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TV Comic Actor Louis Nye Dies at 92

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Louis Nye, 92, a straight-faced comic actor whose television career spanned a half-century, died of lung cancer Oct. 9 at his home in Los Angeles.

Mr. Nye became nationally known as an ensemble player on "The Steve Allen Show" from 1956 to 1961, portraying a range of characters with various accents and personal foibles. His best-known role was probably as Gordon Hathaway, a smug country-club braggart whose overweening pretensions were skewered repeatedly.

It was in the character of Hathaway that Nye unctuously would address Allen as "Hi-ho, Steverino," which became something of a catchphrase in the 1950s. Allen even used it as the title of one of his books.

Mr. Nye, who pronounced his first name "Louie," always considered himself an actor rather than a comedian, yet he had a long career as a stand-up comic, recorded several comedy albums and appeared as a guest on countless situation comedies. He had a recurring role as Sonny Drysdale, the spoiled son of a banker, on the first season of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in 1962. From 2000 to 2002, he played the father of actor Jeff Garlin on the HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Often portraying bemused, blissfully unaware characters, Mr. Nye was a classic second banana who excelled in comedy sketches. His comedy was not about telling jokes but relied more on his finely gauged facial expressions, vocal sounds and accents. (He claimed to have mastered at least 15 ethnic accents.)

On Allen's show, he was part of a stellar cast that included Don Knotts, Tom Poston and Bill Dana. In his "man-in-the-street" interviews with Mr. Nye, Allen elicited often unintentionally comic answers, many of which were improvised. Mr. Nye's responses often had Allen doubled over in laughter, but he was known for never cracking a smile himself.

"Louis Nye never laughed on stage in his life," Poston told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. "We once did a whole 'Steve Allen Show' to break him up and nothing would do it. No matter what, he stayed in character."

Mr. Nye, whose given name was Louis Neistat, was born into a Russian immigrant family in Hartford, Conn. Some reference works give his year of birth as 1920 or 1922, but census records indicate he was born May 1, 1913. He appeared on radio in high school and joined a Hartford theater troupe.

While serving in the Army, Mr. Nye was charged with running a recreation center for soldiers at a stateside camp in Missouri.

"I had to make the entertainment good enough to keep the young soldiers from going into town," he said. "It was a challenge, and I worked hard at it. For the first time, I realized I had the ability to make people laugh."

During World War II, he had a role on Broadway in Moss Hart's "Winged Victory," then found bit parts on radio and early television shows. A chance meeting with Allen in an elevator led to Mr. Nye's casting in Allen's prime-time program, which was considered a pioneering comedy show.

In 1962, Mr. Nye's part on "The Beverly Hillbillies" was dropped after one season because, he claimed, network bosses considered his character too effeminate. He reprised the role briefly in 1966 and again for the 1993 TV-movie "The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies."

In 1970, he starred in a Broadway revival of "Charley's Aunt," which closed after nine performances. That summer, Mr. Nye was host of a CBS summer variety show, "Happy Days," and in 1973 starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom, "Needles and Pins," about the New York garment industry.

From the early days of television, Mr. Nye was a frequent guest on sitcoms, variety shows and game shows, ranging from "The Jack Benny Program" to "Make Room for Daddy" to "The Cosby Show," "St. Elsewhere" and "Hollywood Squares." He also had roles in many forgettable movies, including "Cannonball Run II" (1984), "A Guide for the Married Man" (1967), "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?" (1963) and "Sex Kittens Go to College" (1960).

With his gift for mimicry, Mr. Nye did voice-overs for several characters of the "Inspector Gadget" cartoon show in the 1980s and '90s. In 1994, he reunited with Allen and other cast members of Allen's old show for a 24-city tour.

Survivors include his wife, Anita Nye, a composer who cowrote the standard "A Sunday Kind of Love"; and a son.


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