Buddy Hackett set for Aurora, but watch out in the front rowComedian, father
| That one part
BEACON-NEWS - Oct 30, 1997         Section: NEWS, page: C5
Byline: Steve Lord,

Buddy Hackett is nothing if not honest.

Less than a week before showtime in Aurora, he admitted he still doesn't
know what his act will be.  But, then, why should Saturday night in Aurora
be any different from more than 40 years of stand-up comedy, live theater,
television and movies?

"Ah, something may happen that afternoon," he said.  "I'm a free spirit up
there.  I don't tighten up.  Well, I might tighten up backstage, but the
minute I walk out into the light, I'm fine."

More than fine, really.  That light frees Hackett's spirit in a way many
comedians can only dream of.  His spontaneity is as legendary as his, er,
well, coarse language.  He moves about the stage, almost free associating,
jumping from one subject to the next, often grabbing new and unplanned
inspiration from those who sit close enough to the stage.

Which is a warning, by the way, for those who sit up front.  At a Gallagher
show, you only get messy.  Check out the 1988 video of a Hackett show in
Atlantic City and see what happens to the woman in red who sat up front.
Her dress left little to the imagination -- although it fed Hackett's.

"The lady in the red dress," he said, almost with a tinge of nostalgia in
his voice.  "I just figured a woman who wore a dress like that had heard
about everything.  But I made her blush."

It all fits in with Hackett's personality.  At age 73, after living a show
business life that started as a child, he said it is tough to phase him.

"Suppose I go out and do a terrible show," he said.  "I feel bad for the
people who came to see it.  But it's not the end of the world.  Besides, at
my age, I might not make it through the show."

That seems unlikely.  There's stage trouper blood in the veins of the man
who auditioned for his first Broadway play when he was 11, who has lit up
Las Vegas audiences since the 1950s, and who has been a memorable part of
such different kinds of movies as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, God's
Little Acre, The Music Man, The Love Bug and The Little Mermaid.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born and raised Hackett began his career as a wannabe
actor, as his early tries at Broadway would indicate.  He began doing
stand-up comedy -- he made is way through the "Borscht Circuit" in the
Catskill and Adirondack mountain resorts with such comedians as Lenny Bruce
and Jonathan Winters -- as a way to pay the bills between Broadway
auditions.  The comedy took off.  In fact, by the time he got his first lead
on Broadway, with Lunatics and Lovers in the mid-1950s, he already had a
more lucrative contract for stand-up in Las Vegas.

He took Las Vegas head-on, working nightly and establishing himself as one
the desert's premier acts.  But ask him about those days, and he will tell
you about his role as a father.

"For at least three nights a week, I would catch a 2 a.m. flight to Los
Angeles, sleep a couple of hours, and get up to make breakfast for my kids
and see them off to school," he said.  "Then I would be there when they got
home.  By 5:30 or 6 p.m., I would catch a flight back to Vegas.

"But that's the way I am. I am devoted to doing my job right, whether I'm
on stage, or as a father.  When I took up the game of golf, I worked very
hard at it."

The working hard continued, as Hackett went into movies.  Of course, in It's
a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, he starred with, and was perhaps a little
overshadowed by, a star-studded cast which included the likes of Milton
Berle, Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Sid
Cesar and a host of others.  Hackett was used to the company, working next
to great comedians on the West Coast.

"I know I was part of a great group," he said.  "George Burns once said to
me that I was one of the best he'd ever seen.  That was my Oscar."

Those kinds of Hollywood awards are not necessarily what Hackett aspires
to, or ever did.  He could have a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, but does
not want it.  He points with pride to being recognized on the walk in
Brooklyn's Botanical Gardens, which honors famous Brooklynites from Barbara
Streisand to Winston Churchill.

He also is proud of his son, Sandy Hackett, a "very good" comedian in his
own right, Hackett said, who owns his own club in Laughlin, Nev. And he
continues taking roles when he can, like the smaller part he just played in
Pauly, the Parrot, an upcoming Steven Spielberg film which combines live
actors with animated characters.

Actually, Hackett read for the part of Pauly, but was rejected for John
Moore, a younger voice.

"How do you think he got it?"  Hackett said.  "He imitated my voice."

Although Hackett insisted he is retired, he also admitted he is "still
looking for that one part."

"Ed Wynn, if you remember him, he had a part in The Great One ," Hackett
said.  "He did one scene.  It took him five hours.  And he won the Oscar for
Best Supporting Actor that year.  I'm looking for that part.  And if I can
do it in four hours, that's even better."