You may not know this (in fact, I don’t know why you would), but he always — ALWAYS — carried a little fart machine in his hand.
By the way, I’m just going to call that thing a “fart machine,” because there’s just no other concise name for it. It was a small, plastic bladder of some kind that could be concealed in the palm easily and made a distinctive sound that could not be concealed so easily — which, of course, was the point.
You see, Leslie Nielsen was, plain and simple, an absolute virtuoso with this thing. He took it everywhere, every set, every banquet, every award ceremony, every high school speech, every restaurant — and every TV show. (By God, I’ll bet the guy even took it to bed; and I don’t mean alone.) And when I say virtuoso, I mean that he could coax at least a dozen completely different sounds from it. Forgive me, but: long ones, short ones, airy ones, ones that went up and down in pitch.
The man was an artist. And apparently, or clearly, he thought it was the funniest thing in the world. And let me tell you, folks, if you had seen it happen in person, you might not have disagreed.
I brought my parents up to meet him, and he was gracious and sincere (and really elegant and handsome), his hands were crossed in front of him (with the thing in them) and he said, “Mr. and Mrs. Miller, I must tell you, I’ve met a lot of young comedians in my time, but your son – bbbrrrrrrr — I’m so sorry, as I was saying, your son is not only talented, but – ppllllackkttttttttt — please forgive me, your son will make a name that very few people in show business have ever – blublublublublubluddddd — I beg your pardon — you know, acting is a wonderful profession, and Larry…”
The first two or three got slightly shocked looks from my folks, on the order of, “Oh, this poor man isn’t well,” but as he kept going — AND HE KEPT GOING — it was obvious he was kidding, and performing a kind of private concert, as it were, and then?
They started to laugh and didn’t stop. We were howling. Howling. Holding each other up, leaning against walls, NBC pages walking by and wondering what was going on. And that man must have go on like that for, Lord, eight or nine minutes (which is an extraordinarily long time, if you think about it).
Then he finally stopped and smiled, and let us start to catch our breaths, and put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “Nice to meet you folks,” with a wink and strolled off into the rest of his life.
It was always a great blessing with a lot of laughs and warmth when I saw my folks like that, but you can imagine the chatter in the car on the way back to Long Island that night.
You can’t take it with you. We all know that. But I’ll bet you a dollar God lets Leslie Nielsen take that little fart machine with him.
LESLIE NIELSEN | The Official Blog of Larry Miller