So we’ve reached the fifth day of Monster-Month and we’ve come to a different kind of Monster. This one is classic, but also comedic, so you’ll pardon the change of pace for this installment, I hope. It focuses mostly on the man in the role of the Monster because, frankly, I wanted to talk a little bit about the brilliance of Phil Hartman.
But don’t worry, his Monster is a hoot and a howl!
The Frankenstein Monster that appeared on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE occasionally as part of a trio of not-so-well-spoken characters (Tonto and Tarzan being the other two) was straight out of the Universal Monsters catalog. Neck bolts, jacket, flat-top, growling, grunting and mumbling only a few words--Phil Hartman’s take on the character was born from Karloff’s portrayal of the man-made creature.
Like the Universal Monster, the Tarzan portrayed in this series of sketches is that of the film adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp hero. And, like the Monster, Tarzan on film was much more monosylabic than he ever was in the original source material. They were both considered “dumbed down” for film. Tonto was as he was originally portrayed, speaking broken English.
Phil Hartman was the Monster, Kevin Nealon was Tarzan and Jon Lovitz was Tonto.
Phil Hartman was one of the most gifted performers to ever take the stage at SNL, his range was unlimited, his characters were fully definied, his writing spot on. And yet, his original career path was in a whole other field--graphic arts.
He designed over 40 album covers for bands including Poco and America and designed the logo for Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was while working alone as an artist that he would amuse himself with “flights of voice fantasies”. Eventually he joined The Groundlings and befriended comedian Paul Reubens.
Together they created the character Pee-wee Herman and his PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW, a stage show which eventually aired on HBO. Hartman played Captain Carl on the stage and when the show PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE was on CBS. Hartman went on to co-write the script for PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE.
After parting ways with Reubens, Hartman went on to do loads of voice-over work and voices for animated shows and films. And then he auditioned and won a spot on the cast and writing staff of SNL where he went on to perform as over 70 different characters. He earned the nickname “the glue” for his reputation for supporting his fellow castmates while being low-maintenance himself.
After eight brilliant years, he left the show to star in his own sit-com for NBC, which, eventually became NEWSRADIO. Bill McNeal was a great character for a man of Hartman’s range to play as he was a mess. “Hartman gave infinite variety to Bill’s self-centeredness, turning him devious, cowardly, squeamish, and foolishly bold from week to week.”, wrote critic Ken Tucker.
Phil Hartman was nearly 50 years old when he was killed.
FIVE FRANKENSTEIN FUN FACTS:
1) Phil had voiced many characters for THE SIMPSONS over the years, the most well-know of which is Troy McClure.
2) Hartman had completed a screenplay entitled MR. FIX-IT--a merger of horror and comedy. An American tragedy of a family torn asunder--poisoned by a nearby toxic dump, the mother and son go crazy and try to kill one another. The father’s face is torn off in a terrible accident in the first act.
3) At the time of his death, Phil Hartman was to voice the character Zapp Brannigan for Matt Groening’s FUTURAMA.
4) Before his work in television, Phil Hartman appeared on THE DATING GAME as a contestant and was selected for the date.
5) Phil voiced George Wilson in the 1986 animated DENNIS THE MENACE cartoon.
Oh, and look out for this…