Comedy Giants Gather To Mourn One of Hollywood’s Great Clowns

By Hank Rosenfeld

Published July 11, 2003, issue of July 11, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor includes 14 pages of jokes on death, so when Buddy Hackett passed away in Malibu at age 79 last week, the chapel at Hillside Memorial in Culver City was packed with every comedy icon that hadn’t booked a Fourth of July gig out of town.

Sid Caesar sat up front with Jan Murray. Don Rickles was there. Norm Crosby, Tom Poston. Dick Martin of “Laugh-In” fame. With Shecky Greene scheduled to deliver the eulogy, a quote from Groucho Marx came to mind: “Reverence and irreverence are the same thing.”

“This is a very holy moment in time,” said Rabbi Solomon Rothstein, a Hackett family friend from Fort Lee, N.J., by way of Boynton Beach, Fla. “It is dedicated to memory.” Curtains parted, revealing a dozen different photos and portraits of Buddy, including a huge black-and-white, creased and crinkled head shot dating from the movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” which Hackett starred in (with 10 other back-in-the-day Borscht Belters) in 1963.

“We are here to celebrate Buddy’s life,” the rabbi continued. “We shouldn’t be asking ‘how did he die?’ But ‘how did he live?’ And it was his wish that when I say the name ‘Buddy Hackett,’ you smile… that you laugh.”

“Buddy would have wanted me to tell a joke,” Rothstein said. “But I wouldn’t dare. There are so many here who…”

And then people got up to make the mourners laugh. Everyone who made them laugh got applause. Anybody too serious got bubkes.

Buddy’s son Sandy Hackett is in the family business. He had just driven in from Las Vegas where he was performing stand-up. He poured himself a drink from the old man’s favorite liquor and delivered a eulogy that exemplified his father’s credo: “If it’s dirty, it’s not funny. If it’s funny, it’s not dirty.” Among the cleaner stories he told was an old one about a mezuza that was mistaken for “a Jewish dog whistle.”

Another told of the guy asking the librarian if they have any books on suicide. She tells him they keep a few copies under “S,” but he can’t find any on the shelves. So he goes back to complain, and she tells him, “Oh, people check them out. But nobody brings them back.”

One of the great clowns of Hollywood, Hackett was hilarious both standing up on stage or slapping around in movies like “The Music Man” — singing “Shipoopi!” — and “The Love Bug.”

If Jewish humor is “laughter with sadness in the eye,” the septuagenarian jester Shecky Greene had that look. “Everybody who tells a Buddy Hackett story does Buddy Hackett’s voice,” Greene said in Buddy’s slurry, side-of-the-mouth slapshtick. “I worked with a man called Sinatra, and Buddy was like that. You hear his voice, you know it’s him.”

Jeffrey Ross, a young shtickler known for hanging out with the alter kockers at the Friars Club, was touching and funny. “Buddy was like orange juice,” Ross said. “He’d give you the ‘Hiya pal!’ and how could you not feel great?” Buddy, explained Ross, taught him “how to peel the onion” in his act. “Comics by nature being competitive,” he said, “I guess when the best one dies, the rest of us all get to move up a notch.”

Buddy was mourned as a grandfather, a poet, an anti-depressant and “a great humanitarian.” (Hackett created an animal rescue assistance center with his wife, Sherri.)

Back outside in the July afternoon heat, the writer Larry Gelbart and the witty entertainer Steve Lawrence circled close with Marx Brothers’ screenwriter Irving Brecher.

“Let’s get together again,” Brecher told his old friends.

“Not here!” Lawrence fired back.

Then someone muttered that Hackett was one of America’s few remaining true clowns.

“We still have Bush and Rumsfeld,” said Brecher.

The prophet Isaiah’s words extend from a wall at Hillside: “The Lord God maketh death to vanish in life eternal. And he wipeth away tears from off all faces.” So do the comedians.






Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.