Posted by Bunky Bunk at Monday, February 04, 2013 3 Comments
"I'm thinking about breaking into the TV game, since it's apparently sticking around. I don’t want to wake up 30 years and wonder, 'what if?'".
Veteran character actor Richard Erdman has come full circle.
Discovered 7 decades ago starring in a frivolous school play, Ever Since Eve, Erdman was personally signed to a contract at Warner Bros. by Michael Curtiz, the Oscar-winning director of Casablanca.
And 70 years later, Erdman's back in school — so to speak. He plays the recurring role of the irascible college student Leonard on NBC's acclaimed sitcom Community, which returns for its 4th season on Thursday evening.
Now 87, he's just as exhilarated with acting as he was as a wide-eyed kid on the Warner Bros. lot.
During a lively lunch recently at Musso & Frank, Erdman said : "It's just a lot of fun to do. I think those kids are fun." Tristram Shapeero (exec producer / director) said of Erdman : "He's one of those people you love to work with. I love the way we use him. He's a great foil."
Leonard is no shrinking violent. His rebellious nature caused him to be banned from Denny's. He's gone skinny dipping and vandalized walls with graffiti. Leonard even changed his last name from Briggs to Rodriguez to court the Latino vote when he ran for student body president. Leonard is a throwback to the roles Erdman played when he was still a teenager at Warner Bros.
He enrolled in Hollywood High School and his mother got a job as a cook at the Ivar House restaurant. Shortly after being signed to Warner Bros., Erdman made his screen debut in an uncredited role as a Western Union boy delivering a telegram to Claude Rains in 1944's Mr. Skeffington. He earned his first screen credit that year in Curtiz's Janie.
As a young contract player, the studio sent him out on personal appearances and gave him lessons in singing, dancing, speech and acting. He also did some 50 shows at the famed Hollywood Canteen, the World War II club started by Bette Davis and John Garfield, for the servicemen. "We did comedy sketches. It was an education". After making 27 films at Warners in less than 3 years, he left the studio — "I wasn't getting the parts I should have been getting" — and found greener pastures under contract at Paramount.
Erdman is best remembered for 2 films — Robert Parrish's crackling 1951 film noir, Cry Danger, with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming, and as barracks chief Hoffy in Billy Wilder's 1953 World War II classic Stalag 17, for which William Holden won an Academy Award. Wilder and Parrish were his favorite directors. "They had senses of humor and they listened to people and watched. They directed instead of acted. Many directors are very busy being important. But those two — no. Billy was quite funny".
His engaging personality and colorful stories of Hollywood have endeared him to his Community co-workers. Gillian Jacobs said : "I adore him. He's such a sweet man and has such patience and good humor". Shapeero said : "You feel like you're so connected with history".
By the way, anyone else would like to see a Raising Hope / Community crossover just to have Maw Maw and Leonard together in the same scene ? Cloris Leachman and Richard Erdman have got to be the most awesome elderly on TV (yes, I know, Betty 'Professor Bauer' White too).
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