Today marks the 95th birthday of comic actor and performer Larry Storch (b. 1923). We have purposefully not led off with his most famous character, whose popularity marked the height of Storch’s career, because we want to put it in context. Contemporary culture has an idiotic way of reducing successful people to slivers of themselves so that the best known part becomes, in time, the only known part. It’s expedient, but it isn’t justice. Storch’s career is nearly 80 years long at this point. This means his hit sit com was but 5% of a long career filled with many other triumphs.
Storch started performing professionally when he was only a teenager, as a stand-up comedian and impressionist, just like his high school friend Don Adams, whose career Storch’s paralleled in many ways. Storch dropped out of high school in 1939 to be in show biz; his younger brother Jay Lawrence followed his lead, and also achieved a measure of success. (For a time Jay and Adams had an act together). Storch shot up rapidly in nightclubs and the major presentation houses like Loews State and the Paramount in Manhattan in the early 40s, with impressions of stars like Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Frank Morgan and Cary Grant (Storch is credited with being the being the comedian who first uttered the apocryphal line “Judy, Judy, Judy!”, which had never been uttered by Grant in any movie).
He took time off to do a hitch in the Navy in World War II (he served from 1942 to 1946), where he made another friend who would prove to be useful to his career, future movie star Tony Curtis.
After the war, he returned to night club work and even got to perform for President Truman. In the early 1950s he began to get booked for tv variety shows, and was popular enough that by 1953, CBS gave him his own program, the now forgotten comedy/variety series The Larry Storch Show, which lasted ten episodes. By the end of the decade he had done them all: Ed Sullivan, Sid Caesar, Jack Carter, Steve Allen, Jackie Gleason, Jack Paar, the Colgate Comedy Hour. In 1961 he married Norma Greve, ex-wife of Jimmy Cross, of the comedy/ dance team of Stump and Stumpy.
This prominence led to acting work on stage and in films and tv. He was in the 1958 Broadway production of Who Was That Lady I Saw You With? and the 1960 Hollywood screen adaptation thereof. He was on Sgt. Bilko with Phil Silvers, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and had a semi-regular role on Car 54, Where Are You? He did voiceovers in animated cartoons, voicing Koko the Clown (1962-1963) as well as the part of Phineas J. Whoopie on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales (1963-1966) with buddy Don Adams. He played supporting parts in popular movies like Sex and the Single Girl (1964) and The Great Race (1966).
And then the part that he is best remembered for, almost exclusively remembered for, today, that of Corporal Agarn in the western cavalry sit com F Troop (1966-68), which we blogged about here. Storch was 43 years old when cast in this perfect vehicle for his talents, and 45 when the show ended, a 30 year veteran of show business. We’ll not deny that F Troop was the peak of his career, only that it was ALL of it. A service comedy suited the fast talking New York comic’s skill set perfectly, as did something about that hat! It becomes difficult to imagine him without it, a predicament perhaps not helped by his many appearances in the costume at fan conventions for years afterward.
But contrary to popular misconception, his career didn’t end there. He actually did a ton more work over the next three decades. He co-starred in another sit com The Queen and I (1969), with Billy deWolfe. He provided the voice of the Joker in the first animated Batman series (1968-69). He was the voice of Drac on another favorite show of my childhood The Groovie Goolies (1970). He did voices on The Brady Kids (1972-73). He co-starred again with Forrest Tucker on The Ghost Busters (1975), which we blogged about here. He’s in Airport 1975 and in Blake Edwards movies like S.O.B. (1981) and A Fine Mess (1986). And endless guest shots on shows like Love American Style, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Columbo, The Night Stalker, etc etc. He is hilarious as the Groovy Guru in a 1968 episode of Get Smart with his old friend Don Adams. He gets to play himself in a 1995 episode of Married with Children.
Starting in the 1980s he returned to Broadway and regional theatre, alternating his screen work with revivals of Porgy and Bess, Arsenic and Old Lace, Annie Get Your Gun and Sly Fox. His last screen credit was in 2010. As recently as 2014 I saw him perform live at this. And he’s appearing tonight at the Triad at a special variety show celebrating his birthday. Details are here.