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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two Interchangeable Actors On The OTN.

There were very few comedic actors that were in the same league as James Coco.
He looked funny.
He was relatively short.
With his paunch, his balding head, and his impeccable sense of timing, he was one of God's gifts to comedy.
He had a short-lived series in the early 70's called "Calucci's Department" on CBS.
He played a man who ran a Department of Welfare office in New York.
Everything about this series reeked of New York.
It was shot in New York.
All New York actors.
The Show Runners were Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna.
Who were more New York than them?
It was a smart, hilarious show, made even more hilarious by the presence of James Coco.
It would be to imagine anyone else but Coco playing Calucci.
Difficult, but not impossible.
James Coco had a virtual twin brother when it came to comedy brilliance.
And when it came to looks.
Dom DeLuise could have played Calucci.
Probably exactly as well.
They were exactly as good as each other.
But logistically, Dom DeLuise couldn't have played Calucci.
Because simultaneously, he had his own sitcom, "Lotsa Luck", on NBC.
He looked funny.
He was relatively short.
With his paunch, his balding head, and his impeccable sense of timing, he was one of God's gifts to comedy.
Where have I heard those words before?
"Lotsa Luck" also took place in New York, but I'm pretty sure it was shot in L.A.
DeLuise played a the manager of the Lost and Found Department of a New York Bus Company, but you virtually never saw people losing or finding things.
The action primarily took place at home, where he lived with his mother, played by the great Kathleen Freeman, and his sister and his sponging brother-in law.
It was very well written, and dominated by Dom.
How fitting.
It would be very difficult to imagine anyone else playing Dom's part in "Lotsa Luck"
Difficult, but not impossible.
It could have been James Coco.
It's really sad that neither are around any more.
But the shows are.
And they both belong on the OTN.

Mark Rothman, CEO of the OTN.


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7 comments:

  1. Loved both shows. I'm watching the Fonzie bachelor party episode of Laverne and Shirley and saw your name. Any memories of writing or shooting it?

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  2. I think it was the second episode we shot. I remember Cindy being brilliant in it.

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  3. I remember both "Calluci's Departmanet" (though not the actual name, just the premise) and "Lotsa Luck" premise and name. Both funny shows.

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  4. Dom DeLuise and James Coco were both terrific, both funny, both highly talented.

    But interchangeable?

    Dom DeLuise was almost always wild, manic, over-the-top.
    He was at his funniest when in the middle of chaos, trying to keep his head when everybody else was losing theirs - and ending up losing his as well.

    James Coco was quietly fretful most of the time; he never quite lost it, but the wilder ones around him got him to the brink.

    In CALUCCI'S DEPARTMENT, what I remember best were Coco's scenes in the confessional, trying to tell his priest how and why what he was doing wasn't exactly a sin. My Irish Catholic family loved this show; I guess there ween't enough of us to counteract SANFORD & SON and THE BRADY BUNCH, which was the competition on Friday nights that year.

    We also liked LOTSA LUCK, which was faster, wilder, more manic, with DeLuise and people like Kathleen Freeman and Wynn Irwin trying to out-crazy each other, like an insanity Olympiad.
    I recall that critics of the time loved CALUCCI and panned LOTSA LUCK for the reasons mentioned above.

    In passing, I ought to note that James Coco often got to play straight dramatic parts, while Dom DeLuise did not.
    Not that DeLuise couldn't, you understand; he just didn't get the opportunities, while James Coco frequently did.
    The unfair business, I guess ...

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  5. The episode of "Calucci's Department" that I just saw showed Coco sailing way over the top.
    As far as DeLuise's dramatic abilities, I recommend that you watch, or rewatch, the film "Fatso"
    Mike, I think you're picking nits here.
    Coco and DeLuise WERE each other.

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  6. Of course, I'm picking nits - that happens to be my speciality.
    I did not say that Dom DeLuise NEVER got to play straight dramatic - only that he wasn't given the opportunity very often.
    As it happens, I didn't see FATSO.
    But I did see HOT STUFF, the only film that DeLuise directed.
    It's my favorite of all the things he ever did.
    The most interesting aspect of that is that DeLuise the director had more control over DeLuise the comic than most other directors did.
    HOT STUFF was written by Donald Westlake, the best comic mystery novelist ever, and was based (loosely) on a true story - a police burglary unit sets up a phony fencing operation in order to stop a string of thefts.
    Dirctor Dom knew he had a strong story, and so he reined in Comic Dom, and worked well with a really good ensemble cast.
    HOT STUFF didn't do well with critics, who didn't know how to react to a restrained Dom DeLuise.
    As I recall, FATSO had a similar problem with the same critics (correction welcomed).
    And I'll also mention in passing, Deluise's film debut in FAIL-SAFE - a completely sereious turn as a USAF tech at SAC HQ during the recall crisis.
    As time passed, most directors took the easy way out, and let DeLuise run wild.
    But over-the-top gets old pretty fast, and in the long run DeLuise got trapped by it.

    As to James Coco:
    CALUCCI was long enough ago that my memories have dimmed.
    But I've seen quite a bit of Coco's work over the years, and I can't recall any specific instance wher he went anywhere nearly as over-the-top as Dom Deluise did on a regular basis.
    Putting it another way:
    Dom DeLuise exploded.
    James Coco seethed.
    Two different approaches - each effective in their own way.
    But hardly interchangeable.

    Stay tuned for more nits, to be picked by the midwest franchise holder for nit-picking - my not-so-humble self.
    'Til then ...

    ReplyDelete

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Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at macchus999@aol.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."