August 11, 2001
CHRISTOPHER HEWETT passed away last week. He was best known for playing the title role on the situation comedy, Mr.
Belvedere, which — I was surprised to just learn — was on ABC for five whole years.
I have, you may be shocked to know, an anecdote about working with Mr. Hewett, albeit briefly. In 1983, I was writing a show for
ABC and a cameo appearance was arranged with the stars of Fantasy Island in the interest of network solidarity and cheesy
cross-promotion. Hewett had just joined the cast (replacing Herve Villechaize as Mr. Roarke's sidekick) so he and Ricardo Montalban came by to
tape a couple of short bits. When Hewett came into the room, I couldn't resist: In my best Gene Wilder simulation, I muttered, "Max, he's wearing a
dress." There was a pause as everyone else in the room looked at me like I was more insane than usual. None of them got the
reference. None of them recalled that Christopher Hewett played the effeminate director, Roger DeBris, in Mel Brooks's classic movie, The
Mr. Hewett, fortunately, threw back his head and howled with laughter. We talked a bit about the film — "A great honor...my
one disappointment was that they wouldn't allow me to keep the wardrobe" — and about his then-recent stint on stage, playing Captain Hook to
Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan. He was a wonderful Hook, wallowing in villainy and masterfully goading the audience into hissing his every
move. And though his off-camera manner made Roger DeBris look dead butch, his on-stage piracy was right in masculine character. (I have
seen some Hooks whose feet touched the floor less often than Peter's.)
After praising his performance in that, I was groping for something else to say and I hit upon, "Was that your first time on
Given his résumé, It was an incredibly-stupid question but he was ever-so-polite in how he told me that. "Oh, no,
dear boy," he said. "I've trod those boards many a time."
"Really?" I asked. "What was your first Broadway show?"
He said, "My Fair Lady." And I could tell he wasn't talking about any revival. He meant the original version; the
one with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.
I looked it up when I got home. Sure enough, he originated the role of Zoltan Karpathy, the Hungarian linguistics professor who
threatens to expose Eliza Doolittle when Higgins takes her to the ball. It was a smaller role on stage than it was in the movie, but hell, even
a cameo in that show was theatrical history.
He appeared thereafter in dozens of theatrical productions, many of them on Broadway, and in the occasional film and TV role until he
joined Fantasy Island. After that show went off, Mr. Belvedere made him a star and, I'd suspect, a very wealthy man. It is
an odd irony of show business that someone can devote a lifetime to the stage and have it as their first love...and then they do a sitcom or a
commercial and achieve near-instant fame and fortune. (Sir Laurence Olivier, it is said, made more money in three years doing commercials for
Polaroid Cameras than he did in all his Shakespearean appearances, combined.)
So it was a bit sad to see all those obits that spoke only of Hewett's TV work. There are those out there who consider My Fair
Lady the greatest musical ever produced on stage and The Producers, the funniest movie ever made. Most actors go their entire lives
without being in anything as wonderful as either of those...and Christopher Hewett, may he rest in peace, was part of both.
And yet another damned obituary: Jerry DeFuccio passed away last night. Jerry was a veteran of EC Comics, having worked as an
assistant editor, researcher and occasional writer for Harvey Kurtzman's war comics during their "golden" period. When Mad Magazine got
up and running, Jerry became one of its Associate Editors and remained there for more than 25 years. (A few years after he departed, he
resurfaced for a brief time at Cracked).
Anyone who visited the Mad offices during his years there probably met and spent time with Jerry. He was the magazine's
historian, researcher and unofficial greeter. He was also a devout student of comic book history who was responsible for unearthing much that
is today known about vintage funnybooks. He was very nice to me when I first ventured into the halls of Mad, as he was to just about
everyone. I wish I had more info on his life to pass along here...
ONE OF THE MANY wonderful qualities that Lorenzo Music possessed was his tendency and talent for putting people together and
fomenting friendships. So it was fitting and, in an odd way, appropriately comforting that his passing should continue the practice.
Shortly after posting an obit here, I began to hear from folks who knew him — some, more-or-less strangers to me; others, old friends with whom
I hadn't communicated in a long time. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes a tragedy to put people back in touch but, well, it does.
You'd be genuinely amazed how many e-mails I received regarding the obit I wrote. On the other hand, it took five days before any
of those folks pointed out to me that in one part, I called his wonderful spouse Henrietta — which is correct — and in another, Harriet,
which is not. I apologize, Henrietta, and I've corrected it. (This is what happens when you type with moist eyes.)
Want to read another, more detailed bio on Lorenzo? Craig Crumpton, who is a wise and informed scholar of the cartoon voice biz,
has one at his site. You can reach it by clicking here. And some words from Jim Davis can be read on the Garfield website.
DO YOU LIKE to look at photos of old coffee shops and motels and such? A very nice display of them can be seen at the
website for Roadside Magazine. Here's a direct link to
MY PAL Steven Grant is one of the better writers of comic books, among other things. And among the other things is a
regular column over at Comic Book Resources. It's always interesting but the current installment — which is about his occasional
collaborator, the late and great Gil Kane — is especially fine reading. Here comes the link.
I DON'T REALLY KNOW enough about stem-cell research to have an opinion on it. I suspect 95% of America doesn't,
either. However, most folks have decided it's some sort of add-on to the abortion issue so it must be decided accordingly. This
necessitates the same kind of juggling act that so many Republican politicians have performed for the last few years...to amazing success:
They must convince "Pro-Lifers" within the party that they are against abortion; that they consider all abortions — except, in
some cases, those involving rape, incest or the survival of the mother — as premeditated Baby Murdering...
They must convince "Pro-Choicers" within the party (and any independents or rogue Democrats whose support may be snagged) that they
will not actually act upon the above belief, and don't really think that if you participate in an abortion, you're in any way a Baby Murderer.
So our President's position on stem-cell research — trying to have it both ways and to not make either faction too angry
— was probably a foregone conclusion. Over on Slate, William Saletan has an
interesting piece that parses Bush's statement and points up the Herculean effort that seems to have been made to double-talk his way out of a no-win
policy decision. Here's that link.
AS A DEVOUT WALLOWER in Watergate lore, I feel a tingle at the news that technicians may be able to recover the audio on the
infamous 18-and-a-half minute gap on one of Nixon's tapes. For those of you who've forgotten or never knew: One of the tapes that was
subpoenaed in the Watergate investigation was of the first conversation that President Nixon had with his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, following
the Watergate break-in. The presumption was that, if Nixon had prior knowledge of the criminal activity, that was when it would have been
mentioned. But the tape in question turned out to have a long section in which the audio was erased — deliberately so, said the
Personally, I feel that various memos and other bits of evidence that have since surfaced have pretty well proved that Nixon knew of
and probably ordered that such activities be conducted. He may not have known of the specific break-in plans but he knew. Nevertheless,
the case is not airtight, so his partisans can still deny it. I remain skeptical that the audio can be resurrected but it sure would be nice to
settle the matter definitively.
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