Updated: February 15, 2014
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Frank John Gorshin, Jr. (April 5, 1933 – May 17, 2005) was an American actor and comedian. He was perhaps best known as an impressionist, with many guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show (with host Steve Allen). His most famous acting role was as The Riddler in the Batman live-action television series.
Gorshin's Department of Veterans Affairs Index Card.
Gorshin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Roman Catholic parents Frances, a seamstress, and Frank Gorshin, Sr., a railroad worker. At the age of 15, he took a part-time job as a cinema usher at the Sheridan Square Theatre. He memorized the mannerisms of the screen stars he saw and created an impressionist act. He was still in high school when he obtained his first paid employment, which he secured as the prize in a Pittsburgh talent contest in 1951: a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller's New York nightclub, Carousel. His parents had insisted that he take the engagement, even though his 15-year-old brother had been hit by a car and killed just two nights before.
After graduation from Peabody High School, Gorshin attended the Carnegie Tech School of Drama (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. When not studying, he worked in local plays and nightclubs.
In 1953, Gorshin was drafted into the United States Army and was posted in Germany. He served for a year and a half as an entertainer attached to Special Services. While in the Army, Gorshin met Maurice Bergman, who later introduced him to Hollywood agent Paul Kohner. Frank Gorshin's entire Army service record was later destroyed in the National Personnel Records Center fire.
Gorshin performing with Lou Rawls in 1977 When Gorshin left the Army, he returned to public performance, and in 1956, he became a prolific film actor. He also appeared as an actor and a guest on television shows, including twelve guest spots on The Ed Sullivan Show (his first being the same night The Beatles and Davy Jones debuted, early in 1964). He was a popular act at nightclubs, notably those of Las Vegas, where he was the first impressionist to headline the main showrooms. He was also the first impressionist headliner at the Empire Room of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Gorshin's slender athletic build, wide mouth, and pale eyes under strong brows were ideal characteristics for screen henchmen. In 1957, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car after driving from Pittsburgh for 39 hours without sleep. He was on his way to a Hollywood screen test for the part of Officer Ruby in Run Silent, Run Deep. He sustained a fractured skull and spent four days in a coma; a Los Angeles newspaper incorrectly reported that he had been killed. The role went to Don Rickles.
During this period Gorshin had roles in B-movies such as Hot Rod Girl (1956), Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). Gorshin's first film role was Between Heaven and Hell . In 1960 he was featured in Bells are Ringing, playing the Method Actor while doing a Marlon Brando impression, and as a hipster jazz musician in Where The Boys Are.
On April 8, 1957, Gorshin married Christina Randazzo. They had one son, Mitchell, and later separated but remained married until his death.
Bele, Gorshin's role in Star Trek, in the episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
He was nominated for an Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy) for his best remembered role as The Riddler in the Batman live action television series. The character was costumed in a light green body suit decorated with question marks, lavender cloth eye-mask, and lavender gloves and belt, or sometimes a bright green dress suit decorated with question marks, with a black shirt, green tie, and black bowler hat, also decorated with a question mark. Gorshin's portrayal of the character included a high deranged cackle, inspired by that of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death (1947). He also had a memorable role in the 1969 Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" as the half-whiteface, half-blackface Bele, for which he was again Emmy-nominated. Prior to that, he was a dramatic actor, often playing "tough guys" like those played by one of his favorite targets of impressions, James Cagney, whom he was said to resemble. He did take a comic turn, though, as the bassist Basil (paired with singer Connie Francis) in Where The Boys Are (1960), and played a boss-behind-bars for laughs in Otto Preminger's comedy Skidoo (1968).
Gorshin played a villain in the television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In the feature-length episode "Plot to Kill a City", he played interplanetary assassin Seton Kellogg, a master of planning who leads his gang, the Legion of Death, to force a worker to sabotage an antimatter reactor near New Chicago in order to obliterate the entire area. Kellogg is aided by an alien bodyguard, Varek (played by Anthony James), who is capable of altering his molecular structure to pass through walls, a result of radiation absorbed when "his homeworld thought they'd won a nuclear war."
He appeared on Broadway, in Jimmy (1970) and Guys and Dolls (1971). In 2002, he portrayed comedian George Burns on Broadway in the one-man show Say Goodnight, Gracie.
Gorshin's varied career included appearing as the villainous Mr. Wesker in the miniseries Goliath Awaits (1981) and as the cantankerous King Gama in the opera Princess Ida in 1982 as part of the PBS series The Compleat Gilbert and Sullivan. He costarred in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys as the gruff superior to Madeleine Stowe's psychiatrist, and appeared as a mobster kingpin in The Meteor Man.
Gorshin played the strict legendary Harvard Law School Professor, John H. Keynes, in the 2004 Korean drama Love Story in Harvard.
Gorshin played the role of Smiley Wilson on the ABC soap opera The Edge of Night in 1983. The show used his talents to mimic other performers in the plot.
On the Nickelodeon anthology series Are You Afraid of the Dark?, he played the evil sorcerer Brother Septimus in The Tale of the Carved Stone, which aired in 1993.
In 1995, Gorshin played the voice of Reverend Jack Cheese in an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show.
Gorshin died on day of the DVD release of the TV movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. Gorshin appeared as himself (reprising his role as the Riddler) in this 2003 special that reunited some of the actors from the Batman series. Gorshin voiced villain Hugo Strange in an episode of The Batman animated series, which aired in the series' second season on the WB. Gorshin died a few days before the newest incarnation of The Riddler first appeared in The Batman. After Gorshin's death, Strange was voiced by Richard Green. Gorshin also voiced the characters Marius and Lysander in the computer role playing game Diablo II.
Final performances and death:
Gorshin's last television appearance was in "Grave Danger", an episode of the CBS-TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation which aired two days after his death; the episode, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino, was dedicated to his memory. While he was known for his impressions, his role on CSI was as himself.
Gorshin's final performance was in Memphis, Tennessee doing the Tony-nominated play Say Goodnight, Gracie. He finished his performance and boarded a plane for Los Angeles. Upon landing, he was met by an ambulance which took him to the hospital, where he later died on May 17, 2005, at the age of 72 from lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.
He is interred at the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery in the Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh.