May 11, 1912|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||December 20, 2001
Encino, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Spouse(s)||Loretta Brooks (1933–1950)
Teri Brooks (1950–2001)
Foster Brooks was born in Louisville, Kentucky on May 11, 1912. He was one of eight sons. His career started in radio, most notably with Marshall Krieger at station WHAS (AM) in Louisville. Brooks was a staff announcer, but his deep baritone voice was well-suited for singing as well. Brooks gained some measure of fame for his reporting of the Ohio River flood of 1937, where he was featured on emergency broadcasts by WHAS and also WSM (AM) out of Nashville, Tennessee. In 1952, Brooks appeared on local television in a short-lived spoof of Gene Autry and his "Singing Cowboys". He later worked in local broadcasting as a radio and TV personality in Buffalo and Rochester, New York, before moving to the West Coast to launch a career as a standup comic and character actor.
On the syndicated Steve Allen Show of the 1960s, Allen introduced Brooks as an important movie producer. Brooks stumbled on stage doing his drunk act, fooling some of the other guests. Brooks claimed to be the executive in charge of editing movies for television. His biggest success, he said, was the famous movie The Three Commandments. His character also claimed to have invented the concept of removing clips from the movies and inserting commercials.
Singer Perry Como discovered Brooks at a golf tournament in North Carolina in 1969, giving the comedian his major break. Como chose Brooks to open for him, and when a manager balked at the newcomer, Como refused to perform. The manager acquiesced, and Brooks was an instant hit.
Brooks regularly appeared on The Dean Martin Show television program in the 1970s (for which he garnered an Emmy Award nomination in 1974) as well as many situation comedies, talk shows, and a few films. Although he had only one basic signature character, he exhibited such extraordinary timing and subtlety that he was instantly recognized as one of the great comic performers of the time. His signature routine was the basis of a hit comedy album titled Foster Brooks, The Lovable Lush, released in the early 1970s. As his "Lovable Lush" character, Brooks usually portrayed a conventioneer who had had a few too many drinks — not falling-down drunk, but inebriated enough that he would mix up his words and burp to comedic delight. Brooks is most affectionately remembered for his appearances on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast shows during the 1970s, where he would roast other comedians, such as Don Rickles, Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball, or serious personalities such as author Truman Capote or consumer activist Ralph Nader. Those subjected to his roasts seldom knew who he was, which made the roasts funnier.
Brooks drew upon his own battles with alcohol for his act. However, during his period of greatest fame, Brooks rarely drank. Of giving up drinking to win a bet in 1964, Brooks said, "A fellow made me a $10 bet I couldn't quit, and I haven't had a drink since. At the time I needed the $10." He would occasionally make cameo appearances in which his character was perfectly sober, such as his appearance in a 1968 episode of Adam-12 playing a strait-laced citizen who tries to get out of a parking ticket by dropping the name of an officer senior to the main characters. He also played the character Harry Sachs in a 1969 episode of Adam-12 in which he performed as a highly intoxicated man standing in the middle of a street, waving his suit jacket at oncoming traffic, as if he were a bullfighter. In a later Adam-12 episode, he plays a stoned man, stopped for erratic driving, who tries to hide the burning joint in his suit's front pocket. On the comedy series Green Acres in 1969, in the episode "Economy Flight to Washington", Brooks' boozy, bobble-headed character meets and befriends the pig Arnold Ziffel in a hotel bar. In the scene, ostensibly through the haze of alcohol, he mistakes the anthropomorphic pig for an air force lieutenant, since the animal is sitting on a barstool and is wearing a white leather aviator's cap, goggles, and a red scarf. Brooks acted again on Green Acres in 1969, this time giving a completely "sober" performance as Charlie Williams, a chemist, in the episode "The Milk Maker." The following year he returned to his whiskey-soaked persona on the television western The High Chaparral. In the series' episode "The Reluctant Deputy", he gives a wonderfully entertaining portrayal of a befuddled, toothless, drunk miner who is paid a few dollars to deliver a fraudulent telegram to the local marshal's office.
In character, Brooks asked Dean Martin to join his group "Alcoholics Unanimous", a play on Alcoholics Anonymous. He boasted he and Martin were charter members of the DUI (Driving Under the Influence) Hall of Fame. During the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra, he claimed to be related to Brooks of Justerini & Brooks.
Brooks slurs to Martin, "his close friends are members of the CHP (California Highway Patrol) and LAPD" (Los Angeles Police Department) for his large number of DUI tickets. He continues, "Dean, I am a record holder, the most 502's in the history of the California Department of Motor Vehicles." (502 is the section of the vehicle code for drunk driving.)
Brooks appeared in the 1977 Johnny Cash television special, A Concert: Behind Prison Walls, where he portrayed himself as a drunken man and also sang the song "Half as Much".
Public sensibilities had changed regarding alcoholics and public drunkenness by the 1980s, so Brooks moved away from his drunk character. He had a recurring role as Mr. Sternhagen, Mindy's boss on Mork & Mindy. For many years, his name was a moniker on a Louisville celebrity golf tournament benefiting Kosair Charities. Foster Brooks was a Shriner and member of the Al Malaikah Shriners, Los Angeles. He also made occasional guest appearances on television shows in which he would demonstrate his lesser-known talent: a beautiful singing voice.
Brooks' brother, Tom, was a well-known entertainer in Louisville for many years. Tom Brooks played "Cactus", a hayseed character and sidekick to Randy Atcher on T-Bar-V Ranch and Hayloft Hoedown, two popular local shows and was an off-screen announcer on WHAS-TV for many years in the 1950s and 1960s. He had six other brothers: Ed; Bob; Pleasant, Jr.; Scott; Bruce; and Stuart, and six children. His mother, Edna, was an opera singer who once performed for President Calvin Coolidge.
Years later Brooks was referred to on the Cartoon Network television show Space Ghost Coast to Coast (episode 45, "Switcheroo II"). He was featured in a scene that was cut before being aired, but the scene was later included on the Space Ghost Coast to Coast volume 3 DVD release. He is also referenced on an episode of Get a Life called "Paperboy 2000". On the March 1, 2010 episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart referred to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's mispronunciation of a constituent's name by saying, "It's not supposed to end on a Foster Brooks hiccup."
Foster Brooks is referenced in the 2011 game Deus Ex: Human Revolution; an internal email gained through hacking is sent to a Foster Brooks referencing a "Another Year Sober" meeting.
Foster Brooks is remembered as the original "Fake" drunk. He is seen today as a legend in comedy, being one of the recurring performers on the Dean Martin Roasts from the early to late 1970s.
- "Foster Brooks serves lunch"
- "Foster Brooks appears at American Legion Dinner". The Boca Raton News. 19 February 1990. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
- "Foster Brooks, 89, Comedian Known for His Tipsy Persona"
- Foster Brooks roasts Don Rickles on Dean Martin Roast, Feb. 8, 1974
- "Foster Brooks roasts Johnny Carson on Dean Martin Roast, Nov. 2, 1973
- "Foster Brooks roasts Lucille Ball on Dean Martin Roast, Feb. 8, 1975
- Foster Brooks roasts Truman Capote on Dean Martin Roast, clip
- Foster Brooks roasts Ralph Nader on Dean Martin Roast, Feb. 15, 1974
- "Foster Brooks, Drunk, Not a Drinker"
- Mark Keizer. "Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Volume 3 review on www.dvdfile.com". DVDFILE.COM. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- "Foster Brooks: 'Match Game' comedian known as 'Lovable Lush'". Variety. December 24, 2001.
- Foster Brooks, Comedian Known for His Tipsy Persona, dies at 89
- Foster Brooks at the Internet Movie Database
- Kentucky Archivist: WHAS collection at Berea College
- This Is True: Foster Brooks
- Foster Brooks at Find a Grave
- Performing on Dean Martin show on YouTube video clip