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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Rule Of 3's

There's an old adage in showbiz, as perhaps there is in other similarly superstitious disciplines, that recognizes the power of "all things coming in three's". Jokes, alliterations, deaths. Everything comes in 3's.

We had a pretty good example of that the past few days with the passing of three minor celebrities:

1. Don Knotts

2. Dennis Weaver

3. Darren McGavin

Although the late Mr. Knotts was perhaps most well-known for his portrayal of the bumbling Barney Fife on the 1960's comedy "The Andy Griffith Show", I personally never felt his subsequent performances on TV or film ever managed to rise above his early success as an ensemble member on the "The Original Steve Allen Show". Sure, Barney was what made him a household name to tens of millions of TV viewers, but in my mind at least, it was a one-trick pony kind of role, as was his later turn as the lecherous Mr. Furley on "Three's Company". And we won't even mention the string of forgettable film comedies he did in the '60's and early '70's, when he was sort of that era's Pauli Shore to the likes of Jerry Lewis and Peter Sellars.

The late Mr. Weaver was probably most known for his extended stint on "Gunsmoke" or later as the bronco-riding NYC detective in "McCloud". But I'll always remember him for his quirky portrayal as the ennervated hotel manager in Orson Welles' film noir classic, "Touch Of Evil".

McGavin had a bit of a Northwest connection, tenuous as it may have been, as a result of the indelible cult favorite "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" which was originally (in two made-for-TV movies) set in Seattle. And of course anyone who hasn't lived under a rock for the past several years (or who lacks cable) will no doubt recall his now annual Holiday Season appearance as the expletive spouting Old Man in the classic, "A Christmas Story".

McGavin has another, even more ephemeral connection to Seattle. There's a local Thrift Store chain not far from where I live that has a couple of old photos of McGavin prominently displayed in its stairwell. Apparently sometime during his "Kolchak" stint he'd been hired to promote one of the chain's store openings. There he is in glorious black-and-white standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the owner of the chain shaking hands, his face frozen in a glassy-eyed "deer caught in the headlights" expression. It's the look of someone slightly out of their element, trying to make the best of what might easily turn into a rather demeaning situation. Remember that scene in "Galaxy Quest" where Alan Rickman is standing outside some big box computer store dejectedly mumbling about the "low, low prices"? I imagine it must have been a moment like that.

On the other hand, there's a second shot of McGavin holding up several coat hangered garments, looking for all the world like prize catches he'd just pulled out of his trout creel; he's smiling, almost triumphant, an "I survived this G-D--N'ed ordeal, and I even have a trophy to show for it!" look on his face. A sense of relief that this horrible few hours of standing and posing, shilling his nascent celebrity in exchange for publicity and an easy paycheck was almost over, knowing that in a few hours he'd be back in the warm embrace of the smoggy LA sunshine, pouring over another script where he chased zombies or vampires or smelly creatures that crawled up out of the sewer, but what-the-hell-it's-television-and-even-if-it-stinks-twenty-million-people-are-still-gonna-tune-in.

The one commonality that strikes me about all three of these performers is that each was essentially a character actor, the kind who managed to impress themselves on your consciousness, despite being relegated to the background or supporting the leads. Yet, each had brief sojourns into the more rarified atmosphere of actual stardom, although none ever managed to completely break out of the restrictions of their respective types. Knotts would always be the nervous, gangley fish-out-of-water; Weaver, the quiet, taciturn cowboy; and McGavin, the gruff, irrascible interloper. They were, despite their obvious talent too weathered, too idiosyncratic, and too unpolished to ever be considered "stars".

I'm not big on the Afterlife and such, but one can imagine these three would have some interesting stories to tell each other about their struggles and brief flirtations with the heights of celebrity. But of course, now we'll never get to hear them.

Now, it's just a few old photographs on a wall somewhere.

Posted byCOMTE on 10:19 PM

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