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I WAS WATCHING BOGART and Bacall in To Have and Have Not; not for the first time, I note. This time around, though, I recognized another cast name. His face was familiar but not his accent.
Here was Sheldon Leonard portraying Lieutenant Coyo, henchman to the menacing Vichy Capitaine Renard, even though he’s famous to SiriusXM “Radio Classics” listeners as Jack Benny’s racetrack tout.
As described in Wikipedia,, Sheldon Leonard’s trademark “was his especially thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth. (He would often pronounce th as t and would say er as oi, thus he would pronounce earth as oit).”
But not, of course, as Lieutenant Coyo. Here he was a heavy, but a Vichy heavy in Martinique.
Other Leonard Roles. Wikipedia notes, “His breakthrough role was in Another Thin Man (1939), in which he played a soft-spoken but dangerous murder suspect. From then on he was typecast as smooth gangsters or streetwise guys in such films as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946; as bartender Nick), To Have and Have Not (1944), and Guys and Dolls (1955; as Harry the Horse).
Leonard was also part of radio’s Damon Runyon Theatre ensemble (1948–1949), in which his New Yorkese was a natural. He also did the voice of lazy, fat cat Downsworth in two Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies.
Behind the Camera. In the 1950s and 1960s, Leonard co-produced The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Spy.
Belying his tough-guy portrayals, Sheldon Leonard was a graduate of Syracuse University in 1929. He died just six weeks before his 90th birthday in 1997. A decade later, writers of The Big Bang Theory honored him in naming two principal characters Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter.
The Racetrack Tout. My favorite Sheldon Leonard routines are his portraying the eccentric racetrack tout pestering Jack Benny. There’s always a wonderful blend of logic in the word play of his advice to Jack. There’s a lengthy YouTube with its Benny/Leonard routine at around 13:07.
Coincidentally, a couple days after watching To Have and Have Not, I was listening to “Radio Classics” with Benny encountering Leonard in a Hollywood drugstore:
Sheldon Leonard: “Hi’ya, Bud. Long time, no see.”
Jack Benny, to Mary Livingston: “Yes, it’s that tout from Santa Anita. I always run into him…. I think I’ll get a cup of coffee.”
SL: “Psst, Bud, c’mere a minute…. Where y’goin’?”
JB: “Over to the fountain.”
SL: “Whadda y’gonna get?”
SL: “Get Milk.”
JB: “But I want coffee.”
SL: “Coffee hasn’t got a chance.”
JB: “Why not?”
SL: “Wet grounds….”
JB: “Well, I don’t care. I’m going to get coffee.”
SL: “Don’t be a sucker. Take milk.”
JB: “Why milk?”
SL: “Looka de breedin’…. Milk is outta cow by squeeze.”
JB: “But I don’t want milk.”
SL: “Look, Bud…. Don’t let it get aroun’ but I got sometin’ really good.”
JB: “Why Ovaltine?”
SL: “It’s a sleeper.”
JB: “Well, maybe I’ll…. Hey, wait a minute. I know what I’m going to get.”
JB: “C’mere a minute….”
SL: “Who, me?”
JB: “Yeah…. I’m going to get tea.”
SL: “Why tea?”
JB: “Because tea is in the bag.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022