Friday, March 2, 2012

Tim Conway

Thomas Daniel "Tim" Conway (born December 15, 1933) is an Emmy award-winning American comedian and actor, who has worked in sitcoms, sketch comedy, and film. Conway is best known for his role in the popular 1960s WWII sitcom McHale's Navy as the inept Ensign Charles Parker, second in command to Lt. Commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine), and for co-starring alongside Carol Burnett on The Carol Burnett Show.

Conway moved back to Cleveland to work with Ernie Anderson on KYW-TV, an NBC affiliate, in 1958 and 1959 and later, from 1960 to 1962, on WJW TV, (then the CBS affiliate) on the weekday morning film (under the Ernie's Place banner) where he also wrote material for the comedic skits shown in between film intermissions. Conway recorded a comedy album with Anderson.

However, WJW dismissed Conway, in part because he (and Anderson) misled station management into thinking he was a director. Because of this move, which deprived Anderson of his co-host and comic foil, the station asked Anderson if he could host a B-grade (and lower) horror film show on Friday nights instead. Conway would continue to make many appearances alongside Anderson's alter ego Ghoulardi, in addition to "Big Chuck" Schodowski, a station engineer who Anderson got to assume much of Conway's sidekick status (and who would ultimately succeed Anderson as co-host of the horror film program).

After he became famous, Conway would resurface periodically on Cleveland television on the Hoolihan and Big Chuck and Big Chuck and Lil' John shows on WJW-TV in guest spots, and occasional skits. Conway has since made regular guest appearances at numerous "Ghoulardifest" functions held by WJW over the years, along with former Cleveland TV personality Bob "Hoolihan" Wells, in tribute to Anderson, who died in 1997.

The Steve Allen Show

Comedic actress Rose Marie visited WJW in 1961, as part of CBS's promotional practice of sending their major show stars directly to local affiliates: in this case, it was for The Dick Van Dyke Show. She viewed film of some of Anderson and Conway's skits and proceeded to take Conway under her wing. Following his departure from WJW, Conway moved to New York City, where he auditioned for, and gained a spot on, ABC's The Steve Allen Show as a regular player. Conway (who by this point had officially changed his first name to Tim) continued on the show for two seasons.

McHale's Navy

Conway gained a national following from his role as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker, Executive Officer of the PT-73, in the 1960s sitcom McHale's Navy, alongside Ernest Borgnine and Joe Flynn.

Afterwards, he starred in a string of short-lived TV series, starting with 1967's Rango which starred Conway as an incompetent Texas Ranger.

Turn-On

Conway was part of one of the most infamous network TV flops ever: Turn-On, a countercultural sketch comedy show on ABC derided as a ripoff of NBC's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Even though he was only listed as a guest star on the pilot, which ABC broadcast on February 5, 1969, it was the only episode that ever aired.

Turn-On received such negative reaction that several ABC affiliates. TV station WEWS, in Conway's hometown Cleveland, refused to return to the program after the first commercial break, and WEWS management sent an angrily worded telegram to the network's headquarters. Many West Coast affiliates received advanced warning and refused to air it. Conway remarked that the show's premiere party he attended also marked the program's cancellation, but ABC did not officially cancel the program for several days.

The Tim Conway Show

In the 1970s, The Tim Conway Show paired Tim with Joe Flynn of McHale's Navy in a sitcom as owners-pilots of a one-plane (a Beechcraft 18) airline operated by the pair. Having "nowhere to run", this pressurized situation was ideal for the fast repartee of the lead actors. Tim got his own hour-long variety show, The Tim Conway Razzle Dazzle Hour, which, as his other series had, folded quickly.

Beginning in 1975 Conway was often paired with Don Knotts in family films from Disney, including The Apple Dumpling Gang and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. They also starred in two independent films, a boxing comedy called The Prize Fighter in 1979, and a 1980 mystery comedy film called The Private Eyes. In 1983, he starred in another TV show, Ace Crawford, Private Eye, a parody of detective series; it only lasted five episodes.

The Carol Burnett Show

Conway then became a regular on The Carol Burnett Show. Conway's work on the show earned him five Emmy Awards. Two of Conway's memorable characters on the Burnett Show were:

"The Old Man," whose shaggy white hair, slow speech, and shuffling gait ran counter to the much needed energy levels of the various occupations he was usually found in. His comic inability to get said jobs done — usually with slapstick results to himself, and with many an ad-lib — would both frustrate and 'break up' his fellow sketch performers.
"Mr. Tudball," a Swedish-American businessman whose intentions of running a 'ship-shape' office were usually sunk by the bored indifference of his secretary, "Mrs. Wiggins" (Burnett). Conway used a stereotypical Swedish accent (especially when frustrated); for example, his attempts to pronounce his secretary's name came out as "Mrs. Ah-huh-wiggins". He would also use this accent for other characters, such as an inept dentist.

Conway could also get results with no dialogue, as in a sketch in which he played a tired businessman seeking restful sleep in his hotel — and pestered by a housefly, created only by a sound effect and Conway's gazing after it. After much struggle, he manages to get the fly out of the room through the window; after returning to bed, he hears a persistent knock on his door, gets up to answer it, and opens the door, letting the fly (who was doing the knocking) back in.

Another well-remembered skit, also without a word from Conway, featured him playing Simba, a lion raised by humans then released to the wild (based on the lioness Elsa in the film Born Free). Conway, told of the upcoming eviction from the comfortable home, caused Burnett and Korman to break up with an interminable process of packing to leave.

A prime example of his ability to make his co-stars laugh uncontrollably involved Lyle Waggoner as a captured American airman, with Conway as a stereotypical blond-haired Gestapo agent charged with his interrogation. Stating that "the Fuhrer" had taken particular interest, Conway produces a small Hitler hand puppet. With Conway providing a falsetto voice, the puppet suggests that singing might relax Waggoner's character to the point he is willing to talk. In a long, drawn-out fashion, the Hitler puppet sings "I've Been Working on the Railroad", and with each passing verse, Waggoner loses more of his composure, finally laughing hysterically when puppet-Hitler screeches, "FEE-FI-Fiddely-I-O!"

Dorf

Conway's more recent work includes a series of satirical how-to videos in which he plays a diminutive, dark-haired Scandinavian known as Dorf (a variation on "dwarf"), reprising his goofy Mr. Tudball accent. The Dorf character first appeared in the 1987 film Dorf on Golf and has since appeared in eight other films on a variety of sports from baseball to auto racing. Dorf on Golf was remastered for DVD in 2007. In 2010, all of the Dorf films were remastered on a DVD Collection featuring all eight films, a behind the scenes with Dorf, and a commentary track by Tim Conway on "The Legend of the Paddle: The Oldie Hollis Story".

Since 2009 Tim Conway's Dorf character has started "helping" Santa Claus on the website iSpotSanta, created by comedy filmmaker Pasquale Murena and Anything Goes Productions. Each year Dorf has three sketches; in 2009 he tried to give Santa his Christmas list, failing and accidentally hitting Santa with a golf ball. Then in 2010 he tried to give all of the world's letters to Santa directly using jet rockets to fly to his sleigh, cannon balls and more.

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