Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Howard Morris, RIP

Veteran character actor and director Howard Morris passed away over the weekend, at the age of 85.

If you don't recall the name, you'll probably remember the face and the voice. Over a career that spanned almost 60 years, Morris appeared in dozens of television programs, and directed scores of TV shows, along with four feature films.

During television's "golden age" in the early 1950s, Morris was a regular on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," and later "Caesar's Hour," part of a legendary ensemble that included Imogene Coca, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and, of course, Caesar himself.

In the early 1960s, Morris starred in a memorable episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, playing a socially inept nebbish who, given a wish by a genie in a lamp, elected to become the genie.

But for millions of us, Morris will forever be remembered as Ernest T. Bass, the manic, rock-throwing hillbilly from The Andy Griffith Show, arguably the greatest sitcom in TV history. Ernest T. only appeared in five episodes of the series (during its eight year run), but he created such an indelible impression that viewers still associated him with that role, four decades after the series went off the air.

Morris, who was born and raised in the Bronx, found it ironic that so many people remembered him as Ernest T. Bass, the comic hayseed character who was the perfect foil for Don Knotts' Deputy Barney Fife.

Between acting appearances on the Griffith show, Morris provided the voice for hundreds of Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, where he worked alongside actor and voice artist Hal Smith, another Griffith alumnus who played town drunk Otis Campbell.

Morris's son David has a tribute to his father at their website, appropriately named

Sleep well, Mr. Morris, and thanks for the laughs.

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