June 27th, 2005

krazy koati

Stop that pigeon -- How?

Probably you already heard the news, but I want to talk about it anyway. Paul Winchell, voice-actor and actor, died a few days ago. He did a lot of voices, including that of Tigger for many of the Winnie the Pooh cartoons, and that of Dick Dastardly, Gargamel, Fleegle, and a host of other voices. Dick Dastardly really gets to me; there was a time (when I was young, and which my parents tolerated with admirable grace) when I just could not get enough of Dastardly and Muttley chasing after Yankee Doodle Pigeon. While the loopy airplanes invented for the purpose appealed (and, really, were any of them stranger than actual airplanes of the World Wars?), Dick Dastardly/Paul Winchell's voice acting really made the experience. I hate learning that people I'm a fan of die, particularly these days when I could in principle have sent a letter to say thanks with reasonable assurance that he'd see it.

Slightly surprising is that Winchell took out a precedent-setting entertainment-industry lawsuit, when the only known copies of one of his old TV shows were destroyed by his former employers, who hoped to get out of a royalties dispute. It's harder these days to destroy TV shows and movies; some of that's the economic safety net of knowing everything will be salable on DVD, but some of that is because of Paul Winchell.

Oh, and he created the artificial heart. Seriously. In the early 60s he built and patented a prototype device which would be developed into the Jarvik-7. I'm afraid this discovery dethrones Hedy Lamarr (who invented frequency hopping) in my list of greatest inventions made by entertainers. Why doesn't somebody tell me these things? Was I supposed to guess that the Robonic Moe Howard invented the artificial heart?

Trivia: The comedy-ventriloquism radio program The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show debuted 29 November 1943 on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Source: On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning.

Currently Reading: Charlie Chaplin And His Times, Kenneth S Lynn.