Frank Gorshin

Frank John Gorshin Jr. (April 5, 1933 – May 17, 2005) was an American character actor, impressionist, and comedian. He was perhaps best known as an impressionist, with many guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and Tonight Starring Steve Allen. His most famous acting role was as the Riddler on the live-action television series Batman.

Frank Gorshin
Gorshin as the Riddler, from the Batman television series
Born
Frank John Gorshin Jr.

(1933-04-05)April 5, 1933
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMay 17, 2005(2005-05-17) (aged 72)
Resting placeCalvary Catholic Cemetery
EducationCarnegie Mellon University
OccupationActor
Years active19552005
Spouse(s)
Christina Randazzo (m. 1957)
Children1
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1953–1955
UnitSpecial Services

Early life

Gorshin was born on April 5, 1933, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Catholic parents Frances, a seamstress, and Frank Gorshin Sr., a railroad worker.[1][2][3] He was of Slovenian ancestry. His father, Frank Sr., was a second-generation Slovenian-American whose parents emigrated to America from Slovenia. His mother, Frances or Fanny, née Prešeren, came to the United States as a young girl from Regrča Vas, near Novo Mesto, the main city of Lower Carniola, in Slovenia. Both of his parents were active in Pittsburgh's Slovenian community. They sang in the Slovenian Singing Society Prešeren, named after the great Slovenian poet France Prešeren.

In an interview, Frances said that her son, being the product of a Slovenian home, spoke mostly Slovene before going to school.[4][5] At the age of 15, he took a part-time job as a cinema usher at the Sheridan Square Theatre.[6] He memorized the mannerisms of the screen stars he saw and created an impressionist act. He was still in high school when he obtained his first paid employment, which he secured as the prize in a Pittsburgh talent contest in 1951: a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller's New York nightclub, Carousel. His parents insisted that he take the engagement, even though his 15-year-old brother had been hit by a car and killed just two nights before.[6]

After graduation from Peabody High School, Gorshin attended the Carnegie Tech School of Drama (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. When not studying, he worked in local plays and nightclubs.[6]

In 1953, Gorshin was drafted into the United States Army and posted to Germany. He served for a year and a half as an entertainer attached to Special Services. While in the Army, Gorshin met Maurice Bergman, who later introduced him to Hollywood agent Paul Kohner. Gorshin's Army service record was later destroyed in the U.S. National Personnel Records Center fire of 1973.

Career

When Gorshin left the Army, he returned to public performance, and in 1956, he became a prolific film actor. He also appeared on various television series, including the role of Hank Butts, with Michael Landon cast as Jim Mason, in the 1958 episode "Shadow of Belle Starr" of the syndicated Western series Frontier Doctor, starring Rex Allen. In 1959, he was cast in three episodes as Seaman Pulaski on Jackie Cooper's CBS military sitcom/drama Hennesey. Thereafter, Gorshin played roles in ABC's crime drama The Untouchables. In 1961, Gorshin gave a tour de force performance as an impressionist who kills his fiancee under the influence of one of his celebrity characters in The Defenders. He guest-starred twelve times on CBS's The Ed Sullivan Show, the first having been on June 17, 1962. On February 9, 1964, the same night that The Beatles and Davy Jones debuted, he also appeared.[7] In 1963, Gorshin had a guest-starring role in the long-running ABC military series Combat! as Pvt. Wharton who took false credit for the heroism of his dead friend, but redeemed himself later, saving Sgt. Saunders, as well as in 1965 in which he played Pvt. Gavin, a tank operator who had washed out of U.S. Army Armour tank operations training.

Gorshin was a popular act at nightclubs, notably those of Las Vegas, where he was the first impressionist to headline the main showrooms.[6] He was also the first impressionist headliner at the Empire Room of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.[6] Among his most popular impressions were of Burt Lancaster (exaggerating Lancaster's hand gestures) and Kirk Douglas (exaggerating Douglas' gritted teeth), as well as Marlon Brando (spoofing his squint), as well as simulating bodily and facial resemblances, and pitch-perfect imitations of voice, accent, and vocal inflections and mannerisms.

Gorshin's slender athletic build, wide mouth, and pale eyes under strong brows were ideal characteristics for screen henchmen. In 1957, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car after driving from Pittsburgh for thirty-nine hours without sleep and subsequently, the vehicle crashed. He was on his way to a Hollywood screen test for the role of Petty Officer Ruby in Run Silent, Run Deep. He sustained a fractured skull and spent four days in a coma; a Los Angeles newspaper incorrectly reported that he had been killed.[6] The role went to Don Rickles.[8]

Gorshin's first film role was Between Heaven and Hell. In the late 1950s, Gorshin had roles in B-movies such as Hot Rod Girl (1956), Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). In 1960, he was featured in Bells are Ringing, playing the Method Actor while doing a Marlon Brando impression. As a dramatic actor, he often played "tough guys" like those played by one of his favorite targets of impressions, James Cagney, whom he was said to resemble. He did take a comic turn, though, as the hipster jazz bassist Basil (paired with singer Connie Francis) in Where the Boys Are (1960), as a bumbling kidnapper in the Hayley Mills vehicle That Darn Cat! (1965), and as a boss-behind-bars for laughs in Otto Preminger's comedy Skidoo (1968).

In 1962, Gorshin was cast as Billy Roy Fix in the episode "The Fire Dancer" of the NBC modern Western television series Empire, starring Richard Egan as the rancher Jim Redigo.

He was nominated for an Emmy Award (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy) for his best remembered role as The Riddler on ABC's 1960s live-action television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Gorshin's portrayal of the character included a high-pitched, deranged cackle, inspired by that of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death (1947). He played the Riddler in ten episodes of the series as well as the theatrical movie, although John Astin made two appearances in 1967 in the role on an occasion when Gorshin was unavailable. He reprised the role in the 1979 television movie Legends of the Superheroes.

Gorshin also had a memorable role in the 1969 Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" as the bigoted half-whiteface, half-blackface alien Bele from the planet Cheron. Contrary to popular rumor and several news articles, Gorshin did not receive an Emmy nomination for this role.[9]

In the early 1970s, Gorshin appeared on Broadway in Jimmy (1969) and Guys and Dolls (1971).. He made numerous guest-starring appearances on such television series as The Name of the Game (1969) Ironside (1974), Hawaii Five-O (1974), Get Christie Love! (1975), Charlie's Angels (1977) and Wonder Woman (1977). In 1979, he played interplanetary assassin Seton Kellogg in a two-part episode of the television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century titled "Plot to Kill a City".

In 1982, Gorshin acted and sang the role of irascible King Gama in a TV production of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Princess Ida (as part of the PBS series The Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan, and subsequently in live performance at other venues.[10]

He also appeared as the villainous Dan Wesker in the miniseries Goliath Awaits (1981); and played the role of Smiley Wilson on the ABC soap opera The Edge of Night (1981–82), where he used his impersonation talents to mimic other performers on the series. During this decade, he also guest starred in episodes of series such as The Fall Guy (1984), Murder, She Wrote (1988) and Monsters (1989).

During the 1990s, he featured as a mobster kingpin in The Meteor Man (1993), played the evil sorcerer Brother Septimus in "The Tale of the Carved Stone" episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1993), voiced the character of Reverend Jack Cheese in an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show (1995). Notably, he appeared in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995) as the gruff superior to Madeleine Stowe's psychiatrist.

In his final years, Gorshin portrayed comedian George Burns on Broadway in the one-man show Say Goodnight, Gracie (2002), which was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for best play[11][12] and was reunited with several of his Batman colleagues in the television movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, in which he appeared as himself. Gorshin died on the day of the telefilm's DVD release. He played the strict legendary Harvard Law School Professor, John H. Keynes, in the Korean drama Love Story in Harvard (2004), and voiced villain Hugo Strange in three 2005 episodes of The Batman animated series. He also voiced the characters Marius and Lysander in the computer role playing game Diablo II.

Gorshin's last television appearance was in "Grave Danger", an episode of the CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation which aired two days after his death; the episode, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, was dedicated to his memory. While he was known for his impressions, his role on CSI was as himself.

Gorshin's final role was as a voice actor in the unreleased animated feature film "Firedog."

Personal life

On April 8, 1957, Gorshin married Christina Randazzo. They had one son, Mitchell, and later separated but remained married until his death.[8]

Death

Gorshin's final live appearance was a Memphis performance of Say Goodnight, Gracie, in which he portrayed George Burns. He finished the performance and boarded a plane for Los Angeles on April 25, 2005. After he experienced severe breathing difficulty during the flight, the crew administered emergency oxygen. An ambulance met the plane upon landing and transported him to a Burbank hospital, where he died on May 17, 2005, at age 72 from lung cancer, complicated by emphysema and pneumonia.[13] Gorshin had been a heavy smoker for most of his adult life, consuming up to five packs of cigarettes a day. Adam West once claimed that "Frank could reduce a cigarette to ash with one draw." When he did nightclub performances or live shows, audiences were warned not to attend if they disliked smoking, as he often smoked onstage.

He is interred at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh.

Filmography

Film

YearTitleRoleNotes
1956The Proud and ProfaneHarryUncredited
1956Hot Rod GirlFlat Top
1956Between Heaven and HellPvt. Millard - Co. GUncredited
1956Runaway DaughtersTommy Burns
1957The True Story of Jesse JamesCharley Ford
1957Dragstrip GirlTommy Burns
1957The Delicate DelinquentWise Guy on StreetUncredited
1957Invasion of the Saucer MenJoe Gruen
1957Portland ExposeJoe
1958Tank BattalionPFC 'Skids' Madigan
1958Torpedo RunSub CrewmanUncredited
1959Night of the Quarter MoonRacist PunkUncredited
1959WarlockBilly GannonUncredited
1959Millionaire Doctor Joseph FryeHal
1960Bells are RingingBlake Barton
1960Studs LoniganKenny Killarney
1960The Great ImposterBarney
1960Where the Boys AreBasil
1961Ring of FireFrank Henderson
1961The George Raft StoryMoxie Cusack
1961Sail a Crooked ShipGeorge M. Wilson
1965That Darn Cat!Iggy
1966Ride Beyond VengeanceTod Wisdom
1966BatmanThe Riddler
1968SkidooThe Man
1978Record CityChameleon
1981Underground AcesFred Kruger
1981The UppercrustHarry Werner, alias Nash
1985Hot ResortMr. Green
1986Uphill All the WayPike
1986Hollywood Vice SquadWalsh
1987The Gnomes' Great AdventureHoller / Carlo / Omar / Prince GustavVoice
1989Beverly Hills BodysnatchersDoc
1989MidnightRon Saphier
1989Singapore Harbor
1992Body TroubleJohnny Zero
1992The Hollywood Beach MurdersZoran
1992Sweet JusticeBilly Joe Rivas
1993The Meteor ManAnthony Beyer (Drug Lord)
1993Amore!Asino
1994Hail CaesarPete Dewitt
1994The Big StoryCub Reporter / Editor / Older ReporterVoice, Short
199512 MonkeysDr. Fletcher
1995Mr. Payback: An Interactive MovieHimselfCameo
1996Superior DuckDaffy Duck / Foghorn LeghornVoice, Short
1997Pullet SurpriseFoghorn LeghornVoice, Looney Tunes Short
1997From Hare to EternityYosemite SamVoice, Short
1997BloodmoonChief William Hutchins
1997Twilight of the Ice NymphsCain Ball
1997Threshold
1997Better Than EverWill
1997After the GameBenny Walsh
1997Guy Maddin: Waiting for TwilightDocumentary
1999Man of the CenturyRoman Navarro
1999Final RinseChief
1999Game DaySam Segal
1999The Rules (For Men)
1999The Art of MurderUncredited
1999All Shook UpSheriff Dudston
2000Luck of the DrawSterling Johnson
2000Beethoven's 3rdUncle Morrie NewtonVideo
2000The Curio TrunkHarold BelfastShort
2000CastlerockMack
2002High Times' PotluckThe Slim Man
2002Manna from HeavenEd
2003Mail Order BrideRussian Doctor
2005Angels with AnglesGeorge Burns / Shelleen
2005The Best of Frank GorshinHimselfVideo
2005BuckaroJudge
2005FiredogVoice
2006The Creature of the Sunny Side Up Trailer ParkBurdus

Television

YearTitleRoleNotes
1956Alfred Hitchcock PresentsAutograph seekerEpisode: "The Decoy"
1957Navy LogCaptain Ray DuncanEpisode: "Operation Lend Lease Adti: Amscray!"
1957The Restless GunCowboy with SingerEpisode: "Duel at Lockwood"
1958The Silent ServiceTorpedoman 1st Class LarkinEpisode: "The Thresher Story"
1959HenneseySeaman Pulaski / Shore Patrol / USN3 episodes
1959The DetectivesBilly McGirthEpisode: "The Streger Affair"
1959Have Gun - Will TravelMarty (Bully)Episode: "Sons of Aaron Murdock"
1959Frontier DoctorHank ButtsEpisode: "Shadow of Belle Starr"
1960Mr. LuckyJerry MuscoEpisode:"The Last Laugh"
1961The DefendersHarry SimmsEpisode:"The Hundred Lives of Harry Simms"
1962The UntouchablesHerbie CatcherEpisode: "The Pea"
1963Combat!Pvt. WhartonEpisode: "The Medal"
1963Naked CityAlan StarkieSeason 4, Episode 19: "Beyond This Place There Be Dragons"
1964The Alfred Hitchcock HourLew RydellEpisode: "The Second Verdict"
1964The Regis Philbin ShowHimselfEpisode: "Episode #1.23"
1965Combat!Pvt. GavinEpisode: "The Hell Machine"
1966A Man Called ShenandoahOttoEpisode"The Clown"
1966Password All-StarsHimself (Celebrity Contestant)Episode - 11-25-1966
1966The MunstersFair Deal DanEpisode: "Herman, the Tire Kicker"
1966The Roger Miller ShowHimselfEpisode: "Episode #1.14"
1966The Danny Kaye ShowHimselfEpisode: "Episode #4.11"
1966The Red Skeleton HourNasty McMeanEpisode: "What Did You Do in the Dump, Daddy?"
1966The Dean Martin ShowHimselfEpisode: "#2.3 & #2.21"
1966The Sammy Davis, Jr. ShowHimselfEpisode: "Episode #1.11"
1966-1967BatmanThe Riddler10 Episodes
1967Garrison's GorillasDustinEpisode: "Thieves' Holiday"
1969Star TrekBeleEpisode: "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
1969The High ChaparralStinky FlanaganEpisode: "Stinky Flanagan"
1969The Movie GameHimselfEpisode: "12-9-1969"
1970The VirginianDutch MileyEpisode: "Follow the Leader"
1971The InternsJoe CalicoEpisode: "The Challenger"
1971O'Hara, U.S. TreasuryLittle WillieEpisode: "Operation: Bribery"
1971The Merv Griffin ShowHimselfEpisode: "Salute to Horror"
1969-1971Rowan & Martin's Laugh-InHimself (Guest Performer)Episodes: "#2.17" & "#5.5"
1971-1972The Hollywood SquaresGuest Appearance5 episodes
1974Dr. Simon LockeCharlie KreberEpisode: "Borrowed Trouble"
1974IronsideDorianEpisode: "What's New with Mark?"
1974Movin' OnTucker J. PaulsenEpisode: "Good for Laughs"
1974Hawaii Five-OStashEpisode: "Welcome to Our Branch Office"
1975Sky HeistBen HardingsTV movie
1975S.W.A.T.Johnny RiziEpisode: "Ordeal"
1975Police WomanDavid GriffinEpisode: "Glitter with a Bullet"
1975The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Sammy Davis Jr.HimselfTV Special
1975The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Jackie GleasonHimselfTV Special
1976Rudolph's Shiny New YearSir 1023 / QuartVoice, TV Movie
1976Dinah!Himselfepisode - Episode #2.138"
1977Charlie's AngelsHarry DanaEpisode: "Angels at Sea"
1977Wonder WomanHoffman / ToymanEpisode: "The Deadly Toys"
1978Greatest Heroes of the BibleOcranEpisode: "The Story of Moses: Parts 1 & 2"
1979Legends of the SuperheroesThe RiddlerEpisode: "The Challenge"
1979Death Car on the FreewayRalph ChandlerTV movie
1979Buck Rogers in the 25th CenturySeton KelloggEpisode: "The Plot to Kill a City: Parts 1 & 2 "
1981Goliath AwaitsDan WeskerTV movie
1982Treasure IslandBen GunnTV movie
1982Princess IdaKing GamaTV movie
1986A Masterpiece of MurderPierre RudinTV movie
1988Murder, She WroteArnold GoldmanEpisode: "Mourning Among the Wisterias"
1988The New Hollywood SquaresGuest AppearanceEpisode: "5-30-1988"
1988The Late ShowHimselfEpisode: "4-28-1988"
1990Comic Book CollectorHimselfDocumentary short
1994Are You Afraid of the Dark?Brother SeptimusEpisode: "The Tale of the Carved Stone"
1995Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of SupermanSharpie LawyerEpisode: "Whine, Whine, Whine"
1995The Ren & Stimpy ShowThe Reverend Jack CheeseVoice, Episode: "Reverend Jack Cheese"
1997Johnny BravoBarney Stone / ClovyVoice, Episode: "Blarney Buddies"
1999The Bold and the BeautifulGeorge the homeless manTV Serial
1999VH-1 Where Are They Now?HimselfTV Series documentary, Episode: "Superheroes"
2000BiographyHimselfEpisode: "Adam West: Behind the Cowl"
2001Black ScorpionBenjamin Tickerman / ClockwiseEpisode: "Crime Time"
2003The 57th Annual Tony AwardsHimselfTV Special
2003Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and BurtHimselfTV Movie
2004Love Story in HarvardProfessor John KeynesTV Movie
2004BiographyHimselfEpisode: "Catwoman: Her Many Lives"
2005The BatmanProfessor Hugo StrangeVoice, 3 Episodes
2005CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationHimselfEpisode: "Grave Danger"
2006Dr. VegasEdgar RhodesEpisode: "For Love or Money"
2006DreamweaverMr. RemTV movie, (final film role)

Videogames

YearTitleRoleNotes
2000Diablo IIMarius / LysanderVoice

Stage appearances

Discography

  • "The Riddler", composed by Mel Torme, B-side "Never Let Her Go" composed by David A. Gates 1966[14]

References

  1. "Frank Gorshin Biography (1934-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  2. "Star Files: Frank Gorshin". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  3. "Obituary: Frank Gorshin". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2005-05-19. Archived from the original on 2007-11-04. Retrieved 2007-11-27.
  4. Gobetz, Edward (2015-07-16). "Frank Gorshin". Slovenian American Times. Cleveland.
  5. Bergan, Ronald (2005-05-20). "Frank Gorshin". The Guardian. London.
  6. Martin, Terry. "Official Frank Gorshin Website: Biography". John Stacks Productions. Archived from the original on January 29, 2007. Retrieved September 14, 2017.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  7. Frank Gorshin on Ed Sullivan February 9, 1964 on YouTube
  8. "Frank Gorshin". Pabook.libraries.psu.edu. Archived from the original on 2010-06-11. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  9. "Frank Gorshin". Television Academy.
  10. Koznin, Allan (January 18, 2000). "MUSIC REVIEW; A Graceful Surrender for Gilbert and Sullivan's Uppity Feminist". The New York Times.
  11. "2003 Tony Award Winners and Nominees".
  12. Buckley, Michael (2002-10-08). "A review of Gorshin as George Burns, 2002, with photograph". Theatermania.com. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  13. McKinley, Jesse (May 19, 2005). "Frank Gorshin, 'Batman' Riddler, Dies at 72". The New York Times.
  14. "Frank Gorshin – The Riddler" at Discogs
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