Two guys who could always find a way to make me laugh were Jonathan Winters and Dom DeLuise. Each had a manic energy and could tell funny stories or disappear into characters.
I first remember Dom DeLuise from a a summer television show he did in 1968. During those days, musical-variety shows would go on break during the summer and instead of showing reruns or other programs, the network often aired a replacement show. This kept the production crew going, kept viewers during that weekly time slot and gave an up and coming talent a chance.
DeLuise had been around since the early 1960’s and had appeared on many television programs and even some films. He appeared so many times on The Dean Martin Show that he was nearly a regular. He and Martin appeared in many skits that often went off the rails into ad-libbing, which both Martin and DeLuise capably handled. DeLuise was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson who could take a question from Carson and turn it into ten minutes of comedy. There are many YouTube videos from both shows.
In a rare departure, DeLuise had small role in the political thriller, Fail Safe, about a pending nuclear conflict, as a airman in the war command room. He was very effective in that dramatic role but comedy would he calling.
In 1966, he had a role as a security officer in the Doris Day comedy, The Glass Bottom Boat. He and Paul Lynne basically steal the film with their lunacy. The film is a dud but they are worth the price of admission.
Neither DeLuise or Lynne were suited to weekly television series, both had sitcoms that failed. Lynne found his calling first in film roles and guest-starring television shows, then as a regular on Hollywood Squares.
DeLuise found a home working with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder and Burt Reynolds. In roles written especially for him, he morphed into the character, the more over-the-top the better. You either liked DeLuise’s larger than life persona or you didn’t.
As he got older, he struggled with his weight and he seemed to repeat his characters. Film roles dried up so he turned to cook books, voice over work, and directed theater.
During his prime, here is his best work, with a few video links.
The Twelve Chairs (1970) DeLuise’s first film with Mel Brooks, a story of the search for jewels hidden in the cushion of a chair. DeLuise plays a priest who gets in on the action. He and Brooks were the perfect match, DeLuise could act out the craziness that Brooks could imagine.
Lotsa Luck (1973-74)
DeLuise was offered his own show, a situation comedy where he plays a bachelor who lives with his mother (Kathleen Freeman) and his married sister and her bum of a husband. He is the manager of the lost and found department of a bus company. He’s a working stiff who must deal with his loud mother and his sister and brother-in-law who depend on him to support them.
Blazing Saddles (1974) In what is really a cameo at the end of the film, DeLuise plays the director of a Busby Berkley type musical that is invaded by the cast of Blazing Saddles for a continuation of the big fight scene. It is a small but funny role.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975) Gene Wilder wrote and directed, and starred as the Holmes’ brother who is tired of living in his shadow. DeLuise plays an opera singer who has a document they all want. The film was a critical and box office success, and naturally inspired Wilder to direct other films.
Silent Movie (1976) Another film with Brooks, this time a totally silent film, which was quite a novelty. DeLuise and Marty Feldman play the sidekicks to film director Brooks as he tries to peddle a script for a silent movie. A success at the box office, it was fun at the time but I can’t see the lasting value.
The World’s Greatest Lover (1977) Another Gene Wilder film, this one didn’t deliver. DeLuise plays a film studio head searching for the next Valentino. Not a great film but another solid role for DeLuise.
The End (1978) DeLuise co-stars with Reynolds again in film directed by Reynolds. DeLuise plays a mental patient, perfect casting, who assists Reynolds’ character in plotting his own suicide.
The Cheap Detective (1978) DeLuise was part of an ensemble cast in a film Neil Simon wrote directly for the screen.
The Muppet Movie (1978) The first of the Muppet films and one of the best. It was a huge hit. DeLuise’s part was a cameo, there were many A List stars.
Hot Stuff (1979) DeLuise’s first starring role in a film he directed. He was at the height of his popularity and had the clout to direct his one and only film.
Fatso (1980) This time he co-starred with Ann Bancroft, who directed her one and only film. He plays a large man who fears rejection by the woman he is attracted to so he attempts to diet, to win her heart.
Holy Moses (1980) A Dudley Moore film that probably looked better on paper, it was a low performing finished product with a minimum of actual laughs. DeLuise was part of a large ensemble of performers trying to make the best of the material.
Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) Definitely not as original or funny as the first film, but it gave DeLuise a chance to work with Burt Reynolds again. DeLuise plays a doctor who travels with Reynolds and pregnant elephant. Hilarity does not really ensue but DeLuise makes the most of the part.
History of the World Part I (1981) Working again with Mel Brooks, DeLuise plays the gluttonous Emperor Nero, making the most of his portly size in one of his best roles. No, it is not in good taste, that’s the intent.
The Cannonball Run (1981) Reunited with Reynolds, who surrounded himself with friends and oddball characters. This was not great art but it did inspire a sequel due to its success around the world. DeLuise is Reynolds’ buddy and has an alias as Captain Chaos. Hollywood is so bankrupt of ideas, there is a reboot in the works. No kidding.
The Secret of NIMH (1982) An animated adventure fantasy film where DeLuise voices the part of Jeremy the Crow. The film proved to be a great success and DeLuise enjoyed a second career as voice artist.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) The film adaption of the Broadway hit, DeLuise plays television personality Melvin P. Thorpe. This was a big, lavish production with a featured role for DeLuise but didn’t hurt or advance his career.