Thursday, May 29, 2008

Harvey Korman: 1927-2008

"What a fucking blow." -- Uncle Junior, "The Sopranos".

Harvey Korman goes to his grave knowing that millions of people will continue to admire him for his brilliant turn as Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. For my money, he was, with Gene Wilder, one of the more underrated comic actors we've seen. And it's all there in Mel Brooks' classic film, even though Harvey leaves quite a resume.

A lot of people will name the infamous "Gone With The Wind" skit he was in on "The Carol Burnett Show". The scene still holds up, it's on a lot of lists as being one of the funniest ever on television. The lists are everywhere, they'll have the classic SNL skits, the Dave Chappelle "Rick James" skit, Ed Ames throwing the tomahawk on Johnny Carson, and on every list, you'll have the Carol Burnett skit. Harvey also has the unfortunate honor of providing the voice of The Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones" (often cited as that show's "Jump the Shark" moment). And he was on the train wreck that was The Star Wars Holiday Special, the one where Bea Arthur sings. Many remember Korman and Tim Conway as a comedy team, a team that frankly seems dated.

Beyond all of that, Harvey was a favorite of Mel Brooks. He had a way with delivering a line about "the piss boy" in History of the World: Part I. But his shot at immortality was of course Blazing Saddles. It was Harvey's moment, and he simply nailed it. The thing about those great, classic comedies that you remember are the performances by the main players. Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase & Bill Murray are all essential to Caddyshack. The same goes for Blazing Saddles. You need Alex Karras punching that horse in the face. You need Cleavon Little, and Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn and Slim Pickens. But imagine that movie without Harvey Korman. You just can't. There are so many scenes with Korman that immediately make you laugh out loud.

My personal favorite is when Lamarr auditioned for the biggest scum of villain he could find to "derail" the plans of saving Rockridge:

Bart (giving his qualifications): Stampeding cattle.
Hedley Lamarr: That's not much of a crime.
Bart: Through the Vatican?
Hedley Lamarr: [smiling] Kinkyyyy. Sign here.

He has those great scenes with Slim Pickens, where Lamarr uses such big words he uses "his tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore." My favorite exchange:

Taggart: We'll work up a "Number 6" on 'em.
Hedley Lamarr: "Number 6"? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that one...
Taggart: Well, that's where we go a-ridin' into town, a whampin' and whompin' every livin' thing that moves within an inch of its life. Except the women folks, of course.
Hedley Lamarr: You spare the women?
Taggart: NAW. We rape the shit out of them at the Number 6 Dance later on.
Hedley Lamarr: Marvelous.

And that was Harvey Korman in that classic movie, doing that voodoo that he does so well. Korman really didn't do much following History of The World, save some bit television guest roles and some voice work. But we'll always have Rockridge, always have Hedy -- I mean, Hedley -- Lamarr. Wilder, Karras John Hillerman (who played Howard Johnson, and became more famous from "Magnum P.I.") and Brooks are really the only ones left from Blazing Saddles. I think Korman's career was very similar to that of Ted Knights. Both were key supporting players on classic television shows, both did voice work for animated series, and both gave unforgettable performances in comedies we'll never tire of watching.

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