Nielson Provided Us with a Baseball Gem of Comedic Brilliance
He has appeared in over 1,500 television programs and 100 films, but the one scene that still means Leslie Nielson to me is the scene at old Angels Stadium in the comedy “The Naked Gun :From the Files of Police Squad“. You know the scene I am talking about. Nielson is playing Lt. Frank Drebin in the classic comedy scene and he is at the Angels versus Mariners game looking for the man that is going to try and assassinate British monarch Queen Elizabeth.
Drebin(Neilson) wanders into the Umpire’s Room at the stadium and don’s the uniform and pads of the Home Plate Umpire for that afternoon’s contest. What transpires, from the moonwalk to the constant body frisking during the course of the game is comedic gold. From the point of watching Neilson’s straight man George Kennedy eating multiple types of food just beyond the field level to the final climatic moment where Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson becomes a transfixed killing zombie.
The film itself is one of those classic tongue-in-cheek comedies that you see something different every time you watch it . But the baseball scene is one of the best comedic filmed moments since Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s On First“. No other clip, not even during “Major League ” did I find myself laughing so much and wishing I could personally see even a fraction of the great stuff shown on that big screen. It was one of those movies I did go and watch inventively more than once when it was originally released in 1991.
It saddens me today to hear the news that Leslie Neilson has died in his sleep recently in the Florida community of Fort Lauderdale because of complications from a bout with pneumonia. The duo comedic masks must all have frowns today as we lost a true giant of a man who could do the pratfall and slapstick style of comedy with a expression and a demeanor that showed his versatility as an actor.
Even though this was the only film Nielson did with baseball ties, his portrayal in this first installment of “The Naked Gun” trilogy was one of the moments that got me hooked on the former Canadian disk jockey. Some might say his acting on such classics as the “Poseidon Adventure” or even “Airplane” should be more remembered than his slight foray into the comedy realm. “The Naked Gun” trilogy based on the short-lived television series “Police Squad” became an instant classic.