Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I am sad to hear that comedy legend Dom DeLuise has died, at the age of 75. By the late 1960's he was already a ubiquitous presence in TV variety and talk shows, commercials, sitcoms and animated voices (he voiced the landlord 'Evictus' in Hanna-Barbera's short lived ersatz FLINTSTONE clone THE ROMAN HOLIDAYS).
By the 1970's he broke into movies, notably as a Mel Brooks stalwart and often as Burt Reynold's sidekick. In 1980, I got to meet and work with him when he was cast as 'Jeremy' the crow in Don Bluth's THE SECRET OF NIMH. As the least experienced member of a young but super talented crew, I was doing my best to fit in when John Pomeroy got the bright idea of casting Dom. John had seen him on a TV broadcast of the 1978 Burt Reynold's hit THE END and suggested him for the crow. I have to admit, I was surprised because Dom was a much bigger & broader persona (in every sense of the word) than the book seemed to call for. Don Bluth himself single-handedly storyboarded the whole film, but I was asked to suggest gags and at this point, to write dialog for Dom. I wrote out some stuff in what I thought would be a good voice for him and from that point on was involved in all the story and recording sessions for the film. Dom recorded several times over two years, and he was among the first to record.
In person he was wonderfully collaborative and down-to-earth. He was very happy to see in the model sheets that the character was not going to be drawn big and fat. During breaks he would talk about his favorite influences like Bert Lahr, Curly Howard, and especially Lou Costello. He never was unpleasant to anyone present other than himself--periodically if he flubbed a line several times he would spew hair-curling curses at himself that made a colorful counterpoint to our very G-rated script. He also made the material immediately funnier--suggesting he constantly excuse himself (even to inanimate objects) uttering "Excuse me-pardon me!" as he bumbled along. By the time he was done recording and animators Linda Miller and Skip Jones brought him to life, I felt like a very tiny part of a process, but one I was glad to be in on nonetheless.
I never worked with him again, although I scripted a shelved BANJO Halloween special in which he would have played a goblin. He continued to work in animation, often in subsequent Don Bluth movies and he even turned up as 'Fagin' in Disney's OLIVER & CO. (I animated on the picture but not on his character and though our paths never crossed, I doubt he would have recognized me anyway.) Although he seemed to taper off his appearances from the 1990's on, in his heyday he was one of the most in-demand performers around.
Around the time of NIMH Dom DeLuise turned to feature directing in a film called HOT STUFF, about a pawnbroker, I think. One actress I know who auditioned for the movie said that it was the nicest "turn-down" she ever got--Dom sent personal thank you notes to every one who auditioned, even if they didn't get the part. He will be missed.