Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Frank Gorshin 1934-2005

I was saddened to learn from Mark Evanier's News From Me that Frank Gorshin has passed away at the age of 72.

Gorshin was a talented comedian and impressionist who was famous for his Kirk Douglas impression. At one time he was regarded as being at the same level of ability as Rich Little. Although Gorshin's acting career began in the mid-1950s, and included a number of dramatic and comedic roles, he is probably best known for two parts - The Riddler in the Batman TV series, for which he earned an Emmy nomination, and Commissioner Bele in the Star Trek episode "Let This Be Your Final Battlefield". Gorshin, a chain smoker, died of a combination of emphysema pneumonia and lung cancer. His final performance will air on Thursday night's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation finale.

Like all of the principal Bat-villains in the series (The Riddler, The Joker, The Penguin and Catwoman) he was perfectly cast. The thing about Gorshin that made him memorable as the Riddler was that his performance put his whole being in play. His voice was a major element of course, going from a low conspiratorial level to loud, triumphal and higher pitched, often in the same scene or even the same sentence. There was also his facial expression and his body language, and of course "The Laugh". All of these elements made the character Gorshin's, something that was proven absolutely when a contract dispute in the second season meant that Gorshin was replaced by John Astin as The Riddler in one episode. Astin is a fine comedic actor but he just couldn't replace Gorshin as The Riddler (an earlier "Riddler" script was rewritten to create a new villain, The Puzzler played by Maurice Evans.

(One curious thing though. All of the obituaries quote his age as 72 but if he was born in April 1934, as all of the obituaries also state, that would make him 71 by my math.)

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