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Dick Shawn Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (2)  | Trivia (8)  | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Born in Buffalo, New York, USA
Died in San Diego, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameRichard Schulefand
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

One-of-a-kind comedian Dick Shawn was as intriguingly clever and off-the-wall as they came. As such, he proved to be rather an acquired taste on film and TV. A counterculture favorite far ahead of his time, it became a hit-and-miss effort in proper vehicles for this man's eccentric genius. He certainly found his element on the live comedic stage, however, in between his offbeat on-camera assignments.

Born Richard Schulefand on December 1, 1923, in Buffalo, New York, Dick was raised in nearby Lackawanna where his father owned a clothing store. The family, including a brother, lived in the back room of the store. Athletics dominated his youth and, following high school, he tried out and won a contract with the Chicago White Sox. Before he could join the team, however, he was drafted into the Army where he sang and did comedy in USO shows. Following his discharge, he briefly attended the University of Miami, but the stand-up comedy stage seemed to beckon and he moved to New York City to follow his wacky desire.

Dick auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts" show (he didn't win) and changed his sir name to an easier sounding "Shawn" at this point. He began appearing at all the New York clubs and even played the New York Palace. He also found work on the Vegas comedy stage, and finally made his TV debut in 1955 guesting on "The Ed Sullivan Show," making eight appearances in total over the years. Other late 1950's and 60's variety shows came his way, increasing his popularity on "The Tonight Show," "The Kraft Music Hall," "The Eddie Fisher Show," "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show," "The Jimmy Dean Show," "The Jerry Lewis Show," "The Judy Garland Show," "The Andy Williams Show," "The Pat Boone Show" and "The Joan Rivers Show," among others.

Dick slowly moved into the forefront during the be-bop 50s and early 60s with a comical penchant for playing cool, hip cats, Dick made his film debut featured in The Opposite Sex (1956), the musical remake of "The Women," in which he had a cameo in "The Psychiatrist" sketch. A few years later he returned to co-star with equally "way out" comic idol Ernie Kovacs in the military spoof Wake Me When It's Over (1960) as a hustling soldier out to make a buck in the Far East. During this mild bid for film stardom, he found himself top-billed as a hip, laid back genie in the thoroughly anemic satire The Wizard of Baghdad (1960).

Dick made a distinct impression when he replaced the legendary Zero Mostel in the bawdy Broadway musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." On film, he stole a small scene as a deadbeat character in the all-star epic chase comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). By far, the one role that would completely overshadow all of his other film work was his mock, hammy portrayal of a singing Adolf Hitler in the show-within-a-show The Producers (1967), written and directed by Mel Brooks. In the film, which also starred Mostel and Gene Wilder as two con artists deliberately producing a stage "bomb" called "Springtime for Hitler," Shawn sang the absurdly narcissistic song "Love Power." This stroke of genius of matching actor to role would not happen again for him, but he certainly tried. For the most part, Dick's slick and smarmy persona got caught up too much in mediocre material.

On TV, Dick stepped up his visibility appearing on the well-oiled comedy shows of the day, including "The Lucy Show," "That's Life," "Love, American Style," "Mary," "Laverne & Shirley," "Private Benjamin," "Three's Company," and a regular role as Russian Premier Zolotov in the short-lived political satire Hail to the Chief (1985) starring Patty Duke as a female U.S. president. He also could show a serious, dramatic side on such programs as "The Bold Ones," "Medical Center," Magnum P.I.," "The Fall Guy" and "St. Elsewhere."

Dick seemed to be best taken in smaller doses. He provided a gallery of over-the-top oddballs during his three-decade career: a nerdy fiancé in the Rock Hudson battle-of-the-sexes comedy A Very Special Favor (1965); a wacky West Point captain alongside James Coburn in the slapstick war comedy What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); a Russian counterpart to Brian Keith's space-chosen civilian in the sci-fi comedy Way... Way Out (1966); an unhappy husband married to Tina Louise in The Happy Ending (1969); a psychiatrist to Natalie Wood's title character in Penelope (1966); an adulterous Jewish husband in the family drama Looking Up (1977); an investigating officer in the vampire spoof Love at First Bite (1979) starring George Hamilton as Dracula; a very rare lead as a suicide-prone anchorman in the black comedy Good-bye Cruel World (1982); a rock-and-roller character called Weevil, King of Evil in Rock 'n' Roll Hotel (1983); an annoying college professor in Young Warriors (1983); an aging drag queen in the crime thriller Angel (1983); a patient of Bud Cort's title character in The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (1984); a smug talk show host in Beer (1985); an equally smug psychiatrist in The Perils of P.K. (1986); an eccentric blueblood who hires Ally Sheedy in Maid to Order (1987); and a documentary filmmaker who, with Martin Mull, is forced to make porn in the comedy farce Rented Lips (1987). This final film of his was released posthumously.

The comedian's biggest fan base, however, was the result of his one-man stage tours which contained a weird mix of songs, sketches, satire, philosophy and even pantomime. A bright, innovative wit, one of Dick's most notorious shows was called "The Second Greatest Entertainer in the World." During the show's intermission, Shawn would lie visibly on the stage floor absolutely still during the entire time. By freakish coincidence, the 63-year-old Shawn was performing at the University of California at San Diego on the evening of April 17, 1987, when, during the show, he suddenly collapsed on stage. The audience, at first laughing and thinking it was part of his odd shtick, had suffered a fatal heart attack. A not surprising end for this thoroughly intriguing character, Dick was survived by his four children from a previous marriage.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Family (2)

Spouse Rita Bachner (11 September 1948 - ?)  (divorced)  (4 children)
Children Shawn, Amy
Shawn, Wendy
Shawn, Adam
Shawn, Jennifer

Trivia (8)

Interred at Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California, USA.
Died on stage of a heart attack.
Was supposedly the first person to execute the icon "The High Five", in the movie, The Producers (1967). It was during the play in the movie, "Springtime For Hitler", the character of Hitler played by Shawn sent for Goebbels who was played by David Patch, and instead of putting his hand in front of for the "give me five", Shawn held it up and Patch slapped it. Though it would not become popular till many years later.
Father of Amy, Wendy, Adam and Jennifer.
The irony of his death on stage is that it went "unnoticed" because of Shawn's strict instructions to stage crews. He would tell all concerned that he was liable to do anything at any time, including pratfalls, and that they were not to react to this. At his last performance, it did not occur to anyone that something tragic had happened until it was felt that his lying motionless on stage had run the joke rather thin. It was only then that Shawn was discovered to have died doing what he did best; enthralling his audience with his marvelous humour.
Dick Shawn was a guest star on a very popular in 1960s TV-show "Password" (1961).
William Shatner attended Shawn's second-to-last show the night before he died on stage. Shatner has said at conventions that he thinks that would be a great way to go out.
The 2020 short film Leave 'em Laughing was based on a LA Times article based on the account of an actual audience member who was at Dick Shawn's final performance at UCSD on April 17th, 1987 where Dick Shawn had a heart attack on stage and died.

Personal Quotes (2)

I think of my relationship with any audience as a love affair. It lasts only a little while but I always look forward to a happy ending. For both of us.
I can't work places like Vegas or the Catskills where people are belching. Maybe I belong in colleges. At least if I die, I die in front of intelligent people who know what I'm talking about.

See also

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