Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surely He'll Be Missed

From the Naked Gun days
I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Leslie Nielsen over the past weekend, and I hope that many people get the message from his life...which was, to me, not to take things so doggone seriously.

A classically handsome leading-man type with a voice of authority, Leslie William Neilsen grew up way up in the Yukon, where his father was the local Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman.  After serving in the Canadian Air Force in World War II, Leslie answered the calling of the world's second-oldest, and certainly most noble, profession, and became a disc jockey.

Leslie with Anne Francis in "Forbidden Planet"
However, unlike most disc jockeys, the public actually wanted to see his face, so off he went to become an actor.  And he did very well in those leading-guy roles, in movies such as "Forbidden Planet" and all those movies with exclamation points in the titles!  Such as "Ransom!" and "Rosie!" and "Viva Knievel!" and "...And Millions Die!"  He continued making movies all through the 1970s, and his propensity for deadpan comedy was never on public display in those days; he played all those roles for straight drama.

When the producers of "Airplane!" called him, planning a spoof on airway disaster movies such as "Airport!" he turned down the role of Dr Rumack initially, feeling that he was still in a good groove in the leading man business.  But that very night, the way he told the story, he saw himself in a made-for-TV movie, and he felt he looked a little silly, a white-haired man in his 50's schmoozing a woman three decades younger.  So he changed his mind, and went on to do "Airplane!" and the six brilliant episodes of "Police Squad!" on TV, which led to the movies "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" along with "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" and "The Naked Gun: The Final Insult," which was also the final film in the acting career of O.J. Simpson.  There were other roles in other comedies, but the part of Sgt. Frank Drebin, "Detective-Lieutenant" of Police Squad, basically Dr Rumack with a gun, defined his career in a way that means a lot to those who like that sort of laughs.

From the UK Guardian, here's a list of his ten greatest lines.  Surely you will remember them:

Dr Rumack (played by Nielsen): Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Dr Rumack: I am serious ... and don't call me Shirley.
[Jane Spencer climbs a ladder]
Lt Frank Drebin (played by Nielsen: Nice beaver!
Jane: [producing a stuffed beaver] Thank you. I just had it stuffed.
(The Naked Gun: From the files of Police Squad)
Dr Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Dr Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.
Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?
Frank Drebin: I'm a locksmith. And, I'm a locksmith.
(Police Squad)
Frank Drebin: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.
Jane: Goodyear?
Frank Drebin: No, the worst.
(The Naked Gun: From the files of Police Squad)
Frank Drebin: Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?
Jane: He's Caucasian.
Ed: Caucasian?
Jane: Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.
Frank Drebin: Awfully big moustache.
(The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear)
Frank Drebin: That's the red-light district. I wonder why Savage is hanging around down there.
Ed: Sex, Frank?
Frank Drebin: Uh, no, not right now, Ed.
(The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear)
Jane: I've heard police work is dangerous.
Frank Drebin: It is. That's why I carry a big gun.
Jane: Aren't you afraid it might go off accidentally?
Frank Drebin: I used to have that problem.
Jane: What did you do about it?
Frank Drebin: I just think about baseball.
(The Naked Gun: From the files of Police Squad)
Frank Drebin: This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you want to do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!
(The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear)
Dr Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice: steak or fish.
Dr Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.
I think we'd all do well to have that conversation with ourselves that Leslie Nielsen had and start seeing the lighter side of life.  It's to laugh.  Have some lasagna.

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