Monday, June 2, 2008

Good Night, Harvey

A Personal Memory of Harvey Korman

© 2008 Leighann Lord

Like most of America I came to know Harvey Korman from his weekly role on "The Carol Burnett Show." I'd like to say he was my favorite cast member, but in truth I loved them all as an ensemble. Each uniquely talented in their own right, the group chemistry was delightfully magical. The sketches were hilarious, and they were even better when the cast broke down and struggled not to laugh through a scene. It looked like Carol, Harvey, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Wagner were having the time of their lives. A job with funny and talented co-workers, who make people laugh and enjoy themselves in the process? Sign me up.

I got a chance to meet Harvey Korman in 1993 on the set of Radioland Murders. It was my first movie and to say I was excited is an understatement. Not knowing or caring about the Hollywood caste system I talked to everybody from the property master to the key grips and was constantly under foot. One of the highlights of this experience was chatting with Harvey Korman.

As "The Old Guy" on the set he was delightfully crotchety. He good naturedly grumbled about the business, "Herbie the Love Bug" and his agent. "I've got to stop taking his calls," he said. According to Harvey, his agent had to talk him into doing "Radioland" when all he wanted to do was stay home. I loved every minute of it and I wasn't fooled. When the cameras started rolling, Harvey was a pure pro: in character with impeccable timing, he delivered the funny in every single scene.

When he found out I was a comedian he told me to let him know when I when I was in LA because he knew the owners of The Comedy Store. I did not take him up on the offer. Though young in the business, it didn't take long to figure out that the phrase "look me up" is in the same league as "let's do lunch," "the check is in the mail," and "you were great!"

Cynical? Bad Hollywood stereotype? Maybe, but my experience tells me different. I've worked with more than one well-known celebrity (don't ask me, I'm not telling) who asked me to call them, their lawyer/agent/manager/flunkie so we could meet/talk/have coffee /work together. How many messages do you leave before it becomes stalking?

I'm not pushy and I'm not the groupie type who gloms onto the rich and famous in the hopes that they'll do something for my career. If you dig me and want to help, that's cool. If you don't, that's fine too. Like I said, I'm not pushy; which makes unsolicited and later unrealized offers of help even more perplexing.

Maybe I’d have a better understanding of this behavior if my degree was in psychology. In lieu of enlightenment I've learned that some offers just can’t be taken at face value. Sometimes -- without malice -- empty offers and hollow praise can drop as automatically from the tongue as does a "god bless you" to a sneeze. Sometimes a "call me" means "don't."

Is it possible that Harvey really meant it? Absolutely, but part of me didn't want to find out if another one of my comedy idols was full of shit. The older you grow, the fewer illusions you get to keep; and you don't always get to choose which ones. I chose to keep my happy memories of a very funny man who I was incredibly lucky to work with; who with a phone call wouldn’t hesitate get me some coveted LA stage time should I need it.

For the record, if he had said he had friends at "The Tonight Show" it might have been a different story. Illusions be damned. I’d of risked a restraining order for that.


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