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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tom Poston dies at 85

Another great comedic mind has left us for what will hopefully be a much better place. You will likely remember Tom Poston in his role as George Utley, the handyman who couldn't fix anything, on "Newhart" in the 1980's. (pictured at left)

But Poston's run as a comic bumbler began in the mid-1950s with "The Steve Allen Show" after Allen plucked the character actor from the Broadway stage to join an ensemble of eccentrics he would conduct "man in the street" interviews with. The cast includedDon Knotts as the shaky Mr. Morrison, Louis Nye was the suave, overconfident Gordon Hathaway and Poston as the character that was so unnerved by the television cameras that he couldn't remember who he was. He won an Emmy playing "The Man Who Can't Remember His Name."

But when Allen moved the show from New York to Los Angeles in 1959, Poston stayed behind, saying "Hollywood's not for me right now; I'm a Broadway cat."

When he did finally move west, he quickly began appearing in variety shows, sitcoms and films. His movie credits included "Cold Turkey," "The Happy Hooker," "Rabbit Test" and, more recently, "Christmas With the Kranks," "Beethoven's 5th" and "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement."

Poston was famous for his roles as bumblers. In addition to the George Utley character on Newhart, he played Franklin Delano Bickley, the mindless boozer with the annoying dog, on "Mork and Mindy,"and on Newhart's show "Bob," he was the star's dim-bulb former college roommate.

"These guys are about a half-step behind life's parade," Poston commented in a 1983 interview. "The ink on their instruction sheets is beginning to fade. But they can function and cope and don't realize they are driving people up the walls. "In ways I don't like to admit, I'm a goof-up myself," Poston continued. "It's an essential part of my character. When these guys screw up it reminds me of my own incompetence with the small frustrations of life."

Goof-up or not, Poston was a versatile actor who made his Broadway debut in 1947 playing five roles in Jose Ferrer's "Cyrano de Bergerac."

One role called for him to engage in a duel, fall 10 feet, roll across the stage and vanish into the orchestra pit. Other actors had auditioned and failed but Poston, who in his youth had been an acrobat with the Flying Zepleys, did the stunt perfectly.

He went on to play secondary roles in Broadway comedies and starred at regional theaters in such shows as "Romanoff and Juliet" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." For 10 years he was also a panelist on the popular TV quiz show "To Tell the Truth."

He made guest appearances on scores of television shows, including "Studio One," "The Phil Silvers Show," "The Defenders," "Get Smart," "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Love Boat," "St. Elsewhere," "The Simpsons," "Coach," "Murphy Brown," "Home Improvement," "Touched by an Angel," "Will & Grace," "Dream On," "Just Shoot Me!" and "That '70s Show."

Poston and his first wife, Jean Sullivan, had a daughter, Francesca, before their marriage ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Kay Hudson, after they met while appearing in the St. Louis Light Opera, and they had a son, Jason, and daughter, Hudson.

In an ironic twist, Poston and Suzanne Pleshette wound up married to each other in his final years. While appearing together in the 1959 Broadway play "The Golden Fleecing," they had a brief fling before marrying other people. Both now widowed, they reunited in 2000 and married the following year. Their paths had crossed on "The Bob Newhart Show" in the 1970s. Poston made several guest appearances on the sitcom in which Pleshette played Newhart's wife. This warms my heart in some strange way.

Here's a classic clip from "Newhart", George's dream:

My good friend, Jack, once told me "when you start reading the obituaries, you know you've gotten to that age where the horizon had begun to look dark, and you're really thinking about your own eventual demise". I guess that's partly true, however I truly enjoy my memories of people who made me smile and/or laugh out loud through their work during my four short decades on this big blue orb that we call home. I pay tribute to them as an homage to the burdens they lifted from my heart, the brief escape from life's hurries and worries that they provided me. I can think of no finer nor nobler role to have in one's short century (if lucky) in this world than to have provided such service to others.

In memory of Tom Poston, others who fell before him, and to those who surely will follow, I thank you sincerely for easing the daily burdens of our lives, and for allowing us to be a part of your lives if only for thirty minutes per week. You are all our friends in some strange yet intimate way. . .we love you, and miss you. Goodnight and rest in peace knowing that you mattered so much to so many.


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Blogger Robert Rouse said...

First Kitty Carlisle Hart and now Tom Poston. How ironic is it that two regular panelists from "To Tell the Truth" died within a week of each other? Peggy Cass died about seven or eight years ago, so if I was Orson Bean, I'd bee looking in my rear-view mirror.

title="comment permalink">May 01, 2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Stan Matuska said...

It's sad, but it seems that Tom Poston lived a good life. Life it short, and I notice more and more that the people I grew up watching are steadily passing away...

title="comment permalink">May 01, 2007 11:57 PM  
Blogger Paddy said...

When I was a kid growing up in Miami, one of the independent stations would re-run the old Steve Allen Tonight show real late.

Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Pat Harrington- all those guys were just the greatest! And of course Steve.

Thanks for all the fun Tom.

title="comment permalink">May 02, 2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Hill said...

Oh, no. I had not heard Tom Poston had died. I used to absolutely love him on "Newhart." Funny, funny stuff.
RIP, Mr. Poston.
And John, thanks for the info. BTW, I did not know he and Suzanne had married. Ain't life funny sometimes.

title="comment permalink">May 04, 2007 9:06 PM  
Blogger John Good said...

Robert - Life plays lots of tricks on us!

Stan - That means we're getting old. . .;)

Paddy - I hafta confess to not ever seeing that.

Hill - Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I was as surprised by their marriage as you!

title="comment permalink">May 04, 2007 9:49 PM  

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