Two of my all-time favorite comedies are Airplane! and Naked Gun, and that largely comes in part to the unforgettable presence of the great Leslie Nielsen, who passed away yesterday at the age of 84, which is also probably the number of times I’ve watched each of those two flicks.
For me, Nielsen was the introduction to a masterful and endlessly hilarious deadpan. Who else could have complimented a woman’s beaver, demanded they not be called “Shirley” or filled in for the home plate ump and Italian opera legend Enrico Palazzo in such a genuinely convincing manner? The first time I saw Airplane!, I couldn’t get over how ridiculous he was as the courageous Dr. Rumack and always wondered how many takes the director was forced to go through before the actor or actors opposite Nielsen finally managed to keep a straight face. The “in color” 30-second intro to Police Squad, the inspiration for Naked Gun and where the art of his infamous deadpan began, tells you all you need to know about what you’re getting into when watching anything starring Leslie Nielsen.
But rather than digging up all the predictable clips that have already made the rounds, I unearthed some old gems that many of you might not be as familiar with.
Perhaps the following exchange helped give birth to Chevy Chase’s “I’ll have a Bloody Mary and a steak sandwich and… a steak sandwich” line in Fletch?
Nothing quite like shouting “cover me” while in a hostile shootout with Frank Drebin:
For anyone who has seen Naked Gun, and that should be all of you, this joke should ring familiar:
Nielsen’s unwavering love and support of O.J. Simpson was perhaps his only major downfall throughout his storied 60-year acting career:
Finally, two of my favorite, less heralded exchanges from Naked Gun:
Mayor: Oh, Drebin. I don’t want any trouble like you had last year on the south side. Understand? That’s my policy.
Frank: Yes, well when I see five weirdo’s dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that’s my policy.
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the park production of “Julius Caesar” you moron. You killed five actors, good ones!
Jane Spencer: Can I interest you in a night cap?
Frank Drebin: No, thank you, I don’t wear them.
To put it mildly – and I say this with a sincerely dramatic facial expression – Frank Drebin possessed an unbridled passion for his craft but, at times, was a tad literal and a bit overzealous.
Considering he provided us with so many laughs throughout the years, it’s only right that Nielsen is properly honored today, so be sure to enter all meetings with a confusing introduction of “and where the hell was I?” and for all the meetings you’re not invited to, be sure to open the door every five minutes with a “good luck, we’re all counting you.” Major bonus points awarded if the conference room is empty.
[Photo via Getty; Greatness via Nielsen]