Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21: The Guy Looks Familiar

On this day in 2005 - actor, director & writer Howard Morris passed away at age 85 in Los Angeles, California. Who was Howard Morris? You've heard his voice, seen his face, and probably watched at least one of his directed television programs.

Born in the Bronx, New York in 1919, Morris' first major exposure was on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (a popular live sketch comedy series in the early days of television). Throughout the 1950s he appeared on such programs as Kraft Television Theatre and The DuPont Show of the Month.

But it was during the 1960s that Morris really found success as a full-time successful actor and director. In 1963, he appeared on an episode of The Twilight Zone titled "I Dream of Genie," and on such popular sitcoms as The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room for Daddy.

It was around this same time that he began to get work as a voice actor - in particular on episodes of the animated Beetle Bailey, The Flintstones, The Magilla Gorilla Show, and The Famous Adventures of Mr Magoo. Morris also began to appear on the popular live-action sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, playing the role of Ernest T. Bass - the rock-throwing ignorant mountain man who wreaked comedic havoc on the quiet town of Mayberry. Although he only played the character for 8 episodes ... Ernest became a classic TV character.

In 1966 Morris first voiced a cartoon that went on to become one of his most famous roles ... Pooh's hard-working forest neighbor Gopher in Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. The voice of Samuel J. Gopher was distinct as he whistled out his sibilant consonants. Gopher lived in tunnels under the 100 Acre Wood and was always seen with a helmet and toolbox. Morris continued the role for the 1968 Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and later the 1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. (Interestingly, Gopher does not appear in A.A. Milne's original Pooh stories.) Voice actor and singer Michael Gough took over the role of Gopher after Morris retired.

Throughout the 1960s, Morris directed episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Hogan's Heroes, and was responsible for the pilot episode of Get Smart (which went on to run for 5 years). His directing also crossed over into commercials - many of them for McDonald's ... in which he also performed the voice of Mayor McCheese!

Morris continued to play small roles in some pretty big pictures such as Disney/Touchstone's 1984 Splash and Mel Brooks' High Anxiety and History of the World, Part 1. He even appeared in the 1998 movie of Ray Bradbury's The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (a Touchstone Pictures release co-produced by Roy E. Disney). Morris played one of two comedic janitors ... along with veteran funnyman Sid Caesar! (Morris' career had come full-circle.)

"That supercilious scoundrel confiscated my honey!" -Gopher

Interested in more May 21 Disney history? Just click HERE.

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