Dec 21, 2010

RIP, Detective Dietrich

steve land Sometimes a celebrity death strikes you in a way you don’t expect. Such it is with me on the news of the death of Steve Landesberg; I feel like I’ve lost a childhood friend. I have been a fan of TV all my life, and I like to think that I developed a taste for quality shows very early on. I was six or seven when I convinced my parents that they had to watch this new show called All in the Family. I watched Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart and M*A*S*H and many other shows that were probably a little advanced for my age.

Chief among these excellent shows that I found both funny and intelligent, was barney miller castBarney Miller, which premiered in 1974 when I was 10. Each episode played like a stage play, starting with one of the best theme songs ever, with the steady Capt. Miller guiding his team of idiosyncratic detectives as they booked and processed the week’s complement of two-bit petty thieves, hookers, johns, embezzlers—you name it, the crime passed through the Twelfth Precinct.  The cast of this show was overfilled with comedic talent, including Abe Vigoda, who must have steve land 2 been born old, and every character actor who ever worked on TV in the 70’s. But for some reason, the one that I always looked forward to was Det. Arthur Dietrich as brought to irreverent life by Steve Landesberg. He joined the show full time in the 3rd season. His slow dry wit as he added an intellectual and philosophical perspective to the lunacy at hand always struck me as the essence of humor. That Dietrich could find something completely off kilter to say even in the most tense moments struck me as a healthy way to13536BARNEY9A deal with stress. He was so known for adding to irreverence to a situation, that often he  didn’t have to speak to make the joke;  other characters would look at him expecting something, and he’d just shrug, as if to say, “I got nothin’.”  Bit of trivia: Landesberg originally appeared on Barney Miller as “Father Paul;” he was so good a role was quickly created for him.

I also remember Landesberg in a great HBO standup special. He did a long riff on reporters interviewing football players. Observing that Kickers were often South American soccer stars who didn’t really understand the game, the only response you could get from them was, “Keek bawl, geet check.” He noted that you rarely saw interviews from the losing locker room, saying (in a deep voice), “If we’da won dat game, I was gonna get a Mersadees Bents; now I gotta getta got-damm Pinto!”

LandesbergSteve Landesberg had spent the last couple of decades doing small parts in movies and TV and  voice-over work on some animated shows including Adult Swim, including a memorable cameo in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  He died of cancer on December 20, 2010 at age 65. He is credited with the quote, “Honesty is the best policy, but insanity is a better defense.” And a funnier one.

RIP, Steve Landesberg, November 23, 1945 - December 20, 2010

More to Come.

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