Sunday, June 1, 2008

Uncle Harvey, Alava Shalom

It's made me very very sad that Harvey Korman has died. For a lot of reasons. I know he was a kind man. And fabulously funny. I have adored him for as long as I can remember.

My dad and Harvey Korman were best friends in the Navy. They met waiting in line for Synagogue in, I guess, 1945. Now, my dad is not the kind of guy to keep up relationships over years, but he certainly followed Harvey's career and was very proud of him. While we watched him on TV we felt like we knew him.

I didn't meet him until 1979 when I was just about 10. Our family took an epic western trip, drove across the country, six people in a Jeep Wagoneer. We took a month in August and wound our way over Route 66 and then back again along the northern route. Dad called Uncle Harvey and said we were acomin'. He greeted us with open arms and was warm and funny and delightful as can be, and so "Harvey Korman." He took us to the famous deli Nate'n Al, showed us around Beverly Hills. Kim Richards (of "Nanny and the Professor" fame [and, weirdly, it seems to me, Paris Hilton's aunt]) rolled by on a pair of roller skates and bumped into us. She looked up at Harvey and was immediately dopey and star struck; she'd grown up with him too, after all. We went to his home in Bel Air and his son played Atari with me. Harvey gave us a tour and when we got to the master bath he said to me, "This is where the star makes a doodie. It's all sparkley." I believe I was delighted.

Sometime later Harvey came to Detroit for work and called my dad and we all went to dinner. In fact, I think I answered when he called and I was terribly confused by his voice. It was so familiar, but I didn't know who it was. It's not every day The Great Gazoo calls. I just gave the phone to my dad, thinking for some reason it was one of the teachers from Hebrew school.

One delicious highlight for me came that night at dinner when I made Harvey Korman, a brilliantly funny man, laugh so hard he pretty much flopped his face into his pasta. I don't think it was what I said so much, I suspect it was my delivery. I was very earnestly describing my beloved fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Miller. She was a great teacher, but her serious smoking and coffee habits made for remarkably bad breath, and I remarked on it. I said to Harvey, "and her breath is amazing!" Well, something about the way I said that, my eyes wide and my voice awed, just tickled him. I don't think I'd been trying to make him laugh, but I was so proud of myself that I had.

Not long after that, Uncle Harvey met and married a nice lady and they had a baby and my dad's my dad and they just lost touch. Hell, I'm not even sure they had any communication between 1945 and 1979!

When I moved to LA 13 or so years ago, I didn't feel comfortable calling Harvey and saying I was in town. He would have been thrilled to hear from me, and perhaps even saddened if he'd known that I hadn't looked him up, but it just would have seemed like I was hoping for a leg up in the business and I couldn't bear him thinking that. I would have liked to have seen him, and heck, once I was making a living in my chosen field, that wouldn't have been a problem. But it just didn't feel right, ya know? I secretly hoped I'd run into him somewhere and tell him who I was. That never happened, and now I'm feeling wistful because it never will.

I always felt warm and fuzzy toward him. And I also associated him so strongly with my dad, and not just because they'd been friends. In fact, I've always had a love of what I feel is the Harvey Korman/Alan Alda/My Dad trinity. (By the way, there's also the My Sister/Lucy Ricardo/Madonna triumvirate, but that's a whole other thing.) All three men were tall and semi-lanky, somewhat bulbous nosed, and funny as all get out. And Jewey, even though Alan Alda isn't, but might as well be (Italian and all that, same diff). My dad and Harvey were about 10 years older, though. Both born in February 1927. And both balding. So of course Harvey's death makes me deeply sad not for just who he was, but for how much I associate him with my dad. I'm pretty much counting on my dad never dying, and Harvey running off and dying like that was a bit nervy on his part.

So I wanted to tell you. Harvey Korman was just the man you would imagine him to be. And one time I made him laugh very hard. And I'm very very sorry that he's not here anymore.


Bob West said...

Wonderful, wonderful post. Sweet and sad and funny and well written. Even though I never met him, I've always felt warm and fuzzy toward him, too, having grown up with and having been comically influenced by his TV and movie ("It's HEDLEY!") personae. Thanks for bringing those memories and thoughts to all of us here outside your fabulous noggin.

MichaƩle said...

Hi, saw your post on Quinn Cummings blog and when I saw you had written about this wonderful man, I had to post. What beautiful memories...thanks for sharing. I was never quite as blessed to meet him, but I loved that he was the kind of guy you felt you already knew. I grew up watching the Carol Burnett Show and the other day, when the news broke of his death, they played a 5 second clip of him on that show. My husband and I are still laughing about it. Awesome your writing.

Daniel said...

I echo the sentiments of the other commenters. It's so moving to read your thoughtful, nuanced writing - directed toward the memory of a man we all thought of as a family member just because he visited our homes weekly, even though we never knew him for reals. Now I feel as if my impressions of him had some foundation in fact.

My memory of uncle Harvey was that he was the guy on Carol Burnett who kept cracking up. Tim Conway would work him like a fiddle, mugging and stretching out timing, to make him break in the middle of a scene - and they never cut and re-shot, they preserved the image of a genius comedian straining not to laugh out loud even as he forced tears of laughter from my eyes.

Thanks, Harvey.

Thanks, Jo.

Julie Robb said...

It's been a few years since you wrote this, but, I wanted to tell you that your words, and Harvey's legacy, are still having a wonderful affect on the world! I truly appreciated finding such a personal perspective on this man who has been an inspiration to me. I wish there were more great sources of stories about him out there!!

Also, I was on a site which honours those who served in the U.S Navy, and Harvey's information was pretty limited...maybe your Dad would have something to contribute to Harvey's profile there (and putting his own profile on there would be a great way for you, and the rest of your family and friends to see and remember what he accomplished during his year(s) of service too)? Photos are always a great treasure, and stories. Here's the address...

Thank you again for your wonderful blog! You Shine! God Bless.