August 31, 1924
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 30, 2003
Los Angeles, California, United States
Actor, Comedian, Voice actor, Performing waiter, Producer, Apprentice upholsterer
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Best known for his raunchy Las Vegas routine, Buddy Hackett has also enjoyed substantial Broadway, film and TV success throughout the years. A short round kid with a smart mouth, he had every intention of going into the family upholstering business, despite having made his professional debut on the 'Borscht Circuit' at the age of 15, but upon returning to New York after World War II service, he began performing at clubs like the Pink Palace in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Headlining at comedy clubs led to a starring role in the hit road production of "Call Me Mister" (1946) and his first foray into TV on the DuMont Network's "School House" (1948-49). Hackett first cracked features in "Walking My Baby Back Home" (1953) and took Broadway by storm in the revival of "Lunatics and Lovers," winning the 1955 Donaldson Award for Best Debut Performance--Male. He then returned to TV in a live situation comedy, starring opposite Carol Burnett and Paul Lynde as "Stanley" (NBC, 1956-57), the outgoing proprietor of a newsstand in a fancy New York hotel. Hackett's shtick featured a wide range of facial expressions and a distinctive voice often delivered out of the side of his mouth, but in "God's Little Acre" (1958), Anthony Mann's adaptation of the Erskine Caldwell novel, he brought a real depth to his role as the whimsical, ridiculed Pluto. A regular on CBS' "The Jackie Gleason Show" during the 1958-59 season, he also started simultaneously contributing to "The Tonight Show," starring Jack Paar, where he remained a regular until 1962. Hackett was back at his zaniest as a Chickisaw Indian sailor who mates a turkey with a pelican in the lightweight "All Hands on Deck" and remained a simple seaman for the equally slight "Everything's Ducky" (both 1961), this time sharing a series of juvenile misadventures with Mickey Rooney and a talking duck. He followed with the popular screen version of the hit musical "The Music Man" (1963), restraining himself for the sake of the story in his role as Marcellus Washburn, and then pulled out all the stops for Stanley Kramer's madcap blockbuster "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963), scoring mightily in his runaway aircraft sequence with Rooney.Though Vegas began demanding most of his time, Hackett surfaced periodically during the late 60s and 70s, perhaps most notably as Dean Jones' balmy-but-sensible sidekick in Disney's hit "carmedy," "The Love Bug" (1968), but he also delivered an emotionally affecting portrayal of Lou Costello in the NBC biopic "Bud and Lou" (1978). 1980 found him filling Groucho's old shoes as host of a new, syndicated "You Bet Your Life," and he began exploring a new career as the voice of Pardon Me Pete and the Storyteller for that year's animated "Jack Frost" (NBC). Hackett unveiled his Vegas act for TV in "Buddy Hackett--Live and Uncensored" (HBO, 1983) and "Buddy Hackett II--On Stage at Caesar's Atlantic City" (HBO, 1986), executive producing both specials, and hit feature pay dirt again, first in his bit as Scrooge for the Bill Murray vehicle "Scrooged" (1988) and later as the voice of Scuttle the seagull in Disney's animated "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and its straight-to-video sequel in 2000. Stage fright forced him to retire his live act in 1996, but he played a small role as a pawnbroker in "Paulie" (1998) and then returned to series TV in the recurring role of Jay Mohr's favorite uncle and chauffeur in Fox's "Action" (1999), a controversial look at the life of a Hollywood executive that earned critical praise but failed to attract an audience. Mohr next tapped Hackett to serve as a talent judge on his hit stand-up comedy reality series "Last Comic Standing" (2003), while other contemporary members of the Industry embraced Hackett's old school yet ageless charm, and the comic appeared on several series, including "Just Shoot Me" and "Sabrina The Teenage Witch" and a recurring bit called "Tuesdays With Buddy" on "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn" before his death in 2003.