Tuesday, April 17, 2018

RIP Harry Anderson

I can't believe this isn't just one of his ingenious hustles. Come on Harry, show yourself.   There's so much that doesn't make sense.  Harry was only 65.  He can't be gone.  This must be a trick.

I first met Harry during pre-production of the first season of CHEERS.  So June or July 1982.  He came into the office wearing the full Harry the Hat outfit.   We were looking to sprinkle in some colorful characters and boy did he fit the bill.  A few weeks later Harry invited us all to the Magic Castle to see his act.  Sure, the magic was dazzling, but what impressed us the most was how FUNNY he was. 

And authentic.  All of the little hustles Harry did that first season were things he contributed.  He was a fun character and the audience loved him, but we worried if we used him too often he wouldn't be as special.   I was so thrilled when he then got the starring role in NIGHT COURT.  He was getting the spotlight he deserved. 

We used Harry again the final season of CHEERS.  David Isaacs and I were assigned to write the final Bar Wars episode.  We thought this would be a perfect time to bring Harry back one last time. In all previous Bar Wars chapters David and I concocted the story.   This time Harry was the mastermind.   We called him and said we really wanted to put a final exclamation point on the Bar Wars saga.  For once we wanted CHEERS to win and we wanted them to win big.  We even thought, "What if somehow Gary's Old Towne tavern gets destroyed?"   Harry came up with the sting.

He was a lovely guy, mischievous as hell, and just naturally hilarious.

Okay, Harry, you had your fun.  Show yourself.   It's too sad otherwise. 

32 comments :

TimWarp said...

Thank you for this.

Glenn said...

RIP, Harry. I loved Night Court, one of the funnier sitcoms during its run. And I loved that he finally helped the Cheers gang beat Gary. "Excuse me, I think that's the sound of my check bouncing."

Doug said...

Yeah, My first response was "Aw, no". Sixty-five is way too young. I guess Torme has his number one fan back.

VincentS said...

So sad that this completes the adage of celebrity deaths happening in threes along with Milos Foreman and R. Lee Ermey. Rest in peace, gentlemen.

tavm said...

As a frequent "SNL" fan since 1980-when the cast was still mostly the formerly named "Not Ready for Prime Time Players"-I managed to witness Harry Anderson's recurring guest appearances on the show before he hosted himself during the 10th season by which time he also did "Cheers" and was now the star of "Night Court". He was hilarious each time during the Dick Ebersol-produced seasons and provided a nice segue to Penn and Teller when they started appearing during Lorne Michaels' first season back. I didn't watch him as much when he did "Dave's World" which I don't remember him being as hilarious though I'm guessing it was good enough to last 4 seasons. So on that note, R.I.P. Harry the Hat

Mark Stout said...

Was waiting to read your tribute.

I had a conversation with him once. I wrote up the memory last night.

http://markstout.blogspot.com/2018/04/harry-anderson-magician-actor-geek.html?m=1

Brian said...

It's not often that I see a performer that I start rooting for. I think I saw him first on an "Evening at the Improv" show on A&E and thought he was very funny. Then I saw him in his various roles, all the while knowing that every time I saw him, he'd make me laugh. I'm glad you got the chance to work with him and I'll miss him.

Leemats said...

Ken, some sources out there claim that Harry the Hat's last name was "Gittes." Although he gave this as his last name in his final Cheers appearance, I always assumed he was giving a fake name, and we never learned his actual last name. Can you confirm?

Buttermilk Sky said...

Sad news indeed. He was certainly odd casting for a New York City judge, but terrific anyway.
You and other fans will want to check this out:

https://mockpaperscissors.com/2018/04/17/rip-harry-anderson/

Eric J said...

Almost too zany, but the cast was incredible and the writers so funny I can remember bits to this day. I loved Estelle Harris whispering in John Larroquettes ear why John Wayne, after being with her, never walked the same again.

Brent Spiner bits were always hilarious and it made him a star.

But Harry the Hat pulled it all together and made it work for the audience. I guess I have to spend a couple hours on youtube in tribute.

Brett said...

Ken, I heard someone randomly mention Harry's passing. Your blog was my first go-to place for more information. Is it true? i wondered. Seems like you're have the showman's level of incredulity as well.

I'll remember the good times and the laughs.

John Hammes said...

Circa 1999. Harry Anderson tapes a game show pilot for CBS. The show is called "What's My Line?". Yes, a proposed reboot of the game show that had been so successful and profitable for CBS (and first-run syndication) decades earlier.

Whatever the reason, in this particular instance, it comes down to the network having to decide between two shows. "What's My Line?", and a new type of "reality series" format... something called "Survivor".


Anderson had always said that after CBS made it's decision, he could see what kind of tide was turning in show business, and it was not the kind of show business he wanted any part of. Having already had success in "Night Court", "Dave's World", and recurring in "Cheers", was more than success enough. He returned to his first love - the world of magic - and would own and operate magic shops or a nightclub here and there. A much quieter life than anything Hollywood had to offer, but a life that on balance Anderson would say he was happier with.

The tributes and memories coming from celebrities and civilians alike, pretty much come down to that he was an unusually kind and pleasant person - unfortunately, not something to be seen everyday in celebrity life.

Rest In Peace, Harry. Sixty-five years, and time served. Greet Selma and Flo for us.

blinky said...

That totally sucks. I really hate it when people younger than me die.

Dr Loser said...

Eek.

Thank you for the tribute, Ken.

John Blahut said...

I've been waiting to read this post since I heard the news last night. RIP Harry. You will be missed.

a fan

Daniel said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Do you know why Tom Skerritt's character, Duke Forrest from the "M*A*S*H" film wasn't brought over to the TV series?

Roger Owen Green said...

He made Night Court look easy, even though he didn't think of himself as an actor.
And he's MY age - yeesh!

Phantom Dreamer said...

The Harry the Hat Cheers cameos were classic. RIP.

David Schwartz said...

In November of 1980 I was working on the musical variety show, "Solid Gold." It was the show's first season and I was a gopher (meaning, I'd "go for this" or "go for that.") It was my first job out of college and I was excited to be there. On our seventh show we taped Harry Anderson (pre-Cheers and pre-Night Court) doing a magic/comedy routine and he needed a "stooge" from the audience. Guess who got to be that stooge? Me! He did a very funny routine with coat hangers and I got to be on stage doing it with him. Unfortunately, that week's show was long (and possibly because Harry wasn't yet a "name"), the routine was dropped from the show. However, having some foresight I got a copy of it before it disappeared into some vault somewhere. The copy I got was on reel to reel 1/2 inch video that they used in schools at the time. We used it to view the show in the office before editing.

Anyway, for years I had this antiquated tape and couldn't play it. Finally, I sent it away to be dubbed onto a DVD. I looked forward to seeing it (and figured I looked about the same, after all, it had only been 30 years), and when it arrived I quickly took a look at it.

Harry looked fine, but I looked unbelievably younger! It's amazing how much we change after 30 years! Anyway, it was a great experience for me and I'm glad I got to relive it. I imagine Harry couldn't have been happy his appearance on the show was left on the cutting room floor, but you know... it looks like he eventually did all right for himself. RIP Harry.

fred nerk said...

David Schwartz- Put it on YouTube.

Donald Benson said...

Vaguely recollect a print interview where Anderson said he was originally working the three card monte scam in earnest, but turned it into a comedy act because of very sore losers. Doesn't really tally with anything I've heard or read since, so guessing that was a bit of personal myth making.

Joe said...

The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Cheers got all the attention in the Thursday night lineup, but Night Court -- in its prime -- was often good for as many laughs. Harry was great on that.

And one of the best Cheers episodes ever was when Harry and Coach pulled the con on George in the poker game. It was a great idea to bring him back in the final season so Cheers would be the ultimate winner in "Bar Wars."

Rest in peace, Harry. You left us too young.

jcs said...

NIGHT COURT was a sitcom without any pretense. The scripts weren't exactly stellar or even paradigm-shifting, but the talented cast made sure that decent punchlines came out well-timed, fresh and funny. Harry Anderson always looked very much at ease behind the bench and made the audience feel welcome.

Unfortunately Carl Kasell also died. I think it is next to impossible to name a radio personality whose voice emanated more gravitas than Kasell's. On top of his work in the news department, he and Peter Sagal were an entertaining quiz show duo. They were the reason for many people - including this commenter - to turn on the radio. Outside of radio archives Kasell's voice will be heard on thousands of answering machines and voicemail systems for years to come. The announcements - a prize you could win on NPR's "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" - will be part of his legacy.

Max Clarke said...

Harry was great throughout Cheers. He always seemed like the happiest man in town. Life was a bowl of cherries.

But he was also in one of my favorite movies from the 1980s, "The Escape Artist." He played the father of the boy who is on his way to becoming a stage magician.

Given the way Harry just left us, there are a couple off parallels between real life and his character in the movie.

suek2001 said...

I loved Night Court..and I still recall some of Harry's lines from the show. I took the liberty of watching the final Bar Wars episodes on my lunch hour and nearly got thrown out of the workplace cafeteria for laughing so hard. Wonderfully written and the cast was superb. You have been blessed to work with a lot of talent over the years. Maybe one of those retro channels will pick up Night Court some time down the road.

Sdb 26554 said...

Joe, you're right. Outside of the bushel of emmys that Larroquette won, it was sort of treated as the "red headed step child" of that powerhouse lineup.

Markie, John and Marsha all have nice tributes up to Harry on their social media accounts. Markie, in particular, shared a very touching memory of Harry.

Brad Apling said...

Thinking about Harry's roles and the different shows he was on prompted a question: Any idea of when 'serial' type episodes started being created vs procedural (where the plot was contained within one episode)? My sense is that it wasn't until the 70's that one or two TV shows started extending a plot over two episodes as a wait to hang on to an audience for ratings week. If I recall correctly, soap operas were doing this well before 'regular' TV shows, but I'm sure your encyclopedic knowledge would know better.

McAlvie said...

65 is too young, definitely. But Harry sounds like someone who figured out what he wanted and lived on his own terms. He certainly is fondly remembered, and remembered at the top of his game. My condolences to his family and friends, and I'm saddened to think he's not in this world anymore. But at the same time, yeah, I can see him with a twinkle in his eye, knowing he's just pulled one over on all of us. And that's not such a bad way to go at any age.

Stephen Robinson said...

"That's Eddie the Mole from Phoenix. They call him Mole Man, or Moley. In Philly they call him Sid."
"Sid?"
"Philly's a dull town."

The line... the delivery.... in the current age of irony and pop-culture references posing as jokes, you really don't see anything like that anymore. It's truly classic.

Rosariorose9 said...

First saw Harry many, many years ago (well before he became 'a name') at the 'It's Magic' review at the Wilshire Ebell Theater here in Los Angeles. Many great magicians on the bill, but Harry stood out, doing a hilarious straight jacket routine with his first wife. I remember heading home after the show, and saying to my date that "that guy is going to be BIG." Indeed he did. Will miss his smile....

Y. Knott said...

Watched "Pick A Con...Any Con" last night in Harry's honour. Still holds up beautifully.

Leemats, Harry's character was identified as "Harry Gittes" in the credits of one Cheers episode ... but his last name was never spoken aloud. Still, the Cheers gang *had* to know the character's 'real' last name. In "Pick A Con", Sam tracked Harry down in the city jail and paid his bail. Can't do that without the right name!

ChipO said...

Got to see Harry on Halloween Night at the Hermosa Beach Comedy Club (early 90's). Not just fun and games, he read, he acted, he joked, he magiced, and he illusioned. What a great performance.
RIP and thank you.