Dick Shawn

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Dick Shawn
Dick Shawn 1964.JPG
Shawn in 1964
Richard Schulefand

(1923-12-01)December 1, 1923
DiedApril 17, 1987(1987-04-17) (aged 63)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesRichy Shawn
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1956–1987
Rita Bachner
m. 1946)
RelativesJoey Travolta (son-in-law)

Dick Shawn (born Richard Schulefand, December 1, 1923 – April 17, 1987) was an American actor and comedian. He played a wide variety of supporting roles and was a prolific character actor. During the 1960s he played small roles in madcap comedies, usually portraying caricatures of counter culture personalities, such as deadbeat son Sylvester Marcus in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the hippie actor Lorenzo Saint DuBois ("L.S.D.") in The Producers (1968).

Early life[edit]

Shawn was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in adjacent Lackawanna.


He performed his stand-up comedy act for over 35 years in nightclubs around the world. His award-winning one-man stage show, The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World, was sometimes performed with a unique opening. When the audience entered the theater, they saw a bare stage with a pile of bricks in stage center. When the play began, Shawn emerged from the pile of bricks. The startling effect of this required complete concentration and breath control because the slightest movement of the bricks could ruin the surprise appearance.

In addition to roles in more than 30 movies and seven Broadway productions, Shawn made television appearances, toured often, and periodically performed a one-man show that mixed songs, sketches, and pantomime. He was a speaker at the Friars Club Roasts in Los Angeles and New York. At one of the X-rated roasts (a 1986 Playboy roast of Tommy Chong) that had overdosed on tasteless routines by previous speakers, Shawn walked up to the microphone, took a long pause, and "vomited" pea soup onto himself and other speakers at the dais.

His TV appearances included The Ed Sullivan Show, TV movies, sitcoms (including Three's Company on which he played Jack Tripper's father), dramas including St. Elsewhere and Magnum, P.I., and a music video for "Dance" by the hair metal band Ratt (1986). In the UK he appeared in Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1958.

Amongst his roles in anthology TV series, he starred in an Amazing Stories episode "Miss Stardust", directed by Tobe Hooper, about a bizarre intergalactic beauty pageant, and played the Emperor in The Emperor's New Clothes in Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre. He filled in for vacationing Johnny Carson as guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on January 1, 1971, which saw the last cigarette commercial on American television (for Virginia Slims) aired on TV, one minute before the cigarette ads were banned.

Personal life[edit]

Shawn married Rita Bachner in 1946, and they had four children: Amy, Wendy (married to John Travolta's older brother Joey Travolta), Adam, and Jennifer. He had one grandchild, Rachel Travolta. He was a longtime resident of Englewood, New Jersey.[1]


On April 17, 1987, during a performance at University of California, San Diego's Mandeville Hall—which included his portrayal of a politician reciting such campaign clichés as "If elected, I will not lay down on the job"—Shawn suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed face-down on the stage. The audience initially assumed that it was part of his act; but after he had remained motionless on the stage for several minutes, a stage hand examined him and asked if a physician was present.[2]

After CPR had been initiated, the audience was asked to leave the auditorium, but most remained, still assuming that it was all part of Shawn's act. Many began leaving—still unsure of what they had witnessed—only after paramedics arrived.[2] A notice in the following day's San Diego Union newspaper announced that Shawn had indeed died during the performance.[3] He was 63 years old. Shawn was interred at Hillside Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery in Culver City, California.[4]


Jim Knipfel and Mark Evanier claim that Andy Kaufman was inspired by Shawn.[5][6][7][8][9]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Dan. "Dick Shawn: Mixed-Media Man", The Baltimore Sun, November 28, 1971. Accessed 24 July 2019. "Dick Shawn left the comforts of his 14-room home in Englewood, NJ, one recent Sunday and flew to Hollywood to start work on a movie for television."
  2. ^ a b Scott, Janny; Thackrey, Ted Jr. (19 April 1987). "Comedian Dick Shawn, 63, Is Stricken on Stage, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Dick Shawn". Actors Biographies. All Media Guide. 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
  4. ^ "Dick Shawn". Josh Pincus is Crying. Things to do in L.A. When You're Dead. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  5. ^ Evanier, Mark (23 March 2011). "Second Greatest". News From ME. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  6. ^ Knipfel, Jim (24 April 2014). "The Humbly Great Dick Shawn". Ozy. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  7. ^ Knipfel, Jim (2 May 2018). "Where Andy Kaufman Came From". Den of Geek. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  8. ^ Knipfel, Jim (April 8, 2018). "Jim and Andy and Dick". Electron Press. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  9. ^ "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Steve Allen (guest host), Dick Shawn, Andy Kaufman". thetvdb.com. 28 January 1976. Retrieved 16 September 2018.

External links[edit]