Tuesday, August 15, 2006
R.I.P. Bruno Kirby (1949-2006)
Bruno Kirby will long be remembered for his perfect-pitch comic turns in movies ranging from Good Morning, Vietnam (in which he played Robin Williams’ hopelessly unfunny rival DJ) to City Slickers (where he hilariously exploded while Billy Crystal explained to Daniel Stern for the zillionth time how to program a VCR). But my favorite Kirby performance, I must admit, is one of his more obscure credits, a 1993 episode of the noirish Showtime cable series Fallen Angels. In “I’ll Be Waiting,” adapted by scripter C. Gaby Mitchell from a short story by Raymond Chandler, he was shrewdly cast against type (by director Tom Hanks) as a seemingly stolid hotel detective who is underestimated by just about everybody – even the femme fatale who enlists his aid – until, during the genuinely shocking climax, he calmly takes out a gun and neutralizes a deadly threat. “When I was casting this role,” Hanks told me years later, “I wanted someone who looked like he was a shoe salesman – but who could break your thumbs if he had to.” If other directors had been as audacious as Hanks, Kirby might have had a very different career. Even so, he made an indelible impression as a protean character actor – When Harry Met Sally, The Freshman and Donnie Brasco also loom large on his resume – and he will be sorely missed. Fortunately, he is on film, so he will be immortal.