|Subject: Archive: Frank Gorshin, May 17, 2005
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Date Posted: Friday, May 19, 06:06:51pm
Frank Gorshin, a prolific actor and impressionist whose career was long identified with a questionable character, the Riddler on television's original ''Batman,'' but later highlighted by his Broadway impersonation of a more amiable one, George Burns, died on Tuesday in Burbank, Calif. He was 72.
The cause was cancer complicated by emphysema and pneumonia, said Fred Wostbrock, his agent.
In 1966 Mr. Gorshin was a hard-working but hardly famous character actor and nightclub regular when he was chosen to play a bodysuited misanthrope with a taste for bad puns and mayhem. The role was Batman's nemesis, the Riddler, and from the first episode of the series, ''Hi Diddle Riddle,'' Mr. Gorshin -- mugging, cackling and constantly torturing poor Robin -- frequently stole the show from his fellow villains and Adam West, who played the Caped Crusader.
The series was an instant hit for ABC, combining elements of 1960's culture (hippies and go-go discos) with a winking comic-book style (''Bam!'' and ''Ka-Pow!'') that perfectly suited Mr. Gorshin's expressive acting style. In about a dozen episodes and a 1966 feature film, the Riddler terrorized Gotham with an endless supply of bombs, booby traps and brainteasers, an acting gig that would turn Mr. Gorshin into a marquee name and earn him an Emmy nomination.
As memorable as the role was, it was just one of hundreds that Mr. Gorshin played over the years in an endless variety of films, plays and television shows.
His attitude about acting was all business.
''I just want to work -- no matter what it is,'' he said in a 2002 interview with The New York Times. ''You got a job for me?''
With a rubberized face and an irrepressible urge to perform, by 1967 Mr. Gorshin had parlayed his fame into Las Vegas acts opening for Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra; he even headlined there, becoming one of the first impersonators to do so. It was a fine payoff for an actor who had cut his teeth in the mid-1950's as an impressionist on ''The Steve Allen Show,'' imitating Hollywood lions like Jackie Gleason, Burt Lancaster and James Cagney, whom Mr. Gorshin was said to resemble.
Mr. Gorshin was born on April 5, 1933, in Pittsburgh and brought up there. He got his first professional job at the age of 17 after winning a talent contest. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Mr. Gorshin began to get steady work as a comedian and bit player in forgettable films like ''Invasion of the Saucer Men'' and ''Dragstrip Girl,'' both in 1957, and a few memorable ones, too, like ''Bells Are Ringing'' and ''Where the Boys Are,'' both in 1960. He appeared in more than 80 films, including the 1995 cult favorite ''Twelve Monkeys.''
On Feb. 9, 1964, he appeared on the same ''Ed Sullivan Show'' that featured the comedy team of Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill, two child actors from the Broadway production of ''Oliver!,'' and some band called the Beatles. (Legend has it that Mr. Gorshin checked out the crowd and cracked, ''How do all these girls and guys know I'm here tonight?'')
Mr. Gorshin is also well known by fans of another fantasy franchise, ''Star Trek,'' for his role as Commissioner Bele, a black-and-white-faced alien with an archenemy of his own, in a 1969 episode. Later that year he made his Broadway debut as the star of ''Jimmy,'' a musical about the Prohibition-era New York mayor Jimmy Walker, which lasted for a little more than two months.
He would find much more success in his final Broadway experience, the one-man show ''Say Goodnight, Gracie,'' in which he turned his talents for mimicry to the comedian George Burns. A biographical play by Rupert Holmes, ''Gracie'' opened to mixed notices in October 2002, but touched a chord with audiences and eventually ran for almost a year. During its run, Mr. Gorshin learned he had lung cancer, a condition he kept secret, all the while performing eight times a week.
Through the years, Mr. Gorshin remained close to Mr. West, appearing with him on game shows and talk shows and at Batman conventions. Yesterday Mr. West said that Mr. Gorshin would be missed.
''Frank made me laugh,'' he said. ''He was a friend and a fascinating character.''
In addition to his wife of 48 years, Christina Randazzo Gorshin, of Connecticut, Mr. Gorshin is survived by a son, Mitch, of Orlando, Fla.; a sister, Dottie Roland of Pittsburgh; and a grandson, Brandon.
Mr. Gorshin's final performance, on the season finale of the CBS crime series ''CSI,'' set in his old stomping ground, Las Vegas, is to be broadcast tonight. In it, Mr. Gorshin, a lifelong impersonator, plays himself.
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