Monday, November 21, 2011

David Frye's Birthday

I try, I really do try to keep up. But sometimes things just slip through the cracks. You know?

Last January, I was starting my second semester as an adjunct journalism professor in the local community college. I was busy, but I didn't realize I was that busy — anyway, somehow it completely slipped past me that one of my favorite impressionists died.

It slipped by me so completely that it was only recently that I learned he was dead, nearly 10 months after the fact.

He wasn't exactly young — nor even middle–aged, for that matter — so I guess his death wasn't much of a shock. I don't know if he had been sick or if he had enjoyed generally good health.

No, I'm not speaking of Rich Little — although I did have the opportunity to see Rich Little perform here in Dallas about nine years ago. Little, by the way, is still living.

I'm speaking of David Frye, who was rather popular during the Nixon presidency — although he probably wasn't too popular with Nixon himself. The Nixon years were Frye's best, but it was kind of a meteoric thing. His popularity really took off when Nixon was elected president in 1968, seemed to reach its peak during the Watergate scandal, then began to decline dramatically after Nixon resigned.

Frye continued to do impressions of the major political figures of his time — often as well as or better than Little, at least in my opinion — and, like Little, he did impressions of other celebrities, too — movie stars (like George C. Scott and Henry Fonda), athletes (like Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson), etc. — but it was his impression of Nixon that people seemed to remember, even when he died.

I, for one, loved listening to Frye's records when I was a boy. His impression of Nixon was so good Nixon's own mother probably couldn't have told the difference. But, as I say, there was so much more to his comedy.

In one of my favorite Frye albums — "Richard Nixon: A Fantasy" — Nixon was dreaming about the Watergate break–in and the investigation.

One segment had his vice president, Spiro Agnew (who was particularly smarmy, even in comparison to some of the people who have been vice president since his day), being interviewed by Bill Buckley, who asked him if he had prepared himself for the possibility of becoming president. (Frye provided both voices — as well as nearly all the other voices on the album — and was spot on, as always.)

Agnew replied that he believed Nixon was innocent and he believed the rest of the country did, too. Then Frye provided the voice of Agnew thinking something entirely different — "Oh, boy! President Agnew! President Agnew! That'll show all those guys back in high school who used to tease me with 'Spiro, Spiro is a zero, With a name like that he must be a queer–o!' "

His humor went far beyond an uncanny ability to sound like so many people — and an occasional tendency to offend. He often could summarize entire personalities in one or two well–crafted lines.

Anyway, today would have been his 78th birthday. It's the first birthday he's missed.

And, while I wish I could have said this to him while he was living, better late than never, I guess.

Happy birthday.