By Dick Platt
Corsicana Daily Sun
I have a great deal of respect for the humor Rodney Dangerfield exuded during his comedy career as a writer, stand-up comedian, and movie actor. Rodney was born in 1921 with the name Jacob Cohen in “...Deer Park within the Town of Babylon, New York, in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.” Even his home town sounds like a joke. Anyway, his ancestors were Jewish immigrants from Hungary and his parents were Philip Cohen and Dotty Teitelbaum.
Rodney got his show business genes from his pop who was a vaudevillian with the stage name of Phil Roy. Rodney looks back on his folks fondly when he says his father “...was never home — he was out looking to make other kids” and his mother “...brought him up all wrong.” He began writing jokes for other comedians at age l5 and then, at age 20, struck out on his own under the stage name of Jack Roy. The next nine years were very lean for Rodney and he took odd show business jobs such as a singing waiter and performing as an acrobatic diver. He finally gave it up and got a regular job as an aluminum siding salesman (remember them) to support his family.
In the early 1960s he returned to comedy with minimal success but hung on to his day job as a salesman. A few years later, he became Rodney Dangerfield and developed that “character for whom nothing goes right” image in the hope that audiences would relate to it. He was so right. On March 5, 1967, he was booked as a last-minute replacement on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and stole the show. He began to headline his act in Las Vegas and was frequently seen on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” The Dean Martin Show,” and “The Tonight Show.”
Over his career, Rodney produced comedy albums (one won a Grammy) and TV specials and starred in several movies (some memorable and some not so memorable). Who can forget “Caddyshack?” Rodney was excellent in the part of the nouveau riche (this week’s big word) Al Czervik who is way too uncouth for the upscale country club he has decided to join. If not allowed to join, he will just buy it and develop condominiums on the grounds. The real hits however were Bill Murray as the lovable, but very inept, assistant greenskeeper and the goofy gopher he is trying to displace and destroy. Their sparring greatly resembles the antics between Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.
In 1969, Rodney and a longtime buddy teamed up to build “Dangerfield’s” comedy club in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The club has been in continuous operation for over 40 years and has been a venue for many top comedians such as Jerry Seinfield, Jim Carry, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, and Jeff Foxworthy, just to name a few.
One of Rodney’s great lines came when the Smithsonian Institution put his trademark white shirt and red tie on permanent display. As he handed the shirt over to the museum’s curator he quipped, “I have a feeling you’re going to use this to clean Lindbergh’s plane.”
Rodney was still performing into his 80s. He performed on “The Tonight Show” on his 81st birthday. This was kind on ironic since he had his first heart attack while backstage on this same show a year earlier. In 2003, he was hospitalized for a brain surgery in preparation for a subsequent heart valve replacement. When asked how long he’d be hospitalized, he said, “If all goes well, about a week. If not, about an hour and a half.” I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect his headstone reads, “I told you I was sick.”
Some of my favorite Dangerfields are zingers about his travails with the medical profession, especially his non-respecting doctor, “Doctor Vidi-boom-ba.” “I told him once that every morning when I get up and look in the mirror, I feel like throwing up. What’s wrong with me? He said, ‘I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect’...I told him, I had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. He told me to have a few drinks and get some rest...When I was born, the doctor came out to the waiting room and said to my father, ‘I’m very sorry. We did everything we could, but he pulled through.’...I met the Surgeon General. He offered me a cigarette...I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. He told me to wear a brown necktie...Last week I saw my psychiatrist. I told him, ‘Doc, I keep thinking I’m a dog.’ He told me to get off his couch.”
Speaking of dogs, in addition to his wife and kids he was disrespected by his dog also. “With my dog I don’t get no respect. He keeps barking at the door. He don’t want to go out. He wants me to leave...Some dog I got. We call him Egypt because he leaves a pyramid in every room...What a dog I got. His favorite bone is in my arm!”
And poor Rodney had a terrible family life too. “I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my uncle fought for the West!...My father was stupid. He worked in a bank and they caught him stealing pens...My mother never breast fed me. She told me that she only liked me as a friend. My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet...I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.”
Rest in peace, Rodney.
Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org