Thursday, August 9, 2007

Nothing Rankles Like Rickles

Here's a companion piece to my post about Bob Newhart the other day. As hard as it might be to believe, the quiet spoken, mild-mannered, and low-key Newhart names as his best friend, the loud, brash, and domineering Don Rickles! Here's an excerpt from Bob Newhart's autobiography where he explains it himself:

Don Rickles and I are best friends. I know that might seem strange to those who know Don only by reputation, but somebody has to be his friend. Just to make sure I don't forget, Don gave me a doormat that sits just outside the door of my house. It reads: "The Newharts: The Rickleses' Best Friends"

Apparently, The Rickleses and Newharts have been vacationing together for decades. I recall Bob showing one of his vacation home movies on "The Tonight Show" to Johnny Carson many years ago, back in the days that people still used 8mm cameras before the advent of home video. I think poor Bob was always stuck doing the filming, while Don hammed it up with both their wives, heckling him all the time.

Don Rickles was a hugely popular entertainer back in the 70's, showing up constantly on "The Tonight Show" and pretty much as a regular fixture on "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts" with his barrage of insult humour. In fact his nickname was "The Merchant of Venom". All the kids in high school during that era would borrow his comic insults, calling each other "Hockey Pucks" and such. I must confess, though I like Don Rickles, I find a little of him goes a long way. Just like Robin Williams today, I can only take his frenetic, ad-lib style of humour in small doses. (I'm definitely much more of a Bob Newhart fan.)

These days, not too many kids seem to know who Don Rickles is anymore. Whenever I show my portfolio of caricatures at school presentations, only a few seem to have heard of him. I always follow up, however, by pointing out that Rickles is currently heard as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Pixar's "Toy Story", and that, with a face like his, it seems like appropriate casting. They usually get a laugh out of that info. This caricature I did a few years back, by the way, and it has been on my website since day one, but I thought that my more recent caricature of Bob Newhart should not be kept too far away from that of his best friend.


Bill Field said...

Pete-- you are really one terrific artist, this is so dead on- Ya Hockey Puck!- I have been trying lately to work on a few caricatures of some of my personal TV Heroes, I have been really striving to bring out the kind of immediately recognizable qualities that your work has, I've been trying to capture the cast of Hawaii Five 0, as a kid growing up on Oahu, I was lucky enough to be in an airport scene and an Ala Moana Mall scene in 2 episodes (wayyyy in the background, in both). Jack Lord was really nice to me patting me on the head saying he thought I could wind up with a show when I grew up, after I told him he was my role model (at age 7 --I don't know if I knew what the term meant, but said it anyway) I really am amazed at your gift of gestural expression, I bet Dick Gautier would really be impressed with your work-- with your fondness of 60's and 70's TV, I would love to see you draw Mr. Gautier, his books really helped me years back, and Hymie the Robot and his version of Robin Hood have made me laugh for decades!- Thank You Pete, for your terrific example of what caricatures SHOULD be!

Pete Emslie said...

Hey Bill,

The method I use for doing my showbiz caricatures is to always draw them from video recordings. By seeing them in motion, studying their facial expressions, their body language, the way the mouth moves as they talk, etc. - all of these numerous factors play a part in how I capture their likeness on paper. In this way, I can more easily see the underlying "design" of their face, as well as get something of their inner personality into the drawing.

I'd really recommend that you try this approach to drawing the cast of "Hawaii Five-O", if you aren't already doing this, as opposed to working from still photos. I never have much luck working from photos myself, as I get bogged down in surface details and am never able to "get inside" the character. I think that is the key to capturing a caricatured likeness of your subject that will communicate something of their persona to your viewer.

Speaking of Dick Gautier, "Get Smart" tops my list of old TV series I want to have on DVD. I know there is a complete set that came out last year available through online mail order only, and at a rather steep price. I keep hoping they will make it available in stores at some point. I'm impressed that you remember Gautier's stint as Robin Hood on Mel Brooks's "When Things Were Rotten"!

Bill Field said...

Pete! Thank you VERY much for your tips and keen insights into TV star caricatures, I am following your advice and sketching out from video reference and not stills. I am intensely trying to move to the next level in my drawings and art, after being an animator/director/cartoonist for the past 2 decades, I have been lathargic in growing my skills. I am really enjoying following your blog and John K.'s and feel like I'm starting from scratch in many ways. I think I zombied out at a certain point after allowing the business to let me down and burn out after years of directing cereal ads and package art. I will share my results of your great tips and inspiration as soon as I have something to show. Thanks to you, Pete- I'm really enjoying attacking a blank sheet of paper again!-Bill

Will Finn said...


I just read RICKLES' BOOK and have seen this pic on you site many times. Dead on.

I was floored in the book to grasp (between the lines) that he has no 'set' routines: apparently he just wings it and always has. That's amazing. After a lifetime of watching him, i am still trying to figure out how he gets away with insulting people without actually insulting them tho. Is is his generally unimposing physical look? Is there an underlying subtext in his delivery that puts everyonoe at their ease? I get that it's all about the release of somebody getting permission to be totally anti-social and not-nice in public, but what about him makes him that guy...?

The Newhart connection seals the deal, tho. It's like how in THE HONEYMOONERS you automatically like Ralph because he's Norton's best friend. Norton is so automatically loveable, Ralph HAS to be a great guy if he likes him.

If you haven't read the Rickles book (its an easy read to say the least) you should check out the hilarious Sinatra anecdote in the foreward, it's priceless!

Joe Bluhm said...

This is such a great caricature. I love the linework that you use. Don't stop... feed us. ;)

John Musker said...

You really nailed Rickles! Spot on!