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RIP, Harvey Korman

Harvey Korman, one of my favorite comic actors of all time, has passed away at the age of 81.

A natural second banana, Korman gained attention on The Danny Kaye Show, appearing in skits with the star. He joined the show in its second season in 1964 and continued until it was canceled in 1967. That same year he became a cast member in the first season of The Carol Burnett Show.

His most memorable film role was as the outlandish Hedley Lamarr (who was endlessly exasperated when people called him Hedy) in Mel Brooks’ 1974 Western satire, Blazing Saddles.

“A world without Harvey Korman — it’s a more serious world,” Brooks told the AP on Thursday. “It was very dangerous for me to work with him because if our eyes met we’d crash to floor in comic ecstasy. It was comedy heaven to make Harvey Korman laugh.”

On television, Burnett and Korman developed into the perfect pair with their burlesques of classic movies such as Gone With the Wind and soap operas like As the World Turns (their version was called “As the Stomach Turns”).

Another recurring skit featured them as “Ed and Eunice,” a staid married couple who were constantly at odds with the wife’s mother (a young Vickie Lawrence in a gray wig). In “Old Folks at Home,” they were a combative married couple bedeviled by Lawrence as Burnett’s troublesome young sister.

Korman revealed the secret to the long-running show’s success in a 2005 interview: “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

Burnett was devastated by Korman’s death, said her assistant, Angie Horejsi.

“She loved Harvey very much,” Horejsi said.

As wonderful as he was in “Blazing Saddles”, I think you have to watch some episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show” to really get a feel for it. One of the things about that show that always struck me is how much the performers were able to crack each other up – Burnett and Korman in particular were always trying to stifle laughs, usually at something ridiculous Tim Conway was doing. Here, Greg has a clip for you. And be sure to check Mark Evanier soon, as he has promised some Korman stories, which I’ve no doubt will be a hoot.

Rest in peace, Harvey Korman. As Mel Brooks said, the world is a more serious place without you.

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2 Comments

  1. Ron in Houston says:

    Awe, bummer. Harvey was also one of my favorites. There was great chemistry on the Carol Burnett show.

  2. William Hughes says:

    The only comedian on television that could get away with cracking up on camera as much as Harvey Korman did was Eddie Murphy during his SNL years. I loved the Carol Burnett Show when I was a kid, but the best part of the show would be when Harvey would start to lose it during a sketch and Tom Conway could take advantage of the situation.

    This reminds me of the time my mother and I went to see “The Producers” during the first Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick run on Broadway. There was a point in the show where Matthew Broderick got the giggles and lost it for a solid five minutes. He received a standing ovation just for that. I remember saying to my mother at intermission “Didn’t that remind you of Harvey Korman”?