Frank John Gorshin, Jr. (April 5, 1933 - May 17, 2005) was an Emmy-nominated American actor and comedian. He was perhaps best known as an impressionist, with many notable guest appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and on The Tonight Show with host Steve Allen. His most famous acting role was as The Riddler in the Batman live action television series.
Gorshin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Roman Catholic parents, Frances, a seamstress, and Frank Gorshin, Sr., a railroad worker. Aged 15, he took a part-time job as a cinema usher at the Sheridan Square Theatre. He memorized the mannerisms of the screen stars that he saw and created an impressionist act. He was still in high school when he obtained his first paid employment: a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller's New York night club Carousel, which he secured as the prize in a Pittsburgh talent contest in 1951. His parents had insisted that he take the engagement even though his 15 year old brother had been hit by a car and killed just two nights before.
After graduation from Peabody High School, Gorshin attended the Carnegie Tech School of Drama (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. When not studying he worked in local plays and night clubs.
In 1953, Gorshin was drafted into the United States Army and posted to Korea. He served for a year and a half as an entertainer attached to Special Services. His service number was 52314745. Nearly all of Gorshin's official military records were destroyed in the 1973 National Archives Fire. While in the Army, Gorshin met Maurice Bergman, who later introduced him to the Hollywood agent Paul Kohner.
When Gorshin left the Army he returned to public performance and in 1956 he became a prolific film actor. He also appeared as an actor and a guest on television shows, including twelve guest spots on the Ed Sullivan Show (his first being the same night The Beatles and Davy Jones debuted, early in 1964). He was a popular act at nightclubs—notably those of Las Vegas, where he was the first impressionist to headline the main showrooms. He was also the first impressionist to headline the Empire Room of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Gorshin's slender athletic build, his wide mouth, and his pale eyes under strong brows were ideal characteristics for screen henchmen. In 1957 he fell asleep at the wheel of his car after driving from Pittsburgh for 39 hours without sleep. He was on his way to a Hollywood screen test for the part of Officer Ruby in Run Silent Run Deep. He sustained a fractured skull and spent four days in a coma; a Los Angeles newspaper incorrectly reported that he had been killed.
Gorshin's first memorable film role was in Bells Are Ringing (1960), playing the Method Actor, while doing a dead-on Marlon Brando impression.
In 1966, he took on the role of the Riddler, for which he received an Emmy nomination. In 1968 he filmed his other Emmy-nominated role: in an episode of Star Trek. He continued to make films, and perform his nightclub act, with occasional breaks in the early 1970s to appear in Broadway shows. On the Nickelodeon anthology series Are You Afraid of the Dark?, he played the evil sorcerer Brother Septimus in The Tale of the Carved Stone, which aired in 1993.
He was nominated for an Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy) for his most famous role: as The Riddler in the Batman live action television series, in which he was clad in a bowler hat and iridescent green body suit decorated with question marks, and frequently uttered his now-famous high deranged cackle, inspired by Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in 1947's Kiss of Death. He also had a memorable role in the 1969 Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" as the half-whiteface, half-blackface Bele, for which he was again Emmy-nominated. Prior to that, he was a dramatic actor, often playing "tough guys" like those played by one of his favorite target of impressions, James Cagney, whom he was said to resemble. He did take a comic turn, though, as the bassist Basil (paired with singer Connie Francis) in 1960's Where The Boys Are, and played a boss-behind-bars for laughs in Otto Preminger's 1968 comedy Skidoo.
Gorshin also played a villain in the television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In the feature-length episode "Plot To Kill A City" he played interplanetary assassin Seton Kellogg, a master of planning who leads his gang, the Legion Of Death, to force a worker to sabotage an anti-matter reactor near New Chicago in order to obliterate the entire area. Kellogg is aided by an alien bodyguard, Varek (played by Anthony James), who is capable of altering his molecular structure to pass through walls, a result of radiation absorbed when "his homeworld thought they'd won a nuclear war."
He made several appearances on CBS's Ed Sullivan Show during the 1960s, including the February 9, 1964 broadcast in which The Beatles made their American debut. He appeared on Broadway, in Jimmy (1970) and Guys and Dolls (1971). In 2002, he portrayed comedian George Burns on Broadway in the one-man show Say Goodnight Gracie.
Gorshin's varied career even included appearing as the cantankerous King Gama in the opera Princess Ida in 1982 as part of the PBS series, "The Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan".
Gorshin also played the strict legendary Harvard Law School Professor, John H. Keynes, in the 2004 Korean Drama Love Story in Harvard.
Mr. Gorshin played the role of Smiley Wilson on the ABC soap opera The Edge of Night in 1983. The show used his talents to mimic other performers in the plot.
Death and final performances
His final performance was in an episode of the CBS-TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation which aired two days after his death from tobacco–related lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia, and was dedicated to his memory. He is interred at the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, PA. While he was known for his impressions, his role on CSI was as himself. Gorshin died one day after Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig's 68th birthday, and on the same day that the TV movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt was released on DVD in North America. Gorshin appeared as himself (parodying his role as the Riddler) in this 2003 special that reunited the original stars of the Batman series. Gorshin also voiced villain Hugo Strange in an episode of The Batman, which aired in the series' second season on the WB. (Gorshin died a few days before the newest incarnation of The Riddler first appeared in The Batman.) After Gorshin's death, Strange was voiced by Richard Green. Gorshin also voiced the characters Marius and Lysander in the computer role playing game Diablo II.
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