"What is the beginning
of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end
and the end of every race? "
The Riddler from Batman
His manic portrayal of the
Riddler on the television series Batman (1966) was directly
responsible for turning the character in the comics from a minor
villain into one of Batman's major recurring enemies.
John Gorshin, Jr. (April 5th, 1933 to May 17th, 2005) was an
American character actor and comedian. He was perhaps best known as
an impressionist, with many guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show
and Tonight Starring Steve Allen. His most famous acting role was as
The Riddler on the Batman live-action television series.
Gorshin was born in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, the son of Catholic parents Frances, a seamstress, and
Frank Gorshin, Sr., a railroad worker. He was of Croatian ancestry.
At the age of 15, he took a part-time job as a cinema usher at the
Sheridan Square Theatre. He memorized the mannerisms of the screen
stars he saw and created an impressionist act. He was still in high
school when he obtained his first paid employment, which he secured
as the prize in a Pittsburgh talent contest in 1951: a one-week
engagement at Jackie Heller's New York nightclub, Carousel. His
parents insisted that he take the engagement, even though his 15-year-old
brother had been hit by a car and killed just two nights before.
After graduation from Peabody High School,
Gorshin attended the Carnegie Tech School of Drama (now known as
Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. When not studying, he
worked in local plays and nightclubs.
In 1953, Gorshin was drafted into the
United States Army and posted to Germany. He served for a year and a
half as an entertainer attached to Special Services. While in the
Army, Gorshin met Maurice Bergman, who later introduced him to
Hollywood agent Paul Kohner. Frank Gorshin's entire Army service
record was later destroyed in the U.S. National Personnel Records
Center fire of 1973.
Gorshin left the Army, he returned to public performance, and in
1956, he became a prolific film actor. He also appeared on various
television series, including the role of Hank Butts, with Michael
Landon cast as Jim Mason, in the 1958 episode "Shadow of Belle
Starr" of the syndicated Western series Frontier Doctor,
starring Rex Allen. In 1959, he was cast in three episodes as Seaman
Pulaski on Jackie Cooper's CBS military sitcom/drama, Hennesey.
Thereafter, Gorshin played roles in ABC's crime drama The
Untouchables. He guest-starred twelve times on CBS's The Ed Sullivan
Show, the first having been on February 9th, 1964, the same night
that The Beatles and Davy Jones debuted.
Gorshin was a popular act at nightclubs,
notably those of Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was the first
impressionist to headline the main showrooms. He was also the first
impressionist headliner at the Empire Room of New York's Waldorf-Astoria
Hotel. Among his most popular impressions were of Burt Lancaster
(exaggerating Lancaster's hand gestures) and Kirk Douglas
(exaggerating Douglas' gritted teeth), as well as Marlon Brando
(spoofing his squint).
Gorshin's slender athletic build, wide
mouth, and pale eyes under strong brows were ideal characteristics
for screen henchmen. In 1957, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car
after driving from Pittsburgh for thirty-nine hours without sleep and
crashed his car. He was on his way to a Hollywood screen test for the
role of Petty Officer Ruby in Run Silent, Run Deep. He sustained a
fractured skull and spent four days in a coma; a Los Angeles
newspaper incorrectly reported that he had been killed. The role went
to Don Rickles.
Gorshin's first film role was Between
Heaven and Hell. In the late 1950s, Gorshin had roles in B-movies
such as Hot Rod Girl (1956), Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Invasion of
the Saucer Men (1957). In 1960, he was featured in Bells are Ringing,
opposite Judy Holliday (above), playing a Method Actor while doing a
Marlon Brando impression. As a dramatic actor, he often played
"tough guys" like those played by one of his favorite
targets of impressions, James Cagney, whom he was said to resemble.
He did take a comic turn, though, as the hipster jazz bassist Basil
(paired with singer Connie Francis) in Where the Boys Are (1960), as
a bumbling kidnapper in the Hayley Mills vehicle That Darn Cat!
(1965), and as a boss-behind-bars for laughs in Otto Preminger's
comedy Skidoo (1968).
In 1962, Gorshin was cast as Billy Roy Fix
in the episode "The Fire Dancer" of the NBC modern Western
television series Empire, starring Richard Egan as the rancher Jim Redigo.
He was nominated for an Emmy Award
(Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a
Comedy) for his best remembered role as The Riddler (above) on ABC's
1960s live-action television series Batman, starring Adam West.
Gorshin's portrayal of the character included a high, deranged
cackle, inspired by that of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of
Death (1947). He played the Riddler in ten episodes of the series as
well as the theatrical movie, although John Astin made one appearance
in the role when Gorshin was unavailable. He reprised the role in the
1978 television movie Legends of the Superheroes.
Gorshin also had a memorable role in the
1969 Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
as the bigoted half-whiteface, half-blackface alien Bele (below).
Contrary to popular rumor and articles Gorshin was not Emmy nominated
for this role.
In the early 1970s, Gorshin appeared on
Broadway in Jimmy (1969) and Guys and Dolls (1971).
He made numerous guest-starring
appearances on such television series as The Name of the Game (1969)
Ironside (1974), Hawaii Five-O (1974), Get Christie Love! (1975),
Charlie's Angels (1977) and Wonder Woman (1977). In 1979, he played
interplanetary assassin Seton Kellogg in a two-part episode of the
television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century titled "Plot
to Kill a City".
During the 1980s, he appeared as the
villainous Dan Wesker in the miniseries Goliath Awaits (1981), as the
cantankerous King Gama in the opera Princess Ida (1982) as part of
the PBS series The Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan. He played the role
of Smiley Wilson on the ABC soap opera The Edge of Night (1981-82),
where he used his impersonation talents to mimic other performers on
the series. During this decade, he also guest starred in episodes of
series like The Fall Guy (1984), Murder, She Wrote (1988) and
During the 1990s, he featured as a mobster
kingpin in The Meteor Man (1993), played the evil sorcerer Brother
Septimus in "The Tale of the Carved Stone" episode of Are
You Afraid of the Dark? (1993), voiced the character of Reverend Jack
Cheese in an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show (1995). Notably, he
appeared in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys with Bruce Willis (1995) as
the gruff superior to Madeleine Stowe's psychiatrist (below).
In his final years, Gorshin portrayed
comedian George Burns on Broadway in the one-man show Say Goodnight,
Gracie (2002), which was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for best
play and was reunited with several of his Batman colleagues in the
television movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and
Burt, in which he appeared as himself. Gorshin died on the day of the
telefilm's DVD release. He played the strict legendary Harvard Law
School Professor, John H. Keynes, in the Korean drama Love Story in
Harvard (2004), voiced villain Hugo Strange in three 2005 episodes of
The Batman animated series. He also voiced the characters Marius and
Lysander in the computer role playing game Diablo II.
Gorshin's last television appearance was
in "Grave Danger", an episode of the CBS series CSI: Crime
Scene Investigation which aired two days after his death; the
episode, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, was dedicated to
his memory. While he was known for his impressions, his role on CSI
was as himself.
final live appearance was a Memphis performance of Say Goodnight,
Gracie (Gorshin pictured as George Burns at right). He finished his
performance and boarded a plane for Los Angeles on April 25th. After
he experienced severe breathing difficulty during the flight, the
attendants gave him an emergency oxygen mask. Upon landing, Gorshin
was met by an ambulance which took him to the hospital, where he
later died on May 17th, 2005, at age 72 from lung cancer, emphysema
and pneumonia. Gorshin had been a heavy smoker for most of his adult
life, consuming up to five packs of cigarettes a day.
Adam West claimed that "Frank could
reduce a cigarette to ash with one draw." When he did nightclub
performances or live shows, audiences were warned not to attend if
they disliked smoking. He is interred at the Calvary Catholic
Cemetery in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh.
On April 8th, 1957, Gorshin had married
Christina Randazzo. They had one son, Mitchell, and later separated
but remained married until his death.
A Man Called Shenandoah
- The Clown (1966)
The ABC Comedy Hour
- The Kopykats #1, 3, 4, 5, 6 (1972)
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
- The Second Verdict (1964)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
- Decoy (1956)
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
- The Tale of the Carved Stone (1994)
- Ring Around the Riddler (1967)
- Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin (1967)
- The Riddler's False Notion (1966)
- Death in Slow Motion (1966)
- Give 'Em the Axe (1966)
- The Ring of Wax (1966)
- When the Rat's Away, the Mice Will Play (1966)
- A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away (1966)
- Smack in the Middle (1966)
- Hi Diddle Riddle (1966)
- Fistful of Felt (2005)
- Strange Minds (2005)
- Meltdown (2005)
The Bold and the Beautiful
- Episode #1.3137 (1999)
- Episode #1.3097 (1999)
- Episode #1.3096 (1999)
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
- The Plot to Kill a City: Part 1 and 2 (1979)
- Angels at Sea (1977)
- The Hell Machine (1965)
- The Medal (1963)
- The Hundred Lives of Harry Simms (1961)
- The Streger Affair (1959)
Dr. Simon Locke
- Borrowed Trouble (1971)
- For Love or Money (2006)
The DuPont Show of the Week
- Jeremy Rabbitt - The Secret Avenger (1964)
The Edge of Night
- as Smiley Wilson (1981-1982)
- The Fire Dancer (1962)
The Fall Guy
- Losers Weepers: Part 1 (1984)
- Shadow of Belle Starr (1959)
- Thieves' Holiday (1967)
General Electric Theater
- Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home? (1959)
- New Girl in His Life (1957)
- The Rider on the Pale Horse (1956)
- as Rev. Love (1999)
Get Christie Love!
- From Paris with Love (1975)
Greatest Heroes of the Bible
- The Story of Moses: Part 1 and 2 (1978)
Have Gun - Will Travel
- Sons of Aaron Murdock (1959)
- Welcome to Our Branch Office (1974)