Harry Ritz, 78, the leader and last member of the zany Ritz Brothers comedy team, died March 29 at his home here. He had cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Although the three Ritz Brothers were never as famous as their rivals, the Marx Brothers, they brought their own brand of insanity to films and nightclubs and were popular for more than three decades.
Harry was the ringleader of the rowdy gang of siblings. He was credited with encouraging Milton Berle to wear dresses to get a laugh when he went on television, for introducing the nonsensical scat-singing that Danny Kaye emulated for years, and for developing the comic mannerisms later adopted by Jerry Lewis.
He was the last surviving brother. Jimmy Ritz died in 1985 and the oldest, Al Ritz, died in 1965. A fourth brother, George, who was in the clothing business, also has died.
The three brothers teamed up as a dance act in 1925. By 1929, they broke into vaudeville, adopted "Collegiate" as a theme song, and took to pushing each other around on stage.
Harry stood in the middle singing "The Man in the Middle is the Funny One," a song written for them, while the other two screamed at him for taking the favored spot. During this skit, Harry would wander about bellowing "Don't holler, please don't holler."
They became club headliners and by the early 1930s caught the attention of movie producer Darryl F. Zanuck while appearing at the old Clover Club on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Zanuck signed them to a contract at 20th Century-Fox.
The Ritz Brothers' first film, "Sing, Baby, Sing," starring Alice Faye, appeared in 1936. Among their other 14 pictures were "One In A Million" with Sonja Henie, "The Three Musketeers" with Don Ameche, "Kentucky Moonshine" and "The Goldwyn Follies." The last film in which Mr. Ritz appeared was Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie" in 1975.
Survivors include his wife, Naomi, of San Diego; six children; one sister, and one grandchild.