By Ann Liguori
Years ago, I spent some time golfing and interviewing Leslie Nielsen, the 84-year-old actor and comedian who sadly passed this past Sunday. We spent a few hours together on the Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami to tape my celebrity segment for the weekly show, ‘Golf 2000 with Peter Jacobsen’ show, which was syndicated nationally and featured Peter’s golf tips, Gary McCord’s ‘games you can play on the golf course’ and my interviews with celebrities who play golf.
Leslie had just come out with a golf video which showed off his comedic talents while playing golf and I looked forward to getting to know the man behind some of my favorite movies –Airplane and the Naked Gun movies.
Nielsen appeared in over 100 films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying over 220 characters. But it’s hard to imagine he started out as a serious actor. It wasn’t until he was in his fifties when he was cast in Airplane in 1980 which launched a new career for him playing these comedic roles. His deadpan delivery, oblivious to the absurdity around him, helped make Airplane one of the funniest films of all time! Who can forget one of the most famous lines from the film? With Nielsen responding to: “Surely you can’t be serious?” he replies: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, the producers, directors and writers of Airplane, hired Nielsen and other veteran actors Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Lloyd Bridges, all cast to spoof their own serious images.
Nielsen achieved further success in the Naked Gun series. When I think of the umpire scenes in Naked Gun, I laugh out loud every time.
Was Nielsen as funny in person as he was in these movies? Would he deliver his answers to my questions with the same deadpan delivery? Would he be as much fun in person as he was in these movies?
Yes to all the above. We started the interview sitting down and Leslie placed a whoopie cushion on his seat so that when he sat down, it made a noise. The cameras were rolling. I couldn’t stop laughing enough to introduce him on camera! Instantly I realized that a serious interview would be tough to do. Apparently, Leslie brought that whoopee cushion everywhere with him. What a way to break the ice!
When we moved from the sit down portion of the interview to the golf course, Leslie continued his jokes. In one portion of the interview, he suggested coming out from behind a tree (after looking like he was relieving himself) to start the segment. He kept a straight face while answering more questions while I again lost it.
I’ll have to dig back in the archives to excerpt the serious portions of the interview because I do remember that I did get him to talk about some things which did not make either of us laugh. But obviously the reason Leslie Nielsen had so many fans was because of the smile he put on people’s faces with the genius way he delivered his lines in some of our favorite movies.
Leslie loved to play golf but he was not obsessed with becoming a great player. As we walked the fairways, he reminded me that the reason they call it golf is that all the other four letter words were taken. And in true Leslie Nielsen fashion, when I asked him what he normally shoots he replied, “I play in the low 80’s. If it’s any hotter than that, I won’t play!”
Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at http://www.annliguori.com and order DVD copies of her interviews with your favorite sports and entertainment personalities.