Watching Harry Basil is like watching a one-man variety show. Part of his act includes recreating scenes from movies, complete with wardrobe changes and lines delivered as if the movie was playing on the big screen.
Some of Harry's memorable scenes are from both classic and not-so-classic films, such as Tom Cruise's tribute to jockey shorts, "Risky Business," Streisand's candlelit ballad to Yentl's father, the dance scene in "Flashdance," and many others. It's sort of ironic, since Basil works in the film industry as a writer, producer and director. Yet he lampoons the same industry that affords him his living.
Harry owes a lot of his film career to the man who never received respect: The late, great Rodney Dangerfield. It was Dangerfield who first took note of Harry's talent, starring him in his HBO "Young Comedian's Special." Would you believe that soon after that, Harry would be co-writing and co-producing Dangerfield in movies?
Movies such as "Ladybugs," "Meet Wally Sparks" and "My Five Wives" were all vehicles for Dangerfield, and put Harry on the film industry map. In all three of those films Harry worked closely with director Sidney Furie and Peter Baldwin and even acted in them as well. I first recognized him on the big screen, though, way back when he was in the Nicolas Cage/Kathleen Turner movie, "Peggy Sue Got Married." He's also appeared in the movies "Martians Go Home," and "The Seventh Sign" with Demi Moore.
Harry is also quite adept at directing horror movies, such cult favorites "Soul's Midnight" and "Fingerprints." In fact, "Fingerprints" won him Best Feature at The New York Horror Film Festival. His first, "The 4th Tenor," a romantic opera comedy, is still one of my favs because it stars so many comedians, among them Harland Williams and Dangerfield, along with actors Dennis Quaid, Kirstie Alley and a host of others.
Harry has worked on stage with some truly great entertainers, opening for Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Liza Minelli, The Pointer Sisters and Julio Iglesias.
Appearing with Harry Basil every night this week through Sunday is Ronnie Schell. Talk about your "Old School" of comedy; Schell is still doing the comedy thing after all these years. And he's one of those guys whom you love to just hang with because of the stories he tells.
I guess it's safe saying that Ronnie is a living legend, having performed with some of the trail blazers in the world of comedy; among them Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Dangerfield. Ronnie was starting out in the San Francisco Bay Area when Mort Sahl and the Smothers Brothers first appeared on the scene, playing the legendary Purple Onion and Boarding House long before there was an Improv out West.
Schell's television career started in the 1960s, when he played the role of Gomer Pyle's sidekick, Duke, for seven years on the CBS series "Gomer Pyle, USMC" and on "The Jim Nabors' Variety Hour." He also co-starred with Goldie Hawn for two seasons on the CBS series "Good Morning, World," and three years as Marlo Thomas' agent Harvey Peck on ABC's "That Girl."
Ronnie has appeared in numerous motion pictures as well, among them "The Cat From Outer Space" (that's Ronnie's voice you hear as the cat), "The Revenge Of The Red Baron" with Mickey Rooney and Laraine Newman, and Carl Reiner's "Fatal Instinct." In 1999, Ronnie co-starred in two independent films, "View From The Swing" with Tim Conway and Jennifer Grant and the comedy "Pride And Peril."
Schell was recently installed as the Honorary Mayor of Encino, Calif., for the seventh year and continues to do comedy shows with his fellow comedy group, "Yarmy's Army."
The Bay Area native and longtime resident there still has a special place in his heart for San Francisco, having performed at some of the classic rooms in that city. He was also the first comedic voice for a new public transportation system known as BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).
In this century, Ronnie was awarded a lifetime achievement award (the first ever) at the annual Comedy Day celebration in San Francisco. I was out there to congratulate him and he just said, "Well, they give you things when they think you'll be leaving this world soon." I doubt that, as Ronnie continues to perform clubs, theaters and is a frequent guest/performer at The Friar's Roast in Southern California.