How does one appreciate one of televisions best comedians who never succeeded in the lead role of a comedy series? Harvey Korman was always a positive element in any comic (and some dramatic) shows and films he appeared in. From his days as "Gazoo" in "The Flintstones" to his first appearance in weekly variety on Danny Kaye's variety show to his glory days as part of the weekly ensemble on Carol Burnett's variety show (who can forget him as Eunice's husband, or as "Rhett Butler" or in the Charles Dingle part in the spoof of "The Little Foxes" - using the word "chitlins" as a minced oath), to his long association with Mel Brooks...Korman carved a nice niche for himself, frequently as partner to Tim Conway. And he did prove he could play drama as well. Just recall his performance opposite Buddy Hackett in the television film about Abbott and Costello, "Bud And Lou". The devils and turmoils that destroyed those comic giants came through with the two unexpected performances.
With such a record I felt it necessary to try to recall some unexpected work done by Korman that was just as good as the rest, but overlooked. One work was Korman as "Baron Hinterstoise" on "The Wild West", a Bismarckian German schemer planning to destroy America's reputation so as to open up the western hemisphere to European colonization. There was also his performance as "Von Zeppel" the fanatical aviation pioneer on "F-Troop", who gets Corporal Agarn to wear a Prussian military outfit complete with pointed helmet. But I noted the current obituaries brought in the long work with Mel Brooks, in the films "Blazing Saddles", "High Anxiety", "History Of The World Part I", and "Dracula: Dead And Loving It". Interestingly enough the obituaries failed to note how Korman and fellow Brooks' alumni Cloris Leachman were stars of this short lived comedy series, "The Nutt House".
Except for "Get Smart" Mel Brooks has not had great success on television (or any further great success - "Get Smart" being in a class by itself). His 1970s series, "When Things Were Rotten" was his first attack on the Robin Hood myth (later revisited in one of his movie spoofs), and despite some decent scripts did not succeed. Yet it lasted longer (by about four months) than "The Nutt House". "The Nutt House" lasted a big month, and (apparently) was so poorly received by the public that the last two episodes never were aired. Yet it was better than the public and the critics gave it credit for. "The Nutt House" was a type of spoof on novels or stories or movies like "Hotel" or "Grand Hotel" or "Weekend At The Waldorf" or "Plaza Suite". Set in a famous hostelry owned by Leachman, with Korman as her hotel manager, each week's episode dealt with some problem facing the hotel that threatened it's existence or had to be overcome. Korman, trying to follow the instructions of his employer (who was also his would-be girlfriend - something Korman is constantly trying to avoid). It actually worked quite nicely, although sometimes it actually left comedy and again showed Korman's handling of drama.
In one of the episodes a master jewel thief is at work in the hotel, and the staff from Korman down is aware of this. But Korman is also aware of pressures on himself because he is the manager that are beginning to make him doubt his abilities or his courage. But the conclusion of the episode was not funny but actually heroic. With the jewel thief holding several of the cast at bay with a pistol, Korman stumbles into the scene by chance to talk to a young woman who has been attracting him (actually a frightened partner of the jewel thief). The situation suddenly brings out Korman's total frustration and anger at the jewel thief, whom he rightly calls a phony and coward who pretends to be clever and brilliant but actually is so frightened he needs a gun to force a poor woman to protect him. This flusters the jewel thief enough to make him lose his edge and get captured though he manages to fire his gun before being rushed. Korman starts leaving when he realizes what his indignation almost cause happen. He faints as a result, thus reminding us that it is a comedy show.
The episodes had neat tricks in them. In one episode Leachman thinks she has manipulated events so that Korman will end up marrying her. But he gets knocked out before he can answer "I do!" at the ceremony. Leachman looks at various cast members about whether Korman's body language said the critical words or not. They all just shake their heads "No". At the end she looks at the camera beseechingly at the audience for their support. The camera shakes it's "head" "No!" too.
Korman and Leachman gave the show all they could as did Brooks, and it should have succeeded. Instead, it is in that select group of shows like "He And She" that were not successful, but ended being fondly remembered by those who caught them - and who now wish they were available on DVD or Video.
And it represented another proof of Harvey Korman's best work...for which he'll be remembered by his myriads of fans.