Friday, February 18, 2011

Rest In Peace, Kenneth Mars

Last week we lost one of the funniest, most influential character actors of the late 20th Century, Kenneth Mars.  I first saw his work in the original film version of "The Producers" by Mel Brooks, in which Mars played Franz Liebkind, the author of the Worst Play Ever Written:  "Springtime for Hitler:  A Gay Romp With Adolf And Eva In Bechtesgaden."  He was hilarious.

Mel Brooks used Mars again in the brilliant "Young Frankenstein."  He played Inspector Kemp in a wonderful send-up of the police inspector who had been maimed by the monster in the original Universal horror film "Son of Frankenstein."  I still howl with laughter at the town meeting where Inspector Kemp intones, "A riot is an ugly zing, und I zink it's about time zat ve had vun!"  His schtick with his prosthetic hand is priceless.

I have always admired Kenneth Mars' work; back when I was a working actor, his career was one I would have loved to have had for myself.  He was funny, had great comic timing, and got to play the kinds of parts that the leading man-types never get their hands on.  He ranks up there with Hans Conreid and Tony Randall as one of the great comedic actors of our time.  Yet by all accounts he was kind, personable, and down-to-earth; the kind of guy who would talk to you while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Mars died of pancreatic cancer, a particularly nasty cancer with which he had been struggling for months.  I am thankful that his body of work will continue to inspire others.  The Mel Brooks films are truly classics, and other fans of Mars' work can count on seeing his performances delight audiences for generations to come.  He will be missed.

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