Fond farewell

I'm proud to have had the honor of meeting and interviewing the great Harvey Korman on a few occasions.

I grew up watching Korman, along with Tim Conway, Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence, on "The Carol Burnett Show," and their shared humor was always my family's same shared humor.

It was sad news to hear late Thursday of Korman's death.

Korman, 81, died at UCLA Medical Center after suffering complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, according to his daughter Kate Korman.

For the past decade, Korman and Conway had been touring together in a popular live stage show that was a salute to the days of vaudeville, variety shows, music and old-fashioned corny humor.

That last time I saw and talked with Korman, it was when he was at Star Plaza Theatre with Conway in 2005 for a sold-out matinee show.

The duo, famous for their smirks and ad-libbing during skits on Burnett's show, were last in Chicagoland November 2005 at The Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Ill.

While Lawrence stayed with Burnett on CBS for every season the show was on air, from 1967-1979, Conway didn't join as a cast regular until 1975, and Korman left after the 1977 season, and was replaced by Dick Van Dyke.

Previously, I also had met and interviewed Korman and Conway in 2000 when they played their stage show at Navy Pier in Chicago and before that, in 1998 at the Hollywood Casino/Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora, Ill.

I had heard through friends that Korman hadn't been well in recent months.

In fact, Charlie Blum, CEO and talent buyer for Star Plaza Theatre, and I had talked just two weeks ago about Korman and Conway, and Blum mentioned he had just inked a deal to bring Conway, 74, back to the Star Plaza stage for a Jan. 30 date for a new live touring show called "Tim Conway and Friends," which did not include Korman.

According to the discussion with Conway's representatives, the legendary second-banana comic had first discussed the idea of a new tour with Korman and his second wife, Deborah, to get his friend's blessing to return to touring.

"The traveling just became too much for Harvey, and he just didn't have the kind of energy to do so many shows on the road," Blum said Friday.

"When they were booked for shows, they didn't do just one night. They would agree to a weekend of shows."

Filling out the show bill as Conway's foil for the new stage tour was comic actor Chuck McCann, 73, joined by singer and actress Louise DuArt, who had been with Conway and Korman's previous road tours filling the female shoes.

Blum said he received a telephone call from Conway's booking representative on Wednesday notifying Star Plaza the tour had been pulled until further notice, and all previously scheduled dates were being cancelled.

"And we had just checked our props warehouse to make sure we still had our old dentist chair to dust off and have ready for when Tim Conway returned to our stage," Blum said.

The chair is the centerstage focal point of one of the classic Conway and Korman skits, which features Korman feigning a toothache and Conway as a kooky dentist.

"Chicagoland is one of our favorite places to perform," Korman told me in 2005.

"I'm originally from Chicago, so I always look forward to seeing family and friends when I'm in town. It's a good city, and audiences in the Midwest are some of the best."

Korman, who is known in the entertainment industry as "the comedian's comedian," had a career that spanned everything from stage and television to a string of Mel Brooks' movies such as "High Anxiety," "History of the World" and "Blazing Saddles."

His 10 years on "The Carol Burnett Show" earned him four Emmys and a Golden Globe.

"Some of my best times in this business had to be the time spent on Carol's show," Korman said.

"We were a family and what we had was something so special, it really can't be recreated. You could tell from what you saw on your screen, we were having fun."

Korman's frequent comedy co-star Lawrence credited Korman as a comedy mentor who took her "under his wing" when she was still in her early 20s and first joined him on Burnett's show.

Decades later, when Lawrence starred in her own weekly series "Mama's Family," once again donning her familiar gray wig and playing the cranky Thelma Harper, Lawrence also looked to Korman to help her refine the show during its early incarnation, along with the help of the show's producer and creator Joe Hamilton, who was by then, Burnett's ex-husband. Korman directed a number of the episodes of "Mama's Family" during the first two seasons prior to the show's syndication, as well as occasionally guest-starring as the character of Mama's son-in-law Ed Higgins, husband of Eunice.

Calls to Conway's publicist Sarah Hemphill seeking a comment from Conway regarding Korman's death, were not immediately returned Friday.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at ppotempa@nwitimes.com or 219.852.4327.


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