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Dom DeLuise & Variety Shows

Matt Schudel

If you see me at my desk looking at videos on YouTube, you might think I'm goofing off. Well, I do plenty of that, I have to confess, but in the case of today's obituary of Dom DeLuise, I've been looking at clips from his many films and appearances on television. This is one of the ways journalism has changed in recent years; in the past, there was simply no video archive available -- certainly not at your own desk.

As a result, I've developed a newfound respect for DeLuise as a serious actor after seeing him in a few scenes from his 1980 film "Fatso" (the only movie directed by Anne Bancroft, by the way). The film is about a man who has an obsession with food and ultimately finds redemption and hope in love. (Here's another clip.) There are also several selections of DeLuise in Mel Brooks movies, including Blazing Saddles and "History of the World, Part I."


DeLuise was ubiquitous on television in the 1960s and 1970s, and YouTube has dozens of clips of him on everything from the Dean Martin Show to The Muppet Show. Here's a clip from the Dean Martin Show in the 1960s, featuring DeLuise doing his fake magic act as Dominick the Great. I've also run across a hilarious clip of DeLuise on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, where he does an amazing trick involving eggs that ends up in a wild slapstick scene.

Seeing all these shows brought back warm memories of my misspent youth, when I spent far too much time watching television. I was surprised at how well much of the humor held up (and how sexist a lot of it was back then). But I was also reminded of what young people today are missing because a TV staple for decades -- the variety show -- has disappeared. Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, Carol Burnett and even Judy Garland and had variety shows that included comedy, singing, dancing, sketches and all kinds of brilliant mayhem that seem to have no place on TV today. Great performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat "King" Cole (who briefly had a variety show in the 1950s) were on television all the time. The era of just three networks was, paradoxically, far more diverse in the range of arts, entertainment and talk presented on TV. Just think: When was the last time you saw a jazz musician or a classical pianist on television?

A certain amount of nostalgia goes with writing obituaries, but I don't think it's just a longing for lost youth to say it's a shame that some elements of our culture seem irretrievably lost. Not every one of Johnny Carson's or Carol Burnett's programs was a masterpiece, by any means, but somehow they seemed to have both more seriousness and more unbridled fun than today's shows. They seemed to express a kind of confidence that seems to have left us forever.

By Matt Schudel  |  May 6, 2009; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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