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ten best!: Dom DeLuise moments

by Brian Clarey

The Mel Brooks canon

Dominick “Dom” DeLuise was a funny, funny man. And in honor of his life, which ended last week after a battle with cancer, we recount some of the man’s finest on-screen moments. Most of them came in the Mel Brooks movies of the 1970s and ’80s, notably as down-and-out director Mel Funn in Silent Movie, a decadent (and flatulent) Emperor Nero in History of the World Part I and a scene-stealing role as Pizza the Hut in Spaceballs. If these were the only three roles he ever played, his career would have been considered a success. But he did quite a bit more.

Dominick the Great

DeLuise came to prominence as a recurring guest on “The Dean Martin Show,” which aired on NBC from 1965-’74. Wow. Did Dean Martin’s show really run for nine years? That’s astounding. At any rate, DeLuise floored the live audience with his Dominick the Great routine, a magic act gone terribly wrong, and became a member of the cast and a regular player for the network. DeLuise ate lunch off that Dominick the Great routine for most of the ’70s.

“The Dom DeLuise Show”

DeLuise also had his own show evening variety show, which aired in 1968. It was not a commercial success. Another “Dom DeLuise Show” aired in 1987, this time as a sitcom. DeLuise played a barber. There’s a reason you don’t remember it.

The Burt Reynolds years

DeLuise and Burt Reynolds hit it off on the set of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” and from there forged a creative relationship that brought life to five films — the first two Cannonball Run pictures; the sequel to Smokey and the Bandit; The End, a black comedy about euthanasia (really); and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with Dolly Parton. They also lent their voices to the animated feature All Dogs Go To Heaven. The pair made an excellent comedy team, but I felt that Burt Reynolds slapped DeLuise around a bit too much.

Sextette

In 1978, a truly terrible film was made by Ken Hughes starring an 84year-old Mae West as an international sex symbol(!) married to 32-year-old Timothy Dalton (yeah, James Bond — they sing a duet of “Love Will Keep Us Together”). The film is noteworthy because of its cast, which includes Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Regis Philbin, George Hamilton, Rona Barrett and Tony Curtis, all of whom are trying to sex up the octegenarian. DeLuise plays West’s manager Dan Turner, and they share many memorable scenes.

Hot Stuff

In 1979, DeLuise made his directorial debut with Hot Stuff. It starred DeLuise, Jerry Reed and Suzanne Pleshette, playing Miami cops who open a pawn shop as a sting operation. I watched this one at the Westbury Drive-In with my parents (I was 9) and I still remember the scene where DeLuise accidentally smokes pot and indulges a phenomenal case of the munchies — a scene which occurred in just about every comedy made in the late ’70s.

Fatso

This is one of my favorite movies of all time: a 1980 comedy about fat people and food, directed by Anne Bancroft (who, of course, is married to Mel Brooks). There are so many great scenes, but the absolute best is when DeLuise calls his “Chubby Checkers” — a takeoff on Weight Watchers — to stop him from an eating binge. They sit around drinking hot water with lemon and talking about food, particularly the kinds of things they’d like to stuff into jelly doughnuts after they suck the jelly out.

“Candid Camera”

In 1991 DeLuise took over hosting duties for the perennial favorite television show “Candid Camera,” which was started by Allen Funt as a radio broadcast in 1947 (“It was called “Candid Microphone”) before coming to the small screen a year later. DeLuise’s wheezy laugh and kneeslapping fits are what likely got him the job.

“The Ren & Stimpy Show”

From 1993-1995, DeLuise voiced the character Big Kahuna on the “Aloha Höek” episode of “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” a Tahiti-era Brandoesque libertine who takes Stimpy in to his tropical paradise and feeds him octopus pie. Absolutely worth a Google, but the ending is just plain weird.

Opera

DeLuise fulfilled a lifelong dream when he played Frosch the jailer, a nonsinging role in the opera Die Fledermaus on stage at the Metropolitan House. Not bad for a kid from Broooklyn.

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