|Born||Severn Teakle Darden, Jr.
November 9, 1929
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||May 27, 1995
Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.
Severn Teakle Darden, Jr. (November 9, 1929 – May 27, 1995) was a comedian and actor, and an original member of The Second City Chicago-based comedy troupe as well as its predecessor, the Compass Players. He is perhaps best known from his film appearances for playing the human leader Kolp in the fourth and fifth Planet of the Apes films.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, he attended the University of Chicago. Darden’s offbeat and intellectual sense of humor, appropriate for someone who attended the University of Chicago and in fact a major element in the style of The Second City at that time, is evident throughout his work.
Darden appeared in various movies and television series. His best performance is probably in the comedy The President's Analyst; there he has a major role as Kropotkin, a Soviet agent with a laid-back persona (much like Darden's own). An early film, "LUV" (1967) (based on the play of the same title by Murray Schisgal), in which he played a junk dealer, also starred Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Elaine May, and Nina Wayne.
One of his earliest TV roles was on Car 54 Where Are You? in the episode "Toody and the Art World" in which he played the artist Karpathia.
He also played a stuffed shirt toy manufacturer in an episode of The Monkees and Dr. Herb Chisholm in a 1976 episode of the NBC situation comedy The Practice. He appeared in "Never Con a Killer," the pilot for the ABC crime drama The Feather and Father Gang, in 1977. He played the cold-hearted Kolp in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and a highly respected, but befuddled college dean, in the 1985 comedy Real Genius.
After triple heart bypass surgery, he lived in semi-retirement in Los Angeles before moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1992. He died there of congestive heart failure at age 65. His interment was at Lake Lawn Park and Mausoleum in his hometown of New Orleans.
The Metaphysics Lecture
This was ostensibly given by Prof. Walther von der Vogelweide, a reference to the famous medieval poet of the same name. An announcer introduces it as A Short Talk on the Universe, and then Darden continues: "Now, why — you will ask me — have I chosen to speak on the Universe, rather than some other topic. Well, it's very simple: there isn’t anything else!" The lecture is loaded with digressions.
This was another Prof. Walther von der Vogelweide lecture (with the assistance of the rest of the Second City cast). The subject was "free will and necessity in the light of...Oedipus Rex", or "what would have happened to Oedipus if he had read the book before going on the journey". The professor plays the role of Oedipus and refuses to perform the acts that would lead to his fate, but finds that despite his apparent agency the other characters respond in ways that produce the same results.
In the first scene, Oedipus encounters his father Laius, knowing that if all goes according to the book the two will get into a brawl and he will commit the serious sin of killing his own father. Aware of this, Oedipus is very deferential to Laius, only to find that the father is extremely touchy and hostile to anything that smacks of sycophancy. Despite Oedipus' continued deference and protestations, Laius becomes increasingly angry until he suddenly suffers a fatal heart attack.
In the next scene, the Sphinx energetically tries to wheedle him into answering her riddle correctly, which Oedipus does not want to do. At one point she says, "Think of the power—of the glory—". He responds, "I don't need power and glory, I'm a full professor."
In the final scene, Oedipus prepares to gouge his eyes out. At the last second he stops when he realizes that the tragic choices were actually forced on him against his will. He explains all this to the crowd, ending with "It's not my fault!" The crowd agrees, and his eyes are saved. The professor ends the sketch by saying, "So you see, my dear students, the lesson that we learn from this is that Man has free will, but tragic poets do not, and Art is not Nature."
Football Comes to the University of Chicago
This sketch was originally developed for the Compass Players and revisited for Second City. It satirized the university and its students, presenting a possible explanation for the failure to introduce football. A typical coach teaches "Football 202" and struggles with the intellectual students. Darden plays Morgenstern, a student who states his field is the "history of arithmetic". After the coach mentions the football positions called "ends", Morgenstern asks where the beginnings for those ends are, because ends must have beginnings, according to Aristotle. The coach presents the football, and Morgenstern declares, "It's a demi-poly-tetrahedron."
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Beta Delta Gamma" (1961)
- Car 54, Where Are You?: "Toody and the Art World" (1962). Darden has a supporting role as Karpathia, a painter who is Toody's introduction to modern art. Karpathia's temperament and accent somewhat resemble those of Professor Walther von der Vogelweide, and the portrayal gives us a hint of what Darden was like in his lectures. Darden's scenes take up about 9 minutes of the episode.
- Honey West, "Little Green Robin Hood" (1966)
- Daniel Boone (1968)
- The Monkees (1968)
- It Takes a Thief, "Saturday Night In Venice" (1969)
- Alias Smith and Jones, "Never Trust An Honest Man" (1971)
- Night Gallery: "You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore" (1972)
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker: "The Spanish Moss Murders" (1974)
- The Ghost Busters: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...Together, for the First Time!" (1975)
- Barney Miller, "The Mole" (1975)
- Captains and the Kings (1976)
- The Six Million Dollar Man, episodes "The Secret of Bigfoot" (parts I and II) and "The Return of Bigfoot, part I" (all 1976).
- The Bionic Woman, "The Return of Bigfoot: Part II" (1976)
- Cheers, "Homicidal Ham," with fellow Second City alumni Shelley Long and George Wendt. (1983)
- The Paper Chase, "The War of the Wonks" (1984)
- Faerie Tale Theatre, "The Princess Who Had Never Laughed" (1986)
- The Metaphysics Lecture (recorded Jan. 30, 1961) and Oedipus appeared on an LP collection of comedy routines featuring Darden titled The Sound of My Own Voice (and Other Noises), Mercury OCS 6202, OCLC 12851697.
- Football Comes to the University of Chicago is available on CD 3 of the collection But Seriously: the American Comedy Box, Rhino R2 71617, 1995, ISBN 1-56826-457-7.
- Severn Darden at Find a Grave
- Severn Darden at the Internet Movie Database
- Excerpt from Encounters and Reflections: Conversations with Seth Benardete. The New York University professor recalls some anecdotes from his time as a University of Chicago student, including some of Darden's escapades. His brother, Dr. José Benardete, is cited in the Metaphysics Lecture as the author of an imaginary work.