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The Hersch

"The Man in the Funny Suit" (1960), Written and Directed by Ralph Nelson, Performed on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse

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In case people don't recognize the cast:

Jack Palance ("Mountain" in Requiem) is the man who, at age 73, dropped down and did one-armed push-ups at the Academy Awards.

Keenan Wynn ("Maish" in Requiem) was a *very* prolific character actor, the son of Ed Wynn (below), and was in the Twilight Zone episode, "A World of his Own" (Season 1, Episode 36).

Kim Hunter ("Grace" in Requiem) played Stella (yes, that Stella) in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951).

Ed Wynn ("Army" in Requiem) was in two Twilight Zone episodes: "One for the Angels" (Season 1, Episode 2) and "Ninety Years without Slumbering" (Season 5, Episode 12).

If anyone has a link to some information about how they were able to perform this live (think about the scene with Mountain riding the train), please let us know.

I think there is a whole lot of myth-making involved in the story of how Ed Wynn blew everything in every rehearsal and then miraculously gave one of the most affecting performances of all time when they did "Requiem for a Heavyweight" live; the story seems unlikely, as just about anyone who ever performed in front of an audience can attest. Nonetheless, "The Man in the Funny Suit," the institutionalization of the myth that ran on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1960, with the full participation of both Wynns and Rod Serling, among others, is totally worth watching. I commend it to your attention:

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It occurs to me that I may have conveyed a misleading impression of "The Man in the Funny Suit". It's not a documentary. It's a television play about the making of "Requiem for a Heavyweight", focusing on the casting and rehearsal of Ed Wynn, who was not an actor at the time, in the traditional sense, but a vaudeville clown. The play was written and directed by Ralph Nelson, who directed the original "Requiem". Nelson, Ed Wynn, Keenan Wynn, and Rod Serling, among others, play themselves. I've always assumed that it was heavily fictionalized, and still assume that. It's pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen, and though not nearly as great a work as "Requiem" itself, it's pretty great. I suggest you follow the link I gave above to YouTube, and watch it.

"The Man in the Funny Suit" reveals, among other things, that Rod Serling wasn't much of an actor, and was really, really, short, which you'd never know from his elegant appearances in front of "Twilight Zone" episodes. (I love "The Twilight Zone" for many things, and Rod Serling's introductions are certainly among those things.)

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It occurs to me that I may have conveyed a misleading impression of "The Man in the Funny Suit". It's not a documentary. It's a television play about the making of "Requiem for a Heavyweight", focusing on the casting and rehearsal of Ed Wynn, who was not an actor at the time, in the traditional sense, but a vaudeville clown. The play was written and directed by Ralph Nelson, who directed the original "Requiem". Nelson, Ed Wynn, Keenan Wynn, and Rod Serling, among others, play themselves. I've always assumed that it was heavily fictionalized, and still assume that. It's pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen, and though not nearly as great a work as "Requiem" itself, it's pretty great. I suggest you follow the link I gave above to YouTube, and watch it.

"The Man in the Funny Suit" reveals, among other things, that Rod Serling wasn't much of an actor, and was really, really, short, which you'd never know from his elegant appearances in front of "Twilight Zone" episodes. (I love "The Twilight Zone" for many things, and Rod Serling's introductions are certainly among those things.)

Thank you *so much* for posting this along with the video - I never knew it existed, and I would say that it is "required material" for *anyone* who has watched, and enjoyed, the original Playhouse 90 "Requiem for a Heavyweight." 

That said, I think it's a *huge* mistake to watch "The Man in the Funny Suit" *without* first watching Requiem. It's story is dependent on a foreknowledge of having watched the original show - oh, I suppose it could stand alone, but Herschel, I'm sure you'll agree that they need to be watched in tandem, one after the other.

I watched this last night (it's only an hour long), and really, really enjoyed it. I agree with everything you wrote in your two posts (although as you already know, Ed Wynn apparently *was* a pure comic Vaudevillian, and only switched to drama during the last decade of his life).

Everyone knows Desi Arnaz, but people need to know who Red Skelton was - I saw him perform when I was in college, and even got his autograph, and my parents were *thrilled* when they saw it - he was every bit as respected as Jack Benny or Bob Hope - I actually need to go back and see exactly what he was doing in this play, because it seems to me that he just sort-of "showed up," and I'm not sure why, but maybe I just didn't recognize him at first (I'm used to seeing him as an older man). According to Wikipedia, "The Red Skelton Show" (1951-1971) was #2 (behind "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975)) and #3 (behind "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1948-1971)) in ratings during that time.

You know, all this - *all this* - might not exist had Rod Serling not been 5'4" - he grew up short, and probably because of that, he grew up angry, and most likely developed an interest in boxing (which he did) because of his height.

The two possessions of mine that I cannot *believe* are gone, are my autographed picture of Red Skelton, and my brochure of the 1977 McDonald's Capital Classic basketball game that had Magic Johnson in it. I still remember the description next to Magic's picture: It started out, "Great enthusiasm ... cheerleader type ... says he would love to play guard one day ...." (he played center in high school).

"The Man in the Funny Suit" is one of the most interesting shows I've ever seen - you can't say it's the first "sequel," because those have been around since the days of silent motion pictures, but I wonder if it's the first "prequel" (probably not, but there's something very "meta" about it - a show about a show, while being a standalone drama in its own right - does anyone remember the "short" that came out after "Gravity," which reveals the other end of Sandra Bullock's distress call? That's almost how I view this.

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I agree that the prospective viewer of "The Man in the Funny Suit" should have already seen "Requiem for a Heavyweight"--the Playhouse 90 original. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Don. I think I saw it on some PBS station twenty-five years ago, maybe more, and the discussion of "Requiem" here prompted me to seek it out, and watch it anew. YouTube can be a wonderful thing.

I'm afraid I never cared much for Red Skelton. I rarely watched his weekly show back when it was on, but for some reason I remember one sketch that featured Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty on "Gunsmoke"). She kept breaking up laughing while delivering lines that weren't funny at all (at least to me). I found it baffling.

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