It was recently announced that Harry Anderson passed away in his home at the age of 65. Harry was an actor and comedian that might not be the biggest name in television, but he was a talented comedian, actor, and even street magician and he was a big part of my TV viewing as a kid.
Harry started his days in California as a street magician and a stand-up comedian. His big break came in the early 80’s on Saturday Night Live. Thanks to repeats on Comedy Central back in the day I got to see some of his stuff. Someone from NBC must have seen him because he was soon brought in for the recurring role on Cheers as Harry “The Hat” Gittes, but soon after came the role I’ll always remember him most, as Judge Harry T., Stone on the series Night Court.
Aired on NBC for 9 seasons, Jan 1984 to May 1992. Theme by Jack Elliott. This is from the pilot episode.
Night Court was the zany kind of show that appealed to a kid like me, especially one who didn’t have cable. There were a number of people on that show over the years as I watched it or even watched the repeats on local syndication, but Harry was always front and center in the middle of the insanity. The goofy magician with the Mel Torme fandom was the straw that stirred the drink in that show. He made that show a lot of fun, with help from the others in the cast. It was zany and wacky, without beating a premise over your head and trying to do something controversial to get attention. Even when watching the show again, YEARS later on my local NBC stations at weird hours of the night, I still got the jokes and the humor. I got to see when that show wrapped up in 1992 with the finale, but if I ever saw Harry pop up on one of his other appearances and in acting, He was always Judge Stone to Me.
Harry has done other work in recent years so I know many others have seen some of his work. But it is really sad when you hear news like this that memories and things he had done come flooding back. Night Court was his bread and butter but there was a lot of other things he had done, mostly with his magic, his stand up, or both. Sure, he may have seen his best days back in the 80s, but what a time to know about his work and what he could do.
Harry Anderson performing one of his signature routines: “The Grappler.” This performance is from his 1996 television special titled: “Tricks Of His Trade.”
Looking back thanks to an older eye and well as the wonders of internet video, I learned more about what he was about. He wasn’t one of these slick David Copperfield style magicians with smoke machines and flashy rock music, he was someone whose act and personality had more familiarity with it. He harked back to another time. He had a sense of closeness that a stage like Vaudeville had. His magic tricks weren’t grandiose, but for a smaller audience. He was the kind of stage act that didn’t seem to change much for TV camera or not, and it still worked like a charm. He connected with his audience at that level, and in a way, he brought that to television through the character of Judge Stone.
So while many of us remember the comedy and magic he brought us, go to Youtube or any other source and remember him fondly for the entertainment that enriched our lives.