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Dick Shawn

Dick Shawn American actor and comedian

American actor and comedian
Dick Shawn
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actor and comedian
Was Actor Stage actor Film actor
From United States of America
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio
Gender male
Birth 1 December 1923, Buffalo, Erie County, New York, U.S.A.
Death 17 April 1987, San Diego, San Diego County, California, U.S.A. (aged 63 years)
Star sign SagittariusSagittarius
The details


Dick Shawn (December 1, 1923 – April 17, 1987) was an American actor and comedian. He played a wide variety of supporting roles and was a prolific character actor. He was well known during the 1960s for small but iconic roles in madcap comedies, usually portraying caricatures of counter culture personalities, such as the deadbeat son in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the hippie actor "L.S.D." in The Producers (1968).

Early life and career

Shawn was born Richard Schulefand in Buffalo, New York and raised in adjacent Lackawanna. The best remembered roles of his career are the hot-headed Sylvester Marcus, son of Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman), in Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and easygoing Lorenzo St. DuBois/Adolf Hitler in the musical Springtime for Hitler, the play within Mel Brooks's movie The Producers (1968). He also provided the Snow Miser's voice in The Year Without a Santa Claus.

He had continued success with his stand-up comedy act that he successfully performed for over 35 years in nightclubs around the world. His award-winning one-man stage show, The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World, was sometimes performed with a unique opening. When the audience entered the theater, they saw a bare stage with a pile of bricks in stage center. When the play began, Shawn emerged from the pile of bricks. The startling effect of this required complete concentration and breath control because the slightest movement of the bricks could ruin the surprise appearance.

In addition to roles in more than 30 movies and seven Broadway productions, Shawn made numerous television appearances, toured often, and periodically performed a one-man show that mixed songs, sketches, and pantomime. He was a frequent speaker at the infamous Friars Club Roasts in Los Angeles and New York. At one of the X-rated roasts (a 1986 Playboy roast of Tommy Chong) that had overdosed on tasteless routines by previous speakers, Shawn walked up to the microphone, took a long pause, and "vomited" pea soup onto himself and other speakers at the dais.

His many TV appearances included The Ed Sullivan Show, TV movies, sitcoms (including Three's Company on which he played John Ritter's father), dramas including St. Elsewhere and Magnum, P.I., and a music video for "Dance" by the hair metal band Ratt (1986). Among his roles in anthology TV series, he starred in an Amazing Stories episode "Miss Stardust", directed by Tobe Hooper, about a bizarre intergalactic beauty pageant, and played the Emperor in The Emperor's New Clothes in Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre. He filled in for vacationing Johnny Carson as guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on January 1, 1971, which saw the last cigarette commercial on American television (for Virginia Slims) aired on TV, one minute before the cigarette ads were banned.

Personal life

Shawn was married to Rita Bachner in 1946, and they had four children: Amy, Wendy (married to John Travolta's older brother Joey Travolta), Adam, and Jennifer. He had one grandchild, Rachel Travolta. He was a longtime resident of Englewood, New Jersey.


On April 17, 1987, during a performance at University of California, San Diego's Mandeville Hall—including his portrayal of a politician reciting such campaign clichés as "If elected, I will not lay down on the job"—Shawn suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed face-down on the stage. The audience initially assumed that it was part of his act; but after he had remained motionless on the stage for several minutes, a stage hand examined him and asked if a physician was present.

After CPR had been initiated, the audience was asked to leave the auditorium, but most remained, still assuming that it was all part of Shawn's act. Many began leaving—still unsure of what they had witnessed—only after paramedics arrived. A notice in the following day's San Diego Union newspaper clarified that Shawn had indeed died during the performance. Dick Shawn was 63. He is interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, in Culver City, California.


  • The Opposite Sex (1956) as Dick Shawn
  • Wake Me When It's Over (1960) as Gus Brubaker
  • The Wizard of Baghdad (1960) as Genii-Ali Mahmud
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) as Sylvester Marcus
  • A Very Special Favor (1965) as Arnold Plum
  • What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) as Capt. Lionel Cash
  • Way...Way Out (1966) as Igor Valkleinokov
  • Penelope (1966) as Dr. Gregory Mannix
  • The Producers (1967) as L.S.D. - Lorenzo St. DuBois
  • The Happy Ending (1969) as Harry Bricker
  • Evil Roy Slade (1972) as Marshal Bing Bell
  • The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) as Snow Miser (voice)
  • Looking Up (1977) as Manny Lander
  • Love at First Bite (1979) as Lt. Ferguson
  • Good-bye, Cruel World (1983) as Rodney Pointsetter / Ainsley Pointsetter
  • Rock 'n' Roll Hotel (1983) as Weevil King of Evil
  • Young Warriors (1983) as Professor Hoover
  • Angel (1984) as Mae
  • The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (1984) as The Ultimate Patient
  • Water (1985) as Deke Halliday
  • Beer (1985) as Talk Show Host
  • The Cheque Is in the Post (1986) as Donald (uncredited)
  • The Perils of P.K. (1986)
  • Captain EO (1986) (short subject) as Commander Bog
  • Amazing Stories (1987) as Joe Willoughby
  • Maid to Order (1987) as Stan Starkey
  • Rented Lips (1988) as Charlie Slater (final film role)
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