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Harvey Lembeck

Harvey Lembeck


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Swarthy, squinty, nasally, and comically overconfident, the diminutive Harvey Lembeck was one of the clown princes of post-World-War-II-era army comedy. Himself a veteran of the military, he sublimated his gregarious personality into a stint on the Broadway stage, where his performance as impish soldier Harry "Sugar Lips" Shapiro in the powerhouse POW drama "Stalag 17" landed him the same supporting role in Billy Wilder's gripping, like-titled 1953 film adaptation. Having effectively opened the floodgates for a spate of other spirited soldier parts, he went down in the annals of screwball-TV history as Corporal Rocco Barbella, the right-hand man of the scheming, outrageously opportunistic Sergeant Bilko, on the freewheeling sitcom classic "The Phil Silvers Show" ('55-59). The comic star portrayed similar lunkheads on shows such as the short-lived military comedy "Ensign O'Toole," but he never quite struck the same chord as he did in that inimitable Barbella role, prompting him to hang up his uniform in the early '60s. Luckily, all it took for a career revival was a leather jacket; as the delusional biker-gang leader, Eric Von Zipper, he stumbled and bumbled his way through six films in the enormously popular 1960s "beach party" movies headlined by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Famously, his Von Zipper was the perpetual victim of the series' delightfully absurd "Himalayan Suspender" finger technique, which often left his character in a state of grinning catatonia. Having never retired, he died of a heart attack in 1982 at age 58.

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