Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Leslie Nielsen

His image — tall, handsome and serious — was merely the box that Leslie Nielsen came in. Inside lived a gifted comedian with strong anarchist tendencies — an actor who was even more excited than we were to mock the serious persona he had spent 30 years building in films like Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure, not to mention hundreds of episodic television shows. Ironically, the body that had shackled him to a career of heavy screen dramas became a way for him to put his clowning — so familiar to everyone who knew him — onscreen. Leslie was a brilliant goofball, and I say that with the greatest admiration. He always knew how to get a laugh without ever leaving the reality of the thickheaded characters he loved to play. Even now, when I think of Leslie, my first reaction is a smile. I don't want to feel sadness. I still want to hold on to all the years of reckless laughter that we shared. I want to fall again for one of his on-set pranks and see that wonderful subversive twinkle in his eye just before he finally bursts out laughing. And one more time, I want to ask myself, "Why did I take him seriously, even for a minute?" The reason, of course, is that he could act.

Jerry Zucker

Zucker, with his brother David and Jim Abrahams, wrote and directed Airplane!