Thursday, July 13, 2006

Red Buttons (1919-2006)

Red Buttons died today.

The comedian and actor. Not the clothing embellishment.

In his heyday, Red Buttons (whose real name was Aaron Chwatt, and yes, I'd have changed it too) was everywhere: TV, movies, nightclubs, live theater. Although primarily known for comedy, Buttons was also adept in dramatic roles, winning a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1957 for Sayonara. As recently as last year, he was still making periodic guest appearances on ER.

Oddly enough, my most distinct recollection of Buttons's work was one of his least commercially successful. In the mid-1960s, at the height of the James Bond phenomenon that spawned such TV fare as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart!, Buttons starred in a short-lived sitcom entitled The Double Life of Henry Phyfe. The comic played a mild-mannered accountant (aren't they all?) who just happened to look exactly like a notorious Russian spy code-named U-31. When U-31 dies in a traffic accident, the U.S. intelligence agency drafts Henry to impersonate the Russian and infiltrate the KGB. The show's opening theme song told the whole story:
A foreign spy arrives
By the name of U-31
On his first day in
He's done in by a hit-and-run
(Henry's boss) Gotta find a man with the same face as 31
But who?

Henry Phyfe!
He swears him in and gives all the info to Henry Phyfe
He must never talk to a soul
Of his secret life
(Henry's boss) You are now a spy
You must now lead a double life!

(Henry) Who, me?
Henry Phyfe!
Henry Phyfe wasn't any better than it sounds, and it only lasted half a season on ABC (as bad as then-perennial-third place ABC was in the '60s, that speaks volumes for about the program's quality, or lack thereof). But because it ran incessantly on Armed Forces Television when I was an overseas Air Force brat in the early 1970s (probably because it was cheap to license), I probably saw every episode of it at least a half-dozen times. Enough that, 35 years later, I still can hear that stupid theme song in my head.

Thanks a lot, Red Buttons.

Labels: , , ,

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home