*brushes off dust*
After a hiatus of several years, I'm trying to recharge the blog again. Part of the issue, outside of many personal circumstances, has been too many ideas of where and how to start back. Well, recent events forced my hand. Abe Vigoda finally died at the age of 94.
Vigoda's early career included stage work, especially Shakespeare, and bits on the CBS Radio series You Are There in 1949 (playing older characters in crowds or juries during famous moments in history). Also in 1949, at least according to several logs and the unreliable IMDb, Vigoda was in a TV episode of Suspense (based on the venerable radio series). "The Lunch Box" (which had been done on radio as "The Lunch Kit," originally for The Whistler in 1944 and then on Suspense in 1949), but the Paley Center for Media, which has the only copy I'm aware of, doesn't list him. Perhaps he was uncredited, or wasn't in it at all, but the place and time are right. Hopefully someday we can confirm.
Moving along, Vigoda continued to do stage Shakespeare and the like, and then appeared a couple of times on a soap opera by the name of Dark Shadows. My friend Danny Horn, who chronicles the series at Dark Shadows Every Day, discussed Vigoda's two 1969 episodes as elderly silversmith Ezra Braithwaite, who dies of a heart attack induced by supernatural shock. After playing multiple ensemble roles in the Broadway play Inquest, Vigoda returned once more in 1970, as elderly antique dealer Otis Greene who... dies of a heart attack induced by supernatural shock. Well, it's good to have a niche.
When not fishing, Vigoda appeared in two episodes of The Rockford Files, one pre-Barney Miller and one post. The first ("The Kirkoff Case," the first episode of the series proper after the two-hour pilot, in 1974) has Vigoda as a "labor union organizer," clearly to be read as mobster. One of his goons is played by Milt Kogan (Kogan the uniform cop in early episodes of "Barney Miller"; the actor left but the character was mentioned to the end of the run, even earning a promotion to sergeant!) It's a one-scene part but Vigoda makes the most of it.
They got good mileage out of that in the second season "Barney Miller" episode "Discovery," in which a computer error lists Fish as dead (thus starting the trend!) When another character tells Fish he looks just like Karloff, the inevitable answer is "That's because we're both dead."
Speaking of Karloff, the resemblance was also put to use when he guest starred on The Bionic Woman as an ancient, sinister butler named Barlow, in a sort of homage-slash-spoof of Old Dark House mysteries (complete with Vincent Price as both dead man and his scheming twin brother). Vigoda had played a similar role in a 1960s off-Broadway version of The Cat and the Canary, and in 1986, he did the Broadway revival of Arsenic and Old Lace as the murderous Jonathan Brewster, a part originated by Boris Karloff (in fact, the joke in dialogue is that botched plastic surgery has left Jonathan looking like Karloff). Vigoda also played Fish in the
After Fish's cancellation, Vigoda continued the TV guest circuit, including the expected visits to Fantasy Island, The Love Boat (romancing Nancy Walker), Murder She Wrote, and the short-lived Sweepstakes (a modernized The Millionaire with Love Boat touches), and also BJ and the Bear, but out of respect for the deceased, we'll ignore that. Later guest spots included Law & Order (as a retired NYPD detective, surprise surprise) and a Christmas episode of "Wings," called "All About Christmas Eve," in 1996.
Most of Vigoda's other film credits, apart from The Godfather and its sequel, were fairly forgettable or downright painful, including Good Burger, the Pauly Shore courtroom "comedy" Jury Duty(as the judge), The Misery Brothers (wearing lipstick and earrings in the trailer), and the title role in an oddball Cannon action thriller Keaton's Cop (opposite Lee Majors and Don Rickles), and many movies that barely got a release. There were exceptions, and he did have a very brief cameo in the cult horror comedy The Stuff (1985), in a commercial, married to Clara "Where's the beef?" Peller:
Other fairly respectable turns included an Alaskan grandpa in North, a vet in the Christmas movie Prancer, and yet another mob boss, this time animated, as Sal "The Wheezer" in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). Joe Versus the Volcano improbably but brilliantly cast Abe Vigoda as an island chieftain. Near the bubbling volcano of the title, the chief conducts one of the shortest marriage ceremonies. The image below says far more about the role than mere words could.
Farewell, Abe. May Heaven be devoid of annoying kids and kidney stones.
Ivan Shreve, author of Mayberry Mondays (chronicling every episode Mayberry RFD) and Doris Days (The Doris Day Show). The latter has been far more intermittent, but given my own delays, and having watched a few episodes, I can hardly blame him. In any event, Fish Fridays will commence in earnest, at least up until the second season premiere (the only second season episode I could find), including the two-part Barney Miller “Goodbye, Mr. Fish” (the character’s retirement) and possibly a look at his two return visits.