Hackett in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
August 31, 1924
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||June 30, 2003
Malibu, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Sherry Cohen (1955–2003; his death; 3 children)|
Hackett was born in Brooklyn, New York, New York, the son of a Jewish upholsterer. He grew up on 54th and 14th Ave in Borough Park, Brooklyn, across from Public School 103 (now a yeshiva). Living next door was aspiring baseball player Sandy Koufax. He graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1942. While still a student, he began performing in nightclubs in the Catskills Borscht Belt resorts. He appeared first at the Golden Hotel in Hurleyville, New York, and he claimed he did not get one single laugh.
Hackett's first job after the war was at the Pink Elephant, a Brooklyn club. It was here that he changed his name from Leonard Hacker to Buddy Hackett. He made appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and continued to perform in the Catskills. He acted on Broadway, in Lunatics and Lovers, where Max Liebman saw him and put him in two television specials.
In the late 1940s, Hackett's friend, Jules White, asked him if he would like to replace Curly Howard in The Three Stooges, due to Curly's stroke. According to The Love Bug audio commentary, Hackett turned down the role. But this story has been proven false. It was a tale by Hackett which he first told on The Tonight Show and it grew bigger and more fanciful as time went on. Jules White himself told several interviewers that the story was (censored), and he alternated between laughter and anger that Buddy was using his name to weave the tale.
Hackett's movie career began in 1950 with a 10-minute "World of Sports" reel for Columbia Pictures called King of the Pins. The film demonstrated championship bowling techniques, with expert Joe Wilman demonstrating the right way and Hackett (in pantomime) exemplifying the wrong way. Hackett would not return to movies until 1953, after one of his nightclub routines attracted attention. With a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, Hackett's "The Chinese Waiter" lampooned the heavy dialect, frustration, and communication problems encountered by a busy waiter in a Chinese restaurant: "No, we no have sprit-pea soup ... We gotta wonton, we got eh-roll ... No orda for her, juss orda for you!" The routine was such a hit that Hackett made a recording of it, and was hired to reprise it in the 1953 Technicolor Universal-International musical Walking My Baby Back Home, in which he was third-billed under Donald O'Connor and Janet Leigh.
Hackett was an emergency replacement for the similarly built Lou Costello in 1954. Abbott and Costello were set to make a feature-length comedy Fireman, Save My Child, featuring Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Several scenes had been shot with stunt doubles when Lou Costello was forced to withdraw due to illness. Universal-International salvaged the project by hiring Hugh O'Brian and Hackett to take over the Abbott and Costello roles, using already shot footage of the comedy duo in some long shots; Jones and his band became the main attraction.
Hackett became known to a wider audience when he appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s as a frequent guest on such talk shows as those of Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey, telling brash, often off-color jokes, and mugging at the camera. Hackett was also a guest on Jack Paar's last Tonight show in 1962. He was on the Johnny Carson show as a frequent guest. According to Trivial Pursuit, Hackett has the most appearances of any guest in the history of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. A collection of these appearances are available on YouTube. During this time, he also appeared as a panelist on What's My Line?.
Hackett also guest-starred in two episodes of The Rifleman, one as the psychopathic father of three psychopathic sons, the other as a mop boy. He gave a serious and polished performance as Heath's faux-father on The Big Valley.
Hackett starred as the title character in Stanley, a situation comedy that also featured Carol Burnett and the voice of Paul Lynde. Produced by Max Liebman, the series aired live on NBC before a studio audience and was one of the last live sitcoms. Stanley revolved around the adventures of the titular character (Hackett) as the operator of a newsstand in a posh New York City hotel.
In 1960, he appeared as himself in an episode of NBC's short-lived crime drama Dan Raven, starring Skip Homeier, set on the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood. Hackett also appeared many times on the game show Hollywood Squares, in the late 1960s. In one particularly notable episode, Hackett was asked which was the country with the highest ratio of doctors to populace; he answered Israel, or in his words, "the country with the most Jews". Despite the audience roaring with laughter (and Hackett's own belief that the actual answer was Sweden), the answer turned out to be correct.
After starring on Broadway in I Had a Ball, Hackett appeared opposite Robert Preston in the 1962 film adaptation of The Music Man. Hackett became widely known from his role in the 1963 box-office success It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, in which he was paired with Mickey Rooney, with whom he had also recently made Everything's Ducky (1961), about two sailors (Rooney and Hackett) who smuggle a talking duck aboard a Navy ship. Children became familiar with him as lovable hippie auto mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz in Disney's The Love Bug (1969). He appeared for one season as Art Carney's replacement as second banana on The Jackie Gleason Show, and in the 1958 film God's Little Acre. His later career was mostly as a guest on variety shows and prime time sitcoms, such as Boy Meets World in its fourth season.
In 1978, Hackett surprised many with his dramatic performance as Lou Costello in the television movie Bud and Lou opposite Harvey Korman as Bud Abbott. The film told the story of Abbott and Costello, and Hackett's portrayal was widely praised. He and Korman did a memorable rendition of the team's famous "Who's on First?" routine.
Hackett starred in the 1980 film Hey Babe! with a 13-year-old Yasmine Bleeth, in her first screen appearance. That same year, he hosted a syndicated revival of the quiz show You Bet Your Life which lasted for one year
Throughout the 1970s Hackett appeared regularly doing TV ads for Tuscan Dairy popsicles and yogurt. But his most famous television campaign was for Lay's potato chips ("Nobody can eat just one!") which ran for 3 years, 1968-1971.
Hackett guest-starred in the Space Rangers episode, "To Be Or Not To Be", as has-been comedian Lenny Hacker, a parody of his stage persona. The character's name was Hackett's own real name.
In 1983, he was the subject of an HBO special, "Buddy Hackett Live and Uncensored" that revived interest in his stage routine. In it, he provides a classic Catskills era comedy routine while interacting with and jokingly harassing various audience members with an irreverent and decidedly raunchy comedy routine.
A notable film performance was voicing Scuttle, the goofy little seagull, in Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) and the direct-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea in 2000. Hackett also appeared in the short term comedy series Action which starred Jay Mohr as movie producer Peter Dragon. He played Dragon's uncle Lonnie. He appeared again with Mohr as a judge in the reality show Last Comic Standing.
He also played a cameo in an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch in 1998, "My Nightmare, the Car".
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Hackett was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2000, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
In April 1998, Hackett guest starred in an episode of LateLine called "Buddy Hackett." The episode focuses on a news broadcast paying tribute to Hackett following his death, only to discover that the report of his death was a mistake. Robert Reich and Dick Gephardt also appeared in the episode, paying tribute to Hackett.
On June 12, 1955, Hackett married Sherry Cohen. They lived in Leonia, NJ in the late 1950s. In August 1958, they bought the house previously owned by deceased crime boss Albert Anastasia in Fort Lee, NJ. After renovations they moved in and lived there through most of the 1960s.
Hackett is the father of comedian Sandy Hackett who is married to Lisa Dawn Miller. Together they have two children, Oliver Richman and Ashleigh Hackett.
Hackett died on June 30, 2003, at his beach house in Malibu, California, at the age of 78. His son, Sandy Hackett, said his father had been suffering from diabetes for several years which was aggravated by his obesity. His son Sandy also said he suffered a stroke nearly a week before his death which may have contributed to his death. His remains were cremated two days after his death on July 2, 2003, and his ashes were given to family and friends.
- How You Do (Coral CRL 757422)
- The Original Chinese Waiter (Dot 3351, reissued as Pickwick SPC 3198)
- Walking My Baby Back Home (1953)
- Fireman Save My Child (1954)
- God's Little Acre (1958)
- All Hands on Deck (1961)
- Everything's Ducky (1961)
- The Music Man (1962)
- The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Muscle Beach Party (1964)
- The Golden Head (1964)
- The Love Bug (1968)
- The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
- Bud and Lou (1978) (TV Movie)
- Hey Babe! (1980)
- Loose Shoes (1980)
- Scrooged (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989) Scuttle
- Paulie (1998)
- Action (1999)
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000) (direct-to-video) Scuttle
- King of the Pins (1950) (pantomime)
- The Shoes (1961)
- Jack Frost (1979) (animation short; voice of Pardon Me Pete)
- Mouse Soup (1992) (voice)
- Severo, Richard (July 1, 2003). "Buddy Hackett, Irrepressible Clown of Stage, Screen and Nightclubs, Is Dead at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2010. "Mr. Hackett's career spanned more than half a century in nightclubs, movies, the stage and television. His rubbery face was a familiar one on America's home screens in the 1950s and 1960s when he was a frequent guest on talk shows hosted by Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey."[dead link]
- Hackett, Buddy. I've Got A Secret, October 3, 1966.
- "Sandy Koufax," by Jane Leavy, HarperCollins 2002, pp. 20, 29.
- "Rubber-faced funnyman whose talent stretched far: Buddy Hackett: Comedian and Actor, 1924-2003" (obituary) in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2008-07-11, p. 30 (from The Telegraph, London)
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
- Staff. "COMEDIAN BUYS HOME; Buddy Hackett New Owner of Anastasia House in Fort Lee", The New York Times, August 30, 1958. Accessed March 30, 2011. "Mr. Hackett lives at 581 Nordhoff Drive, Leonia. He intends to take possession as soon as improvements are completed. The house was built in 1945 by Anastasia at a cost said to be $100,000."