CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The “Funny Side” of Leslie Nielsen

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.  Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

This week, we continue our look at the life and career of Leslie Nielsen. Prior to 1980 and for the previous 30 years, Nielsen was largely typecast as a serious dramatic actor.  When Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker came up with their idea for the movie, Airplane!, they wanted to create a grand spoof of the Airport film serials and the other “tragedy films” that were popular in 1970s theaters. To do so, they wanted to find dramatic actors and non-traditional comedic personalities that you would never think of to star in a comedy film.

Their idea worked to perfection…but even the producers were surprised how well things worked.

By casting the “dramatic” acting of Nielsen in a role keying upon delivery of dead-pan comedic lines (some of the funniest in film history), the producers were astonished at how well the “serious” Nielsen dished out his comedic lines flawlessly.  The film — and Nielsen & #39’s delivery — was not a fluke.  Leslie would go on to have overwhelming success as a comedic actor for the next 30 years.

Due to the success of the movie, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were given the green light to create their own situation comedy and, no surprise, penned it with Leslie in mind as the main character.

Even though this series only lasted six episodes, the Police Squad series, which was reportedly cancelled by ABC because they “didn’t get the humor,” would go on to become one of the best comedy series of the early 1990s.

The man known in the industry for his dramatic performances was now one of the most sought-after comedy actors on the planet.

In addition to the Naked Gun/Files of Police Squad movies, Nielsen would star in successful spoofs like Spy Hard (picking apart films like the Die Hard, the James Bond film series and others) as well as ripping on classic horror films in Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  He also became the logical choice when Walt Disney decided to make a live-action version of the popular cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Even as he began to slow down as an actor at the age of 81, Nielsen would frequently steal scenes in his appearances as The President in the Scary Movie film series, as “Uncle Ben” in Superhero Movie and even in his last role as a cross-dressing bar owner in the horror-film spoof, Stan Helsing, starring Diora Baird and Keenan Thompson.

Leslie’s career spanned 60 years, appearing in more than 100 films and 150 television programs and portraying more than 220 characters Nielsen died in his sleep after complications from pneumonia in 2010. He was 84.
You can see many of Nielsen’s acting performances in films like Project: Kill as well as guest starring appearances on Bonanza and other classic television programs on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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