Monday, March 31, 2014

The great Eddie Lawrence

Eddie Lawrence was a wonderful comedian, most famous for his "Old Philosopher" comedy character (which first appeared in 1956, on one of his records).  He was also known for his acting--including prominent work on Broadway--and for his work as a writer, and painter.  In the late 1940s he studied with the artist Fernand L├ęger, in Paris.

Mr. Lawrence died in New York last week, at 95.  I was terribly saddened to read of his passing.

I interviewed him at length in the early 1980s, in his Manhattan art studio, for my book about early television.  He had been one of the writers of Kay Kyser's 1949-50 NBC television show, and appeared on the show regularly in comedy sketches.  He also wrote for (and appeared on) Victor Borge's 1951 NBC-TV program.  

I am working on a follow-up book about early TV, and in 2011 was delighted to be able to interview Mr. Lawrence again, for the book, in New York.   

Here are some of the comments he made about early television, in our 1980s interview, as they appear in my 2007 book:

“In those days, in live television,” performer and writer Eddie Lawrence said, in 1981, “every performance on the air was in actuality a dress rehearsal, because we had no opportunity to digest the material.” Yet Lawrence was not nervous performing on Kay Kyser’s show, as opposed to dramatic shows on which he acted during the early 1950s. The dramatic programs were performed without an audience; Lawrence disliked the accompanying silence, in the studios.

Yet, he would recall:

"When you had an audience, and it was comedy, it was easy.
. . . Because you got laughter. . . . In a musical comedy show
you can always somehow get back on track with an audience.
. . . It was just exciting, you don’t seem to forget your lines
under those conditions, with an orchestra, and an audience."