RIP, Harry (The Hat) Anderson


Just read the obit now.

My main reaction was “What a waste of talent.”  Yeah, he had a great guest run on Cheers, Night Court was sometimes worth watching, but this is somebody who should have been playing Westlake Nephews, Block grifters–maybe not dark enough for Thompson’s.  Just offhand, I could head cast him quite easily in Block’s Lucky at Cards.

I’ve read I don’t know how many good crime novels where he’d have fit like a glove.  He was raised by a grifter mom, and though he opted for a somewhat more settled life, he clearly enjoyed the ride, learned from it.  He may not have played grifters that often but he knew that life from the inside.

However, like any good con man, he knew how to project a certain bland innocuousness–maybe that was really him, how would I know?–and nobody ever took a chance on him outside the world of sitcoms.  He didn’t seem ‘noir’ enough. And since he claimed he wasn’t really an actor (sheahright), he was less likely to get the heavy roles.  He did fine with light ones.

Watching him back in the 80’s, I saw a mind that said “You know, I like you pigeons.  I don’t want to take you for everything you’ve got.  Just getting by, enjoying the game.  But you know, you really shouldn’t believe a guy who promises you a solid gold watch for a dollar.  I worry about you guys.  You’re too easy.  Smarten up, suckers.”

And you know, Harry, we really should have listened.  Let’s listen again.  (For reasons no doubt known to The Law, the first video I posted has become unavailable.  Here’s two more.  This YouTube scam is great!)




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11 responses to “RIP, Harry (The Hat) Anderson

  1. Oh, man, he would have been perfect as Bill Maynard. And they wouldn’t even have had to employ stunt hands for any of Bill’s card tricks and manipulations.

    When Night Court debuted, at least one critic opined that Anderson would have been better served by a Harry the Hat spin-off. That certainly sounds intriguing, but the ’80s were not the time for sitcom anti-heroes (see also: Coleman, Dabney), so Harry’s edges were sanded down (and sanded down even further when he did Dave’s World in the ’90s). A decade after that, when shows like Arrested Development were catching on, TV may have finally found a place for Anderson’s darker side, but by then it was too late.

    Still, Night Court was often a worthy-enough showcase for Anderson’s talents. Created by Barney Miller alum Reinhold Weege, it never had that show’s depth, but it shared with Barney Miller the sensibility that all criminals, oddballs, and lowlifes are entitled to courtesy and respect as they navigate the legal system. (Both shows also had great theme songs with funky bass riffs.)

    • And Night Court had the great Larroquette–it was perfectly fine for supporting characters to be cads. (They never did find that perfect vehicle for Dabney Coleman.)

      I liked it well enough, could appreciate the irony of him as a judge, but it ran so long, he didn’t have time for much else during his prime years, and then he did that other show I thank you for reminding me the name of, but I just forgot it again. I continue to think network sitcoms were largely a waste of his unique skill set.

      On the other hand, those residuals must have been nice. And for some reason, pretty near the only Block novels they ever adapt are about that drunken scut Scudder, before he dried up.

      He was damn good in that miniseries based on Stephen King’s , that I suspect I’ll end up liking better than the new movie, once it shows up on cable. He put all kinds of spin on that ball, playing a burned out comic who hides his trauma behind the yuks.

      Not an actor. The biggest con of all.

      (I knew you’d get it.)

  2. Ah, here’s the video that disappeared (like magic!) after I posted it.

  3. mikesschilling

    Harry would have been great as Slick in Four for the Money.

  4. Tom

    For some reason I just got around to seeing this post. I always remember him on Night Court when I was a kid (and of course Richie in IT). I do wonder how much of a grift his last movie was: a truly awful Christian movie where he plays a biology professor and debates creationism with the father of a student. The penultimate scene where they are supposed to debate evolutionary biology weirdly turns into a debate over theology and the big bang….

    • Didn’t know about this, but it’s an acting job, right? I don’t know spit about Anderson’s religious opinions, but he’s playing the evolutionist. Hardly anybody went to see the film, so a sad ending to an interesting career. It does sound pretty bad, but what would you expect?

      I’m fairly religious in my own weird idiosyncratic lapsed Catholic way, and no doubt smug skeptics can be as annoying as smug fundamentalists–but evolution is a fact, that reveals important truths. Look at the world around you, you see it at work–it’s not about everything getting better, it’s about a state of permanent flux, adapting to new exigencies, or failing to do so. Life is change.

      You can see it as random chance, God’s plan, or both. But how can you not see it? People of all different bents were seeing it long before Darwin. It’s the precise dynamics that remain elusive.

      To me, fundamentalism is about the absence of faith. People who want to possess The Truth as an absolute constant–not learn as they go. And so they never learn. And try to drag others down with them. You can find them everywhere. Jesus knew them well in his time. Didn’t think much of them. Strain at a gnat, swallow a camel.

      • Tom

        I think what really gnaws at me is how bad some of these Christian movies are. I have family members who say to me: ‘God’s Not Dead’. Isn’t that a great movie?’ I always want to say: ‘No. No it’s not. What have you been smoking?’

        There have been great Christian films and great films made by Christians, particularly Catholics (I’m particularly fond of Franco Zefirelli). But there is a strain of Protestant evangelical Christianity that doesn’t seem to care much for aesthetics and just wants to preach through whatever medium. People eat it up. You can immediately tell what kind of film it’s going to be when the DVD cover portrays happy smiling people with a sunrise in the background and a blue sky, possibly located in a football field…

        • I think any film made purely to buttress some group’s sectarian beliefs is going to be awful. Look at that thing they somehow managed to make (for thirty million dollars!) to say Shakespeare’s plays were written by The Earl of Bloody Oxford. No they were not, but more to the point, the film was boring (so was the Earl, best as I can tell), and nobody wanted to see it.

          And, of course, every film ever adapted from the work of L. Ron Hubbard.

          Art can’t co-exist with mindless fanaticism, of any kind. Neither can faith.

          If you ever get a chance, try The Flowers of St. Francis, directed by Roberto Rossellini, co-written by Fellini. Gorgeous moving little film–and it embodies a principle enunciated in one of my favorite X-Files episodes–“If people knew the true price of spirituality, there’d be a lot more atheists.” Probably true, but some would still pay that price willingly.

          It has to be a choice. Or it’s meaningless.

          • Tom

            You’re speaking of Anonymous, the 2011 film? Roger Ebert’s website sometimes gets his star ratings has a three-and-a-half star rating, but I swear he gave it a full four stars when it came out, which I found baffling. I always HATED the implicit snobbery behind the repudiation of Shakespeare authorship. I dropped out of high school, only have a GED to my name (and so no academic credentials whatever) and this would be enough to probably dismiss me in the eyes of some people. Not unlike people often do with Dortmunder, come to think of it.

            I’ve seen Flowers of St. Francis (it’s on the Criterion Channel, I see) but I’ve always been kind of partial to Zefirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It’s got that freewheeling sixties feel that Zefirelli also brought to Romeo and Juliet. For some that might be grating but I love it.

            You like Bob Dylan? If so, I recommend the book ‘The Monk’s Record Player’. The description of Thomas Merton sitting by firelight with Joan Baez while talking Dylan with her and serving ‘goat-milk cheese and bread and honey and tea’ then getting plastered with Irish whiskey is worth the price of the book for me.

            • I didn’t even want to sully my keyboard by typing the title. They actually got Derek Jacobi to participate. This is why we shouldn’t assume anything about Anderson by his being in that Christian film. Actors play roles all the time without believing in them, except as their latest job of work.

              And dead right–the two most influential humans in western civilization are Jesus and Socrates–neither of whom left any writings behind them, or had any formal education we know of. Nobody questions Ben Jonson’s creds in that film of which we speak, but in spite of being reportedly of the gentry, with hopes of studying at Cambridge, he ended up being forced to serve as a bricklayer’s apprentice. So I suppose some Marquis or Baronet penned Volpone?

              Not for nothing was the entire Oxfordian school founded by a man named Looney.

              My favorite Zefferelli production was actually a dress rehearsal I attended at the Met as a college freshman–a double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. The man got around.

              When I studied for my Ph.D in history (which I did not complete), I referred to it as ‘a license to be smart’–and here I am, still off-license. An intellectual shebeen. 😉

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