The superb character actor Richard Erdman (June 1, 1925 - March 16, 2019) has died at age 93.
Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided this tribute to his career:
The Films of Richard Erdman
Nineteen-year-old Dick Erdman made his film debut in a bit part as a Western Union boy in the 1944 Bette Davis drama MR. SKEFFINGTON. Vincent Sherman directed the film. At the time, most Warner Bros."A" features had a 30-day shooting schedule. MR. SKEFFINGTON took 110. When Jack Warner sent writer-producers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein a note inquiring why the picture was behind schedule, their tersely humorous reply was, "Bette Davis is a slow director."
Franz Waxman's score was re-recorded by William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony for a 1999 Marco Polo CD.
In 1944's HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN, a myriad of Warner Bros. stars appeared as themselves. Dick Erdman was not one of them, but had a minor role as a soldier in the film, which was a top money-maker for Warners. Delmer Daves directed the musical comedy.
In the Errol Flynn war drama OBJECTIVE, BURMA!, Dick Erdman played "'Nebraska' Hooper", one of the soldiers involved in the fight to take back Burma from the Japanese during World War II. Raoul Walsh directed the film, which was criticized for giving short shrift to the British, Chinese, and Indian soldiers who made up the majority of the Allied combatants in that campaign.
Franz Waxman's Oscar-nominated score was re-recorded by William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony for a 2000 Marco Polo CD. Waxman lost the Oscar to Miklos Rozsa for SPELLBOUND.
NIGHT AND DAY was the 1946 fictionalized biopic of composer Cole Porter (Cary Grant), from his days at Yale in the 1910s through the height of his success in the 1940s. Dick Erdman had a bit part as a music store custormer. Michael Curtiz directed the film. Ray Heindorf arranged and conducted the musical numbers, while Max Steiner provided incidental background music. In 1951, David Rose And His Orchestra created a 10-inch LP called "A Cole Porter Review (Songs And Scenes From The Life Of The Composer As Presented By Warner Brothers In Their Technicolor Production "Night And Day")"
In DECEPTION, a piano teacher (Bette Davis) believes that her fiancé (Paul Henreid) was killed on the battlefield. When he miraculously returns, they decide to marry, but are threatened by a wealthy, egotistical composer-cellist (Claude Rains), whom the piano teacher started dating after she became convinced her love had died. Dick Erdman had a small role as student "Jerry Spencer."
Shura Cherassky played the piano during Davis' solo, even though Davis, who had played piano as a child, practiced the piece for three hours a day in order to perform credibly on film. During the cello-playing scenes, Paul Henreid's hands were tied behind his back and two actual cellists were used in the close shots--one placed his right hand through Henreid's right sleeve and worked the bow; the other placed his left arm through Henreid's left sleeve and did the fingering.
Irving Rapper directed the 1946 film. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score was re-recorded by William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony for a 2007 Naxos CD.
In NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, ex-GI "Nick Blake" (John Garfield) gets involved in a scheme to fleece a rich young widow (Geraldine Fitzgerald), but finds himself falling for her for real, much to the displeasure of his racketeer cohorts (George Coulouris and George Tobias). Dick Erdman had a bit part as the bellboy at The Marwood Arms hotel.
Jean Negulesco directed the 1946 crime drama. Adolph Deutsch's score has not had a release.
Although by its title and advertising it could be mistaken for a romantic comedy, 1949's EASY LIVING was a drama. RKO borrowed Victor Mature from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production and Lucille Ball and Lizabeth Scott from Hal Wallis' company. Scott played the wife of veteran pro quarterback Mature, who finds his career threatened after he starts suffering from dizzy spells. Dick Erdman had a supporting role as "Buddy Morgan" in the film. Roy Webb provided the unreleased score.
In his motion picture debut, Marlon Brando played "Ken 'Bud' Wilocek", a paralyzed war veteran who tries to adjust to the world without the use of his limbs. He is one of THE MEN who suffer the after effects of World War II. At the paraplegic ward at a hospital in his hometown, Bud meets "Leo" (Richard Erdman), a fellow patient. Erdman, now being billed as "Richard," received his first poster credit for this film.
While shooting THE MEN, Brando stayed in the one bedroom apartment of Erdman. Brando slept on the couch and was a voracious eater. According to biographer Peter Manso, Brando, who was being paid $40,000 for his role, never offered to help with expenses or restock the refrigerator for Erdman, who was being paid only $5000.
Fred Zinnemann directed the 1950 Stanley Kramer production. A three-minute cue from Dimitri Tiomkin's score was included in a 1957 Dot LP, "Backgrounds for Brando," recorded by Elmer Bernstein. The album was re-issued on CD in 2004 by Spanish label Blue Moon.
When THE MEN was re-released in 1957 by NTA, it came with a new advertising campaign and a new title. This poster's tagline is a little closer to the truth of what the film was about, but both the title and the artwork make it appear as if the film is a war epic.
The opening credits for THE MEN include the following written dedication: "In all wars, since the beginning of history, there have been men who fought twice. The first time they battled with club, sword or machine gun. The second time they had none of these weapons. Yet, this by far was the greatest battle...This is the story of such a group of men. To them this film is dedicated."
Richard Erdman co-starred with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming in the 1951 film noir CRY DANGER. Powell plays ex-convict "Rocky Mulloy," fresh from serving five years of a life sentence for robbery and murder. Erdman is "Delong," the decorated, disabled Marine who provided Rocky with the alibi that finally freed him.
Richard Erdman's car in the film is a uni-body two-door 1950 Nash Statesman 600 (which features the oddball one-year-only "uniscope" instrument pod). According to TCM's Eddie Muller, the car actually belonged to Jean Porter (who plays "Darlene"), being a gift from her husband Edward Dmytryk. When Jean drove the car on the set, director Robert Parrish thought it would be perfect for Erdman's character.
CRY DANGER marked the first feature-film directing credit for Parrish, a former editor and actor. In an interview with Tom Weaver, Jean Porter said the film was "directed by Dick Powell, and he wasn't given director credit. Dick gave Robert Parrish the director's credit, but Dick did all the directing." Emil Newman and Paul Dunlap collaborated on the score for the film.
This was one of Rhonda Fleming's favorite films. She generously donated to its restoration and preservation by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA's Film and Television Archive. Restoration was complicated because by the early 2000's, Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the film but had no prints or negatives, and Warner Bros. had prints, but no rights. Fortunately, both companies co-operated. To accomplish the restoration, UCLA used two 35mm acetate composite master positives. A restored print was premiered in 2011.
THE STOOGE is set in 1930 New York, where popular vaudevillian “Bill Miller” (Dean Martin) announces at his wedding reception that he is going solo, stunning his partner, “Ben Bailey” (Richard Erdman), and his agent, “Leo Lyman” (Eddie Mayehoff). Bill dismisses Ben’s and Leo’s warnings about the difficulties he will face and begins touring with his bride, singer “Mary Turner” (Polly Bergen), at his side. When Bill proves a failure, Leo suggests he hire a stooge, or song plugger, to spice up his act. Bill contacts a music publisher, who recommends “Ted Rogers” (Jerry Lewis), a bumbling employee he is anxious to get out from under foot.
THE STOOGE is said to be Jerry Lewis's favorite of all the Martin and Lewis films, because he felt it came closest to capturing what they had as a team onstage. Though released in the U.K. in November 1951, its wide American release was held until February 1953 because Paramount was unsure of its box office appeal due to its extensive dramatic moments. Norman Taurog directed the film, with Joseph J. Lilley acting as music director and providing some uncredited score.
Following their 1950 hit AT WAR WITH THE ARMY, Martin and Lewis were back in the Army again for 1952’s JUMPING JACKS. The film finds nightclub comic “Hap Smith” (Lewis) assuming the identity of another soldier, "Pvt. Dogface Dolan" (Richard Erdman), so he can tour army bases in a revue with his ex-partner “Chuck Allen” (Martin). Norman Taurog directed, with Joseph J. Lilley acting as music director and providing some uncredited score.
Richard Erdman had a supporting role as "Al," a photographer, in the 1953 mystery THE BLUE GARDENIA. In the film, a telephone operator (Anne Baxter) ends up drunk and at the mercy of a cad (Raymond Burr) in his apartment. The next morning, she wakes up with a hangover and the terrible fear she may be a murderess.
Anne Baxter suffered a torn ligament while filming the fight scene with Raymond Burr. Fritz Lang directed the film, which has an unreleased score by Raoul Kraushaar.
In the prison camp classic STALAG 17, when two escaping American World War II prisoners are killed, the German P.O.W. camp barracks black marketeer, "J.J. Sefton," (William Holden) is suspected of being an informer.
Richard Erdman played barracks chief "Sgt. 'Hoffy' Hoffman," who criticizes Sefton for taking advantage of his fellow prisoners.
Billy Wilder directed the 1953 film. William Holden won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in the film. Wilder was nominated as Best Director and Robert Strauss as Best Supporting Actor. Franz Waxman' s score utilized “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” as its basis, and he was credited for "Musical Settings." Kritzerland released the surviving tracks of the score in 2013.
In June 1950, "Capt. George Slocum" (John Hodiak), pilot of an L5 single-engine surveyor plane, finds that he has a MISSION OVER KOREA when his base receives news of North Korea's attack on South Korea. Richard Erdman played "Pvt. Swenson," a mechanic, in the 1953 war drama. Fred F. Sears directed the low-budget Columbia production, which had its script altered to include a portion of the 85,000 feet of location footage photographed by producer Robert Cohn and a camera crew near the Korean front lines. The film had an uncredited music score by Mischa Bakaleinikoff.
Beginning in September 1953, Richard Erdman co-starred with Ray Bolger in the ABC television series "Where's Raymond?". The series' title was spurred by Bolger's Broadway stage hit Where's Charley?. Suitably, in the series, Bolger stars as "Raymond Wallace," a song-and-dance man who is consistently barely on time for his performances. Bolger's co-stars were Richard Erdman as "Pete Morrisey," Ray's landlord and press agent, and Sylvia Lewis as "Sylvia," Ray's dancing partner and the series choreographer.
ABC aired the series on Thursday nights at 8:30. Even though it was opposite the #15-rated series on television, NBC's "Treasury Men In Action," "Where's Raymond?" was renewed for a second season.
For its second season (1954-55), NBC renamed the program "The Ray Bolger Show" and switched its time slot to Fridays at 8:30. There, the show faced off against two series in the top 30--NBC's "The Life of Riley" (#21) and CBS's "Topper" (#24). Bolger couldn't compete and was cancelled after completion of Season 2.
In the 1955 adventure BENGAZI, an American with a shady past (Richard Conte) joins with a morally-bankrupt Irishman (Victor McLaglen) and a recently released English convict (Richard Erdman) to find treasure buried by Arabs in a deserted mosque in the Sahara. Desert scenes were shot in the Yuma Desert in Arizona, where an Arab mosque was constructed.
John Brahm directed the film, which has an unreleased score by Roy Webb. It was the last music score for RKO by Webb, who had been with the studio since 1929.
ANYTHING GOES marked Bing Crosby's final film for Paramount Pictures, the studio at which he had been under contract for twenty-two years. Paramount, faced with competition from television, decided to drop their high-priced contract players and opted to sign their stars on a picture-by-picture basis. This 1956 musical was based on Cole Porter's 1934 Broadway musical of the same name. (Crosby had also starred in Paramount's 1936 adaptation of the musical, directed by Lewis Milestone and co-starring Ethel Merman.)
In the film, "Bill Benson" (Crosby) and "Ted Adams" (Donald O'Connor) are to appear in a Broadway show together and, while in Paris, each "discovers" the perfect leading lady for the plum female role (Mitzi Gaynor and Zizi Jeanmaire). Each promises the prize role to the girl they selected without informing the other until they head back across the Atlantic by liner - with each man having brought his choice along.
Richard Erdman had the non-singing role of "Ed Brent." The film was directed by Robert Lewis, making his feature film directorial debut. Decca released an LP of the film's songs, which they re-issued on CD in 2004.
In the 1956 melodrama THE POWER AND THE PRIZE, Robert Taylor stars as "Cliff Barton," an American business executive working in England, who wants to marry European refugee "Miriam Linka" (Elisabeth Müller), but he is warned by his boss (Burl Ives) that such things just aren't done. Richard Erdman had a supporting role as "Lester Everett."
Henry Koster (THE ROBE) directed the picture, which marked the first time the CinemaScope process was utilized for a black-and-white film. Film Score Monthly released Bonislau Kaper's score for the film in its 2010 set "BUtterfield 8: Bronislau Kaper At M-G-M, Vol. 1 (1954-1962)."
SADDLE THE WIND is set in Colorado, some years after the Civil War. Stranger "Larry Venables" (Charles McGraw) rides into a small cattle community in search of former Confederate guerrilla fighter "Steve Sinclair" (Robert Taylor). Out on the Double S ranch, Steve welcomes home his brash younger brother "Tony" (John Cassavetes), who has been away several weeks in Jeweltown, selling cattle and purchasing supplies. To Steve’s surprise, Tony has brought along saloon singer "Joan Blake" (Julie London), whom Tony declares he intends to marry. Richard Erdman plays the Double S’s former top hand, "Dallas Hanson."
Robert Parrish directed the 1958 western. Rod Serling's script for the film was titled "Three Guns," after the screen story by Tommy Thompson. But after Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote a song called "Saddle the Wind" for Julie London to sing in the film, producer Armand Deutsch decided to rename the picture after the song. In 2004, Film Score Monthly released Elmer Bernstein's score for the film, as well as Jeff Alexander's rejected score.
By the end of the 1950s, Tab Hunter was looking for recurring work as the star of a television series but could not find a script he liked, especially as he did not want to do Westerns. He eventually picked a sitcom, dubbed "The Tab Hunter Show". In the series, Hunter stars as "Paul Morgan," a 29-year-old cartoonist whose comic strip "Bachelor at Large" profiles his amorous adventures around Malibu Beach, California. The program also starred Jerome Cowan as Hunter's boss; John Larsen, the owner of Comics, Inc.; Richard Erdman as his best friend, the rich playboy "Peter Fairfield, III"; and character actress Reta Shaw as Hunter's housekeeper, "Thelma," who disapproved of his life-style.
The "Bachelor at Large" comic strips seen on camera were drawn by veteran cartoonist Zeke Zekley, who had worked closely with George McManus on the strip "Bringing Up Father" from 1935 to 1954.
NBC premiered the show on Sunday, 18 September 1960 at 8:30. Unfortunately, "The Tab Hunter Show" went up against some stiff competition: the #15 rated "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS and the #26 rated western "Lawman" on ABC. "The Tab" Hunter Show" was cancelled after a single season.
"Saints and Sinners" was an hour-long drama series that aired on NBC during the 1962-63 television season. The program starred Nick Adams as newspaper reporter "Nick Alexander." John Larkin co-starred as Nick's mentor, newspaper editor "Mark Grainger." The series also starred Richard Erdman as "Kluge," the staff photographer and office philosopher, and Robert F. Simon as copy editor "Dave Tabak."
NBC debuted the series on Monday, 17 September 1962, at 8:30 PM. The show went up against some killer competition on CBS--the #4-rated "The Lucy Show" and the #7-rated "The Danny Thomas Show"--not to mention "The Rifleman" on ABC. "Saints and Sinners" was an also-ran that was cancelled after 13 episodes. Elmer Bernstein provided the theme for the show.
In 1964's THE BRASS BOTTLE, architect "Harold Ventimore" (Tony Randall) buys an antique brass bottle as a gift for his future father-in-law, "Anthony Kenton" (Edward Andrews), an Egyptologist, but he decides the bottle is a fake and keeps it for himself. He breaks the seal, thereby releasing a genie, "Fakrash" (Burl Ives), who is ready to serve him. Richard Erdman plays "Seymour Jenks" in the film. The following year, Barbara Eden, who plays Harold's girlfriend "Sylvia Kenton," would star in the similarly-themed television series "I Dream of Jeannie."
Harry Keller directed the film, which has an unreleased score by Bernard Green.
When naturalist "Hank Donner" (Robert Lansing) and his assistant "Deke" (Richard Erdman) witness two salmon fishermen shoot a female whale, Hank decides to study the whale's mate, NAMU, THE KILLER WHALE. László Benedek directed this 1966 adventure.
Stock music by Robert Van Eps and Dominic Frontiere was integrated into Samuel Matlovsky's original score for NAMU. Van Eps' music was composed for "The Outer Limits" TV segment entitled "Tourist Attraction", which was also directed by László Benedek. The ominous-sounding cues were used for the amphibious fish-monsters, the Ichthyosaurs.
RASCAL was a family comedy filled with tenderness as a baby raccoon snuggles his way into the life of a lonely boy (Bill Mumy). He becomes the boy's only companion during his father's (Steve Forrest) frequent absences. Richard Erdman had a supporting role as "Walt Dabbitt." Norman Tokar directed the 1969 film, which had an unreleased score by Buddy Baker.
According to the book December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, and Katherine V. Dillon, "Bratton took back the paper, and standing beside a typist, dictated the message while the man typed. This took approximately 1 minute."
"Promptly at 1200, the message went off to the Caribbean Defense Command, to Manila at 1206, and to the Presidio at 1211. But on checking, French found that atmospheric conditions had cut off the channel to Honolulu since around 1030 and even interfered with San Francisco. He considered turning the message over to the Navy, but decided that the Navy was probably having the same atmospheric difficulties. Moreover, if the Navy handled it, the message would have to go first to Pearl Harbor instead of direct to Fort Shafter. French decided that commercial service could provide quicker transmission. He had a direct teletype to Western Union in Washington, which could relay the message to San Francisco and there turn it over to RCA, who would send it to Honolulu. Therefore, at 1217 he sent the dispatch to Western Union.
"1217 in Washington; 0647 in Honolulu. In 10 minutes, Hawaii's sun would rise on December 7, 1941."
In 1969, Dean Jones had filmed a television movie for Universal called THE GREAT MAN’S WHISKERS, about a ten-year-old girl who writes a letter to President Abraham Lincoln (Dennis Weaver) urging him to grow a beard. Jones starred as the little girl’s father. For reasons unknown, the film sat on the shelf, and even played in Britain, until NBC finally broadcast it on 13 February 1973.
Richard Erdman played a character named "Joseph Somerby" in the film. Philip Leacock directed the film, and Earl Robinson did the score, with Jones singing a song (“The Wilderness Man”) by Robinson and E.Y. Harburg.
In 1971, Richard Erdman wrote, produced, and directed an R-rated exploitation film, originally called TEENAGE TEASE, and later titled BLEEP. It's unclear whether the film had any theatrical exhibition. In 1973, Erdman returned to the director's chair for the G-rated western comedy THE BROTHERS O'TOOLE. This time, he left the writing and producing chores to others.
Most prominent in the cast of THE BROTHERS O'TOOLE are TV stars John Astin (in a dual role as "Michael," one of the Brothers O'Toole, and as an outlaw, "Desperate Ambrose Littleberry") and Lee Meriwether (as the embittered wife of Astin’s bandido character). The other O'Toole brother, "Timothy", is played by Steve Carlson. Equally notable are Hollywood veterans Jesse White (as the Mayor of a sleepy Western hamlet with the unpronounceable name of "Molybdenum"); Allyn Joslyn, in his final film (as the Sheriff); and Hans Conried (in a very belated cameo as an oil tycoon). Director Erdman also contrived to give himself a small but fun role as bemused "Judge Quincey P. Trumbell."
In the film, the O'Toole brothers, a couple of ne'er-do-wells, turn a sleepy mining town upside-down in their search for quick riches. Don Piestrup provided the film's unreleased score. THE BROTHERS O'TOOLE was shot on location in Colorado. The film was the first produced by CVD Studios, a subsidiary of American National Enterprises. Although the closing credits include a 1973 copyright statement for CVD Studios, the film was not registered for copyright, which is why it has appeared on many public domain video labels.
Charles Bronson starred as Mr. MAJESTYK, a melon farmer who battles organized crime and a hit man who wants to kill him. On the first day of production, Bronson got angry about a delay caused by a late transport truck carrying cars necessary for the scene that was to be shot. Finally, he yelled to director Richard Fleischer within earshot of the entire crew, "You know what this company needs - it needs a European first assistant and a European crew!" The crew was so insulted by this remark that at the end of the day, they told Fleischer they would be leaving the production. They were persuaded to stay, but for the rest of the shoot they never spoke to Bronson unless they absolutely had to. Later in the shoot, Bronson commented to Fleischer, "I just don't understand it. Nobody calls me 'Charlie' on this picture. They only call me 'Mr. Bronson'."
Richard Erdman had a small part in the film as attorney "Dick Richard." Intrada released Charles Bernstein's score in 2009.
TOMBOY told the story of "Tomasina 'Tommy' Boyd" (Betsy Russell), a strong-willed female stock car driver who challenges her chauvinistic crush (Jerry Dinome) to a race to win his respect--and get him into bed. Tommy works at Chester's (Richard Erdman's) garage, where she is the top mechanic in town.
Herb Freed directed the 1985 film, which earned more than $6 million at the box office. The film did not have an original music score, using only songs.
In the 1980s, Richard Erdman began doing a considerable amount of voice work for animated television series. He translated that talent to the big screen when he voiced a pirate in the partly animated 1994 film THE PAGEMASTER. Pixote Hunt and Joe Johnston directed the film. James Horner's score was released by Fox. A slightly expanded re-issue appeared from La-La Land in 2015.
Richard Erdman's last significant role was as the recurring character "Leonard" in the sitcom "Community". Erdman appeared in 53 of the show's 110 episodes over six seasons (2009-2015). The series follows an ensemble cast of characters played by Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase, and Jim Rash at a community college in the fictional town of Greendale, Colorado.
The show was based on series creator Dan Harmon's life at a community college, attempting to reconcile with his girlfriend in Spanish courses. He has also stated the characters are loosely based on the people with whom he hung around, and has nothing to do with his film and television career.
A soundtrack for the first season, titled "Community (Music from the Original Television Series)," was released on September 21, 2010 by Madison Gate Records. The track list includes the main title theme, "At Least It Was Here" by The 88; original songs and incidental music composed for the show (by series composer Ludwig Göransson); and several songs performed by the characters (a mix of original compositions and covers).
Richard Erdman was a character actor whose career spanned more than 70 years. As recently as 2012, he was still attending and speaking at film festivals where his films, such as the restored CRY DANGER, were being shown.