Don Rickles

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For the radio and television announcer, see Donald Rickles.
Don Rickles
Don Rickles 1973.JPG
Rickles in 1973
Birth name Donald Jay Rickles
Born (1926-05-08) May 8, 1926 (age 88)
Queens, New York City, New York, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, Television, Film
Nationality American
Years active 1948–present
Genres Improvisational comedy, Observational comedy, Musical comedy, Insult comedy
Subject(s) United States culture, Racism, Self-deprecation, Everyday life, Religion, Current events
Influences Milton Berle
Influenced Jay Leno, David Letterman, Howard Stern, Russell Peters,[1] Dave Attell,[2] Lisa Lampanelli[3] Jerry Seinfeld, Norm Macdonald, Larry the Cable Guy. Robert Smigel (as Triumph the Insult Dog), Kathy Griffin
Spouse Barbara Sklar (1965–present)
Children 2
Notable works and roles Hello Dummy!
Run Silent, Run Deep
Kelly's Heroes
Casino
Toy Story
Military career
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1944–1946
Rank E3 SM USN.png Seaman first class (S1/c)
Battles/wars World War II

Donald Jay "Don" Rickles (born May 8, 1926)[4] is an American actor and stand-up comedian. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, he has acted in comedic and dramatic roles, but is widely known as an insult comic.

Early life[edit]

Rickles was born in the New York City borough of Queens to Max Rickles, who emigrated in 1903 with his parents Joseph and Frances Rickles (Richters) from Kaunas, Lithuania[5] (then in the Russian Empire), and Etta (Feldman) Rickles, born in New York to immigrant parents from the Austrian Empire.[6][7][8][9] His family was Jewish and spoke Yiddish at home. Rickles grew up in the Jackson Heights area.[4] After graduating from Newtown High School, Rickles enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II on the USS Cyrene (AGP-13) as a seaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946. Two years later, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and then played bit parts on television. Frustrated by a lack of acting work, Rickles began doing stand-up comedy performing in hotels in the Catskill Mountains in New York. He became known as an insult comedian by responding to his hecklers. The audience enjoyed these insults more than his prepared material, and he incorporated them into his act. When he began his career in the early 1950s he started calling ill-mannered members of the audience "hockey puck[s]."[10] His style was similar to that of an older insult comic, Jack E. Leonard, though Rickles denies that Leonard influenced his style.[11]

Career[edit]

1950s–1960s[edit]

While working in a Miami Beach nightclub known as "Murray Franklin's" early in his career, he spotted Frank Sinatra and remarked to him, "I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon's acting was great." He added, "Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!"[4][12] Sinatra, whose pet name for Rickles was "bullet-head," enjoyed Rickles so much that he encouraged other celebrities to see Rickles' act and be insulted by him. Sinatra's support helped Rickles become a popular headline performer in Las Vegas.[12] Rickles earned the nicknames "The Merchant of Venom" and "Mr. Warmth" for his insult comedy in which he pokes fun at people of all ethnicities and walks of life. When he is introduced to an audience or on a television talk show, Spanish matador music, "La Virgen de la Macarena," will usually be played, subtly foreshadowing that someone is about to be metaphorically gored. Rickles has said, "I always pictured myself facing the audience as the matador."[11] In 1958, Rickles made his film debut in a serious part in Run Silent, Run Deep with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Throughout the 1960s, he appeared frequently on television in sitcoms and dramatic series. Rickles guest-starred in Get Smart as "Sid," an old war buddy of Max who comes to stay with him. In an episode of the 1960s drama series Run for Your Life, Rickles played a distressed comedian whose act culminates when he strangles a patron while imploring the patron to "Laugh!" Rickles took a dramatic turn in the Roger Corman film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes as a carnival barker out to exploit the title character.[citation needed]

Rickles and Lorne Greene on The Don Rickles Show, 1968

Rickles also appeared in the popular Beach Party film series. He recalled in his 2007 memoir that at a White House dinner, Barbara Bush teased him about his decision to appear in those films.[13] Rickles' agent, Jack Gilardi, was married to Annette Funicello when Rickles was cast in the Beach Party films. Rickles subsequently began appearing more frequently on television talk shows, first appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965. He became a frequent guest and guest host, appearing more than 100 times on The Tonight Show during Carson's era. An early Carson-Rickles Tonight highlight occurred in 1968 when, while two Japanese women treated Carson to a bath and massage by foot, Rickles walked onto the set. At one point, he decided to play massage therapist to the prone and towel-clad Carson. Rickles leaned over and wrapped his arms around Carson, ad-libbing, "Give me a break, I'm so lonely!" Carson broke into hysterical laughter, got up, grabbed Rickles, and tossed the suit-clad comedian into the bathtub.[14] Rickles also made frequent appearances on The Dean Martin Show and became a fixture on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials which continued until 1984. In 1968, Rickles released a live comedy album, Hello, Dummy!, which reached #54 on The Billboard 200 album chart.[15] The same year he starred in his own variety show on ABC, The Don Rickles Show, with comedy writer Pat McCormick as his sidekick. The show lasted one season. During the 1960s, Rickles made guest appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Mothers-in-Law, Gilligan's Island, Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show and I Dream of Jeannie.

1970s–1980s[edit]

Rickles and Louise Sorel in The Don Rickles Show

In 1970, Rickles had a notable role as the con man Sgt. Crapgame in the hit film Kelly's Heroes with Clint Eastwood. In 1972, he starred in the sitcom The Don Rickles Show which lasted for 13 episodes. He also starred in a series of television specials. In his memoir, Rickles acknowledged that a scripted sitcom was not well-suited to his ad-lib style of performing. Starting in 1973, Rickles became a popular comedian appearing on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials. In 1976, he starred in the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey, which lasted two seasons. The show is primarily remembered for the cigarette box incident when Johnny Carson did an impromptu surprise visit during an episode's taping because he was "incensed" that Rickles broke his cigarette box while he chatted with Bob Newhart (who was sitting in for Carson as the guest host of the The Tonight Show) on the previous night's show. The incident was often replayed in Tonight Show retrospectives and was considered a highlight of the 1970s era of the show. Rickles occasionally appeared as a panelist on Hollywood Squares and was depicted in comic book form by Jack Kirby during his work on the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen series.[16][17][18]

1980s–1990s[edit]

In the early 1980s, Rickles began performing with singer Steve Lawrence in concerts in Las Vegas. In 1983, the duo co-hosted the short-lived ABC-TV series Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders, an imitation of NBC's TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes. In 1985, when Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan's Second Inaugural Ball, he stipulated he would not perform unless Rickles was allowed to perform with him. Rickles considers this performance the highlight of his career.[19] In 1990, he appeared in the second season of Tales From the Crypt in the episode "The Ventriloquist's Dummy". In 1992, he was cast in the film Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In his memoir, Rickles wrote that he recalled that Landis was once a "Production Assistant" to director Brian G. Hutton during the filming of Kelly's Heroes. During the filming of Innocent Blood, Rickles would kid Landis by ordering him to get coffee or to run other errands befitting his one-time "gofer" status. In 1993, Rickles starred in another short-lived sitcom, Daddy Dearest, with comedian Richard Lewis. In 1995, he made a return to film in two high-profile projects: a dramatic role as Robert De Niro's trusted colleague in Martin Scorsese's Casino, and voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Pixar film Toy Story (1995), which he reprised his latter role in Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). In 1998, he portrayed a film theater manager in Dirty Work and voiced Cornwall, one of the heads of a two-headed dragon, in Quest for Camelot.

2000s–present[edit]

Rickles on stage at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City on January 12, 2008

In February 2007, Rickles made a cameo appearance as himself in a strange, recurring dream sequence that was woven through an episode titled "Sub Conscious" of the CBS dramatic series, The Unit.[20] Rickles' memoir, titled Rickles' Book, was released on May 8, 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, a documentary about Rickles directed by John Landis, made its debut on HBO on December 2, 2007. Rickles won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, besting a number of notable comics, including David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. To this Rickles remarked, "Stephen Colbert's a funny man, but he's too young. He has got plenty of time to win awards, but this may be my last year and I think that I made it count. On second thought it was probably just a mercy award for an old man."[21] Rickles reprised the role of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction at Disney California Adventure Park, Disney's Hollywood Studios[22] and the film Toy Story 3. In 2009, Rickles appeared on Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List and met Griffin's mother, Maggie, to fulfill one item on Maggie's "bucket list". In 2010, he appeared in a commercial during Super Bowl XLIV as a talking rose and appeared on the 37th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on CBS TV on June 27, 2010. In 2011, Rickles reunited with his Casino-co-star Joe Pesci in a Snickers advertisement highlighting the actors known for their "short fuses."[23] Also in 2011, he made a surprise appearance as the late husband of Elka (Betty White) on the TV Land original comedy Hot in Cleveland—a "surprise" because Rickles' character was thought to be dead. Rickles remains very active on the stand-up comedy scene and has no plans to retire, as he recently stated in an interview. "I'm in good health. I'm working better than I ever have. The audiences are great. Why should I retire? I'm like a fighter. The bell rings and you come out and fight. My energy comes alive. And I still enjoy it." At 88, he is still a frequent guest on late night talk shows, including the Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.[19][24]

On May 28, 2014, Rickles was honored by Spike TV's "One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles". Recorded live at New York City's famous Apollo Theater, Jerry Seinfeld was the Master Of Ceremonies for the two hour special. Live monologs were performed by Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Tracy Morgan, Brian Williams, Regis Philbin, and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Recorded segments included bits from Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Kimmel, and Eddie Murphy. The show was highly praised by audiences and critics alike.

"The camaraderie and the comedy made the show a cross between a traditional roast and a dignified lifetime achievement award, spanning emotions ranging from admiration and gratitude to, well, degradation. And as the evening reached its climax, when Rickles got his say after all that had said about him and his nearly 60-year-long career, fittingly, he had the last laugh." - TV Week[25]

Style[edit]

It is well known that Rickles has nothing against the people he insults during his routines, and that it's all just part of the act. Although sarcastically nicknamed "Mr. Warmth" due to his offensive and insensitive stage personality, most know him to be quite genial and pleasant. In addition, many also say that being insulted by him is like "wearing a badge of honor". Rickles addressed his comedic style and whether he ever feared it might become too offensive in an interview with Jay Leno:

"You know, every night when I go out on stage, there's always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I'm always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I'm not going to offend!"

When appearing on talk shows, Rickles would notoriously berate and badger the hosts, especially Johnny Carson and David Letterman (two close friends of his), whenever they would accidentally fumble their words or repeat what he had just said. On Carson's show, he would also provide snarky remarks to Ed McMahon, Carson's sidekick, about his many marriages, alcohol consumption and fathering children in his old age. He would also call out members of the audience, camera crew, and the on-stage band, particularly Letterman's keyboardist Paul Schaffer. Despite his on-stage antics, Rickles would often follow up his wisecracks with an endearing and genuine comment about whomever was the butt of his joke (remarking how he and Carson or McMahon were very close in real life), only to usually launch into another insult to further propel the joke.

Personal life[edit]

Rickles married Barbara Sklar, a native of Philadelphia on March 14, 1965 and had two children: a daughter, Mindy, and a son, producer Larry Rickles (d. 2011).[26] According to Rickles' memoir, his grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann, are much more impressed by his role as "Mr. Potato Head" than by any of his other achievements. Although a lifelong Democrat, he performed at the inaugurations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with his friend Frank Sinatra.[27] Rickles considers comedian Bob Newhart to be his best friend, an unusual partnership since Newhart's low-key, hesitant, self-effacing comic persona is almost completely the opposite of Rickles' high energy, rapid-fire act. Rickles and Newhart appeared together on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on January 24, 2005, the Monday following Johnny Carson's death, reminiscing about their many guest appearances on Carson's show, which included footage of the "cigarette box incident". The two also appeared together on the television sitcom Newhart, and for previous episodes of The Tonight Show where Newhart or Rickles were guest-hosts. Rickles, Newhart, and their wives often vacation together.

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1958 Run Silent, Run Deep Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby
1959 The Rabbit Trap Mike O'Halloran
1960 The Rat Race Nellie
1963 X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes Crane
1964 Muscle Beach Party Jack Fanny
1964 Bikini Beach Big Drag
1964 Pajama Party Big Bang The Martian
1965 Beach Blanket Bingo Big Drop
1967 Enter Laughing Harry Hamburger
1970 Kelly's Heroes Staff Sergeant Crapgame
1971 The Love Machine Announcer Uncredited
1992 Innocent Blood Emmanuel "Manny" Bergman
1995 Casino Billy Sherbert
1995 Toy Story Mr. Potato Head Voice only
1997 Redux Riding Hood The Boss Short film; voice only
1998 Quest for Camelot Cornwall Voice only
1998 Dirty Work Mr. Hamilton
1998 Dennis the Menace Strikes Again George Wilson
1999 Toy Story 2 Mr. Potato Head Voice only
2010 Toy Story 3
2011 Hawaiian Vacation Short film; voice only
2011 Zookeeper Jim the Bullfrog Voice only
2011 Small Fry Mr. Potato Head Short film; voice only
2012 Partysaurus Rex
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1955 Stage 7 Announcer Episode: A Note of Fear
1956 Chevron Hall of Stars Announcer 2 episodes
1955–56 Cavalcade of America Commentator 2 episodes
1956 Four Star Playhouse Announcer Uncredited
Episode: The Listener
1957 M Squad N/A Scenes deleted
Episode: Pete Loves Mary
1959 The Thin Man Eddie Episode: The Cat Kicker
1959–60 The DuPont Show with June Allyson Reporter
Newscaster
Announcer
3 episodes
1961 The Twilight Zone Bettor Episode: Mr. Dingle, the Strong
1961 Wagon Train Joe Carder Episode: Wagon to Fort Anderson
1961 Hennesey Chief Petty Officer Ernie Schmidt Episode: Professional Sailor
1962 The Dick Powell Show Newscaster Episode: Seeds of April
1962 Cain's Hundred Dave Molloy Episode: Blood Money
1964 The Addams Family Claude Episode: Halloween With the Addams Family
1964 The Dick Van Dyke Show Lyle Delp 2 episodes
1963–65 Burke's Law Swifty Piedmont
Frank Cross
Lou Kronkeit
3 episodes
1965 The Munsters 'Doc' Happy Havemeyer Episode: Dance with Me, Herman
1965 The Beverly Hillbillies Fred Episode: Jed's Temptation
1965 Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Sergeant Jim Mason Episode: My Buddy, the War Hero
1965 The Munsters 'Doc' Happy Havemeyer Episode: Dance with Me, Herman
1965 The Andy Griffith Show Newton Munroe Episode: The Luck of Newton Munroe
1965 F Troop Bald Eagle Episode: The Return of Bald Eagle
1966 The Wild Wild West Asmodeus Episode: The Night of the Druid's Blood
1966 The Bob Hope Show N/A October 19
1965–66 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Linny 2 episodes
1966 Gilligan's Island Norbert Wiley Episode: The Kidnapper
1967 The Lucy Show Eddie Rickles Episode: Lucy the Fight Manager
1967 I Spy Frank Bodie Episode: Night Train to Madrid
1967 I Dream of Jeannie Kiski Episode: My Master, the Weakling
1966–67 Run for Your Life Willy Hatch
Leo Mazinov
2 episodes
1968–69 Get Smart Sid Krimm
Guard
Uncredited
3 episodes
1974 Sanford and Son Fight Announcer Voice
Episode: Once a Thief
1976 Medical Center N/A Episode: The Happy State of Depression
1976–78 C.P.O. Sharkey C.P.O. Otto Sharkey 37 episodes
1982 Archie Bunker's Place Al Snyder Episode: Death of a Lodger
1983 Gimme a Break! Max Episode: Nell and the Kid
1985 George Burns Comedy Week Mayor Episode: Disaster at Buzz Creek
1989 Newhart Don Prince Episode: The Nice Man Cometh
1990 Tales from the Crypt Mr. Ingles, Ventriloquist Episode: The Ventriloquist's Dummy
1991 Hunter Harold Schwan Episode: Ex Marks the Spot
1993 Daddy Dearest Al Mitchell 13 episodes
1997 The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: Artie and Angie and Hank and Hercules
1997 The Single Guy Dr. Dick Sloan, Sam's Father Episode: Big Baby
1998 Murphy Brown Leonard, Secretary #90 Episode: Dial and Substance
2004 The Wool Cap Ira Movie
2005 The Catch Roy Kozikowski Movie
2007 The Unit Himself
Priest
Episode: Sub-Conscious
2011 Hot in Cleveland Bobby 2 episodes
2013 Toy Story of Terror! Mr. Potato Head Voice
Short
2014 Toy Story That Time Forgot Mr. Potato Head Voice
Movie

Other[edit]

Theme park[edit]

Discography[edit]

Books[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Work Result
2000 Hollywood Walk of Fame Won
2008 Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Won
2009 Legend Award Won
2012 The Johnny Carson Award For a lifetime of comedic excellence Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gauntlet Entertainment – Comedy Preview: Russell Peters won't a hurt you real bad – 2005-11-24
  2. ^ Insomniac's Dave Attell, Pt. 1 | Cracked.com
  3. ^ Reno/Tahoe – Look out: Here comes Lisa Lampanelli – sacbee.com
  4. ^ a b c Witchel, Alex. " I'm No Howard Stern, You Dummy", The New York Times, August 25, 1996. Accessed 2007-10-08.
  5. ^ World War I draft registration, NY City, #31-9-149-B, Max S. Rickles, born 12 Aug 1897 in Kovna (Kaunas), Russia
  6. ^ US Census, 1930. Queens, New York, Supervisor's District 33, sheet 6A, family #136
  7. ^ US Census, 1920. NY City, Enumerationer's district 1508, Sheet 33A, family #138
  8. ^ 55113/mr-warmth-the-don-rickles-project-mr-warmth---the-don-rickles-project
  9. ^ "Don Rickles Biography (1926-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2012-05-11. 
  10. ^ The Tonight Show with Jay Leno April 15, 2009
  11. ^ a b MacPherson, Guy (2006-10-06). "Don Rickles Interview". The Comedy Couch. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  12. ^ a b "Biography". The Hockey Puck. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  13. ^ Rickles, Don and David Ritz (2007). Rickles' Book: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-7432-9305-1. 
  14. ^ Video on YouTube
  15. ^ "Don Rickles Charts & Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  16. ^ McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "In one of Jack Kirby's strangest tales, Jimmy Olsen met real-world funnyman Don Rickles' costumed likeness, 'Goody' Rickles." 
  17. ^ Kirby, Jack (w), Kirby, Jack (p), Colletta, Vince (i). "The Guardian Fights Again!!!" Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen 139 (July 1971)
  18. ^ Kirby, Jack (w), Kirby, Jack (p), Colletta, Vince (i). "Will The Real Don Rickles Panic?!?" Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen 141 (September 1971)
  19. ^ a b Darrow, Chuck (2007-03-16). "Insults still flying from legendary Don Rickles". The Daily Record. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  20. ^ "The Unit: Sub Conscious", from TV.com
  21. ^ Jon Stewart Can't Win an Emmy for his Showdown with Jim Cramer
  22. ^ Barnes, Brooke (2008-02-10). "Will Disney Keep Us Amused?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  23. ^ "Joe Pesci and Don Rickles Join the Snickers “Partyâ€?". The Ad Buzz. 2011-05-18. Retrieved 2012-05-11. 
  24. ^ "Pollstar—Don Rickles Concert Dates". Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  25. ^ http://www.tvweek.com/blogs/2014/05/spike-tvs-all-star-don-rickles-tribute-turning-up-the-heat-on-mr-warmth.php
  26. ^ Barnes, Mike (2011-12-06). "Don Rickles’ Only Son Dies at 41, Larry Rickles earned an Emmy Award for a 2007 documentary about his dad". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-12-20. 
  27. ^ "Time Magazine Interview: Don Rickles", from Time Magazine

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]