Thursday, May 19, 2005

Farewell to a Local Guy Who Made It Big

The remarkably talented Frank Gorshin, who passed away on Tuesday, attended the same high school in Pittsburgh as my mother. She was a few years older than him and would not have known him from school. I once asked my aunt, who was a few years younger than my mother, if she ever knew Frank Gorshin. He wasn't someone she knew very well, but he did walk to school the same way as she and her friends. Her one memory of Gorshin was that he would stop on the sidewalk in front of the girls, fall to one knee, and sing "Mammy" like Al Jolson. Even then, he was quite the showman.

The old neighborhood has changed a great deal since then. Anyone familiar with Pittsburgh city neighborhoods understands that Garfield is one of the last places anyone should try to act like an old-time minstrel in blackface.

Frank Gorshin is best known as the Riddler in the 1960s Batman television program. My favorite Gorshin role, however, was Iggy the bank robber in Disney's That Darn Cat. Released about a year before Batman debuted, TDC managed to convincingly balance terror and humor without falling too far in the former direction. Iggy was a character who would frighten you witless if he kidnapped or threatened you -- but Gorshin plays him as something less than a straight man in the movie's more serious moments, and as more than just a clown during the lighter bits. Gorshin's performance paralleled the tone of the film, and helped prevent it from becoming too frightening or too silly. (Roddy McDowell, on the other hand...)

Pittsburgh is justly proud of those native sons and daughters whose lives follow a pathway to fame and fortune. Frank Gorshin's name was never mentioned in local media without a reference to his Pittsburgh heritage. He will be missed by all of us.

1 comment:

TeeBubba said...

I saw Frank play the lead role in a traveling version of the Broadway Show "Caberet" in Miami in 1972. He was fabulous!