Seven Things to Know About Don Rickles

Don_Rickles_19731. Don Rickles appeared in four of American-International’s Beach Party movies: Muscle Beach Party (1964); Bikini Beach (1964); Pajama Party (1964); and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). So how did that happen? Rickles’ agent was Jack Gilardi, who was then married to Annette Funicello! My favorite is Muscle Beach Party, in which he played Jack Fanny, a fast-talking bodybuilding coach whose protégés include Peter Lupus (Willy in Mission: Impossible).

2. He originally aspired to be a serious actor and studied his craft at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. One of his classmates in the late 1940s was Grace Kelly. Rickles played dramatic film roles in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), X–The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), and Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995).

3. Rickles, who served in the Navy during 1944-46, played a member of the armed services in several films and TV series: Run Silent, Run Deep; Gomer Pyle USMC (as a guest star); Kelly’s Heroes (1970); and CPO Sharkey (1976-78).

4. Frank Sinatra became an early fan of Rickles’ stand-up act. According to Rickles’ web site, when the then-unknown comedian spotted Sinatra in the audience at a Miami nightclub, he quipped: “I just saw your movie The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon was great.” Sinatra’s affectionate pet name for Rickles was “Bullet Head.”

5. Rickles attributes his fame to his TV appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Rickles appeared over 100 times on The Tonight Show, sometimes as guest host. It was Carson that gave him his most famous nickname: Mr. Warmth.

6. Rickles also appeared frequently on The Dean Martin Show, which subsequently led to his participation in numerous “celebrity roast” specials in which he “insulted” the likes of James Stewart, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra (of course), Bob Hope, and many others.

7. At age 90, Don Rickles still tours regularly and appears on the late night shows with Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel. In the recently-announced Toy Story 4, he will once again provide the voice for Mr. Potato Head.

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!