Brooklyn-born Buddy Hackett was known mainly as a nightclub comic, especially in Las Vegas, where he first performed in 1952 and wound up being one of the biggest headliners in that city’s history. Hackett always referred to himself as a “saloon comic” and preferred the intimacy of his stage act–where he would often bring members of the audience up on stage with him–to films and television. He, along with Lenny Bruce, pioneered “blue” comedy, although Hackett’s career did not suffer nearly as much as Bruce’s did because of it. Hackett’s act was noted for its, at the time, “adult” content, and at one point he was sued by a woman who attended one of his shows and said she was “shocked and offended” at the language (she lost the suit). However, contrary to his nightclub image, Hackett’s appearances in films were mostly of the family type, such as his roles in the “Herbie” series of comedies for Disney about a Volkswagen Bug with a mind of its own and as Robert Preston’s sidekick in The Music Man (1962). In 1954, Hackett was paired by Universal Pictures with Hugh O’Brian as a potential comedy team to replace the studio’s reigning team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, They actually did replace the famous team in the film Fireman Save My Child (1954), due to Costello’s illness (Bud and Lou can still be glimpsed in long shots). Hackett took the part that Costello was playing (an eerie coincidence considering that more than 20 years later he would actually play Costello in the movie Bud and Lou (1978)) and O’Brian took Abbott’s place, but the film was not successful and Universal dropped its plans to make a team out of the two. Hackett also had a showy part in the ensemble comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), partnered with Mickey Rooney. However, despite his success in movies, he still preferred his nightclub work and played Las Vegas and clubs in other cities whenever possible. He had a reputation among his fellow comics as a brilliant ad-libber and someone who knew exactly how far to take a joke before it ran its course, something not all comedians managed to do.
Buddy Hackett died at age 78 of natural causes at his beach house in Malibu, CA, on June 30, 2003.
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