (People always want to know how. Who cares how he died? He’s 85, that’s how!) I am precisely the right age to be among what I imagine is the pretty small group of Dick Gautier fans. The primary credit that put him on my radar was of course When Things Were Rotten (1975), the Mel Brooks produced Robin Hood sit com which I blogged about here. Of course, Gautier had worked with Brooks earlier as the robot Hymie in Get Smart, which I watched in re-runs (and need to watch some more, I still have not quite gotten my fill of Get Smart). But mostly where you saw him in the ’70s was in guest shots on other people’s shows. I quite clearly remember him from a 1978 episode of The Love Boat, and he was also on Love American Style, Banacek, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He was in the 1977 movie Fun with Dick and Jane which I loved. (I am curious to know why he wasn’t in the 1980 Get Smart movie The Nude Bomb). This is just the tip of the iceberg. He was everywhere in the 70s. He was on all the game shows as well. And he seemed to work pretty steadily through the ’90s.

But he never cracked beyond a certain level. Never became a movie star, never was the star of his own hit series (When Things Were Rotten was not a hit in tv terms). Though he was the original Conrad Birdie in the Broadway production of Bye, Bye Birdie, in the movie the role went to Jesse Pearson. But he worked constantly. He was a truly interesting type, and that’s why I’m inspired to write about him today. He came pretty close to good looking, but with a certain exaggeration of the features that added up to being a parody of conventional good looks, almost like those caricatures of movie stars who made appearances on The Flintstones. In the ’70s he grew his hair out to John Davidson proportions, this great puffy, blowdried and combed pillow of hair. And so he would often be cast as jerky boyfriends, blind dates, and that sort of thing, a kind of second tier George Hamilton. He also had a kind of smirking expression on his face and good delivery on comic lines, which made him natural for light comedy. I feel like his casting as Robin Hood in When Things Were Rotten is roughly the same comic idea as Daphne Zuniga as Princess Vespa in Space Balls, although I can’t exactly say why. Parody of an ingenue, I guess.

Bon Voyage, M. Gautier.

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