Borscht Belt comic Phil Foster joked that the only regular jobs he had were “Laverne & Shirley” — he played Laverne’s father — and World War II. Here’s his obituary, from 1985. articles.latimes.com
He was an “agile song-and-dance man who was encouraged in show business by his U.S. Army sergeant … Leonard Nimoy.” He also starred on “Mayberry RFD,” a short-lived spin-off of “The Andy Griffith Show” that I remember quite enjoying, although I remember nothing about it.
Berry came to fame for portraying the greenhorn Captain Parmenter on ABC’s F Troop, which aired for only two seasons (65 episodes from September 1965 through April 1967) but lived on in syndication for decades.
A private, Parmenter was promoted to take command of Fort Courage in Kansas after his sneeze (which sounded like “Charge!”) propelled Union troops to an inspirational victory over the Confederates.
Berry’s goofball antics, which he dispensed with the dexterity of a trained dancer, supplied many of the show’s highlights. In a 2012 interview with the Archive of American Television, he said he came up with many of the pratfalls himself.
“It was something that I could bring to the show,” he said. “I would choreograph stuff. I would find things in the set or outside that I could use. [It got so that the F Troop scripts would say,] ‘Business to be worked out with Ken on the set.'”
Berry’s legions of fans included the great silent film star Buster Keaton, a master of physical comedy. “He once called me after the show had been on the night before and said, ‘That was a good gag you did last night,'” he recalled. “Wow, that was high praise!”
Here’s the opening “F-Troop” theme. I believe I can sing every word by heart.
We’re accustomed, my colleagues and I, to saying that an obituary is not about a death, but a life. This is true, but really, we’re reporters and you can’t avoid the news, which is, of course, the same news every time. That’s one thing that distinguishes writing obituaries from anything else in journalism.
Another is that we start at the end and look backward. There’s some reward in this, in the excavating we do that often unearths interesting, long-forgotten facts.
But it’s melancholy, too. We had a movie made about us recently, a documentary called “Obit,” and in it my former deskmate Doug Martin, who effected his own exit from the obit business a couple of years ago, made a comment of encapsulating rue. He often admired the people he wrote about, he said, but he never got to meet them.
He never had to come up with a story idea and hardly ever left the office.
Fyvush Finkel, whose homespun moniker and putty face were comic statements all their own that helped him become a mainstay of what remained of Yiddish entertainment, and who later crossed over into the television mainstream as the cantankerous lawyer on the 1990s series “Picket Fences,” died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.
Despite the decline of Yiddish theater, Finkel, who started performing at nine years old, never gave it up.
In his autumnal years, he often starred in pastiches recalling the Yiddish theater’s heyday, adorned with old theater posters of Molly Picon and Jacob Adler and musical chestnuts like “Yidl Mitn Fidl.”
In 1991 he patched together a merry valentine to Yiddish vaudeville, with himself as the star, called “Finkel’s Follies.” Presented Off Broadway at the John Houseman Theater on West 42nd Street, it featured such shopworn shticks as the waiter who rebukes a customer for griping about a filthy napkin.
“Eleven people used that napkin,” the waiter says. “You’re the only one who complained.”
I was a fan of his on “Boston Public.” It wasn’t a great role, but he shone in it.