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Actor Tim Conway's unassuming frame and easygoing Midwestern demeanor served as the perfect baffle for his formidable comedic talents. As a comic actor, he displayed a knack for playing easily confused and clumsy characters, like the naïve Ensign Parker on "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-1966). But Conway's true gifts were in physical comedy and improvisation, which were put to excellent use on "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS, 1967-1978). His peerless timing and pantomime skills easily reduced audiences - and often his castmates - into helpless laughter with little or no dialogue. Conway's work with Burnett was richly rewarded with four Emmy Awards - three for performance and one for writing. But after "The Carol Burnett Show," Conway struggled in trying to branch out on his own, though he did find some success in several films with Don Knotts and playing the hapless, height-challenged Dorf in a string of popular direct-to-video comedies. Nonetheless, Conway remained a legendary comic performer who attracted new generations of fans throughout the years.Born in Willoughby, OH on Dec. 15, 1933, Conway studied speech and radio at Bowling Green University before joining the Army in the mid-1950s. After...
Actor Tim Conway's unassuming frame and easygoing Midwestern demeanor served as the perfect baffle for his formidable comedic talents. As a comic actor, he displayed a knack for playing easily confused and clumsy characters, like the naïve Ensign Parker on "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-1966). But Conway's true gifts were in physical comedy and improvisation, which were put to excellent use on "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS, 1967-1978). His peerless timing and pantomime skills easily reduced audiences - and often his castmates - into helpless laughter with little or no dialogue. Conway's work with Burnett was richly rewarded with four Emmy Awards - three for performance and one for writing. But after "The Carol Burnett Show," Conway struggled in trying to branch out on his own, though he did find some success in several films with Don Knotts and playing the hapless, height-challenged Dorf in a string of popular direct-to-video comedies. Nonetheless, Conway remained a legendary comic performer who attracted new generations of fans throughout the years.
Born in Willoughby, OH on Dec. 15, 1933, Conway studied speech and radio at Bowling Green University before joining the Army in the mid-1950s. After returning to civilian life, he worked his way up from the mail department to writer at a Cleveland radio station. In 1956, he relocated to New York City and eventually landed his first role on television as a cast member on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC, 1956-1961). At some point prior to being cast, he changed his first name from Thomas to Tim to avoid confusion with actor Tom Conway of "The Falcon" fame. After Allen's program went off the air, Conway returned to Cleveland, where he teamed with local radio and television announcer Ernie Anderson (father of director Paul Thomas Anderson). Conway and Anderson appeared together on radio and television, and recorded two comedy albums together. They also collaborated on "Shock Theater," a popular Friday night monster movie TV slot which featured Anderson as its hipster host, Ghoulardi.
In 1962, Conway returned to Hollywood for "McHale's Navy," a WWII-era comedy with Ernest Borgnine as the captain of a rule-breaking PT crew and Conway as his eager, yet bumbling second-in-command. A success in its four seasons, "McHale's Navy" thrust Conway into the national spotlight, sparking plans to put him in his own series. But the role of star proved to be an uncomfortable fit for the actor. The first attempt was the comic Western "Rango" (ABC, 1967), which cast Conway as an inept Texas Ranger assigned to a remote outpost in order to avoid trouble. The series lasted less than one season and Conway soon moved on to "The Tim Conway Show" (CBS, 1970), a sitcom which partnered him with former "McHale's Navy" star Joe Flynn as employees of a low-rent airline. That series also disappeared quickly, though the network gave him another shot with a variety program called "The Tim Conway Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1970), which co-starred McLean Stevenson and Sally Struthers and featured Conway's entire family gathered together to celebrate Christmas in the pilot episode - the gag being that none of Conway's previous shows lasted long enough for them to do so. Despite this wishful thinking, the show was pulled just one week before the real Christmas in 1970.
For much of the early 1970s, Conway remained active in television movies and theatrical releases, including several genial kids' comedy for Disney like "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975), which partnered him with another TV star struggling to find his footing, Don Knotts. In 1975, Conway joined the cast of "The Carol Burnett Show" - he had been a guest star and writer on the series since its inception in 1967, winning an Emmy in 1973 for his performance. Once enshrined as a permanent cast member, he quickly became the source of the show's most deliriously funny moments, most notably as "The Old Man," a perpetually befuddled oldster whose shuffling gait and slow speed would drive everyone around him berserk, and "Mr. Tudball," the badly bewigged Swedish office boss who was thwarted at every turn by his inept secretary, Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett). Conway was particularly well-matched with Harvey Korman - the pair generated some of the series' biggest laughs simply by trying to stay in character and not break out into hysterical laughter, as happened in the infamous dentist sketch, where Conway attempted to drill Korman's tooth after injecting his hand and leg with Novocain. For his efforts on "Burnett," Conway won four Emmys and a 1976 Golden Globe.
Conway remained active as a writer and performer while starring on the "Burnett Show," mostly in TV movies and features for Disney like "The Shaggy D.A." (1976) and "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again" (1978). In 1980, he got his fourth shot at his own television show with "The Tim Conway Show" (CBS, 1980-81), a sketch comedy series with occasional musical numbers like "The Carol Burnett Show," which came as no surprise since the producer was Joe Hamilton. Despite guest shots by Burnett, Korman and Vicki Lawrence, Conway's new show proved to be as short-lived as the others. Meanwhile, he tried his hand at a standard sitcom, "Ace Crawford, Private Eye" (CBS, 1982-83), a spoof of detective programs with Conway as an accident-prone investigator. But again, Conway failed to make good as the star of his own series.
As the '70s faded into the '80s, Conway was a popular guest star on television series and specials, and found a popular if peculiar outlet for his brand of comedy with a series of comic how-to videos that were sold through direct marketing on television. The first of these, "Dorf on Golf" (1987), featured Conway as the title character, a diminutive man with a horrific toupee - much like Mr. Tudball's - who tried to educate viewers on the finer points of the sport. Since he played the character buried up to his knees, Conway was able to execute all manner of gravity-defying gags and pratfalls - like falling every-which way - which viewers relished. Conway went on to make six more Dorf videos from 1988 to 2001. Dorf also turned up on "Tim Conway's Funny America" (ABC, 1990), which featured him in a variety of disguises and scenarios opposite real people in everyday situations.
Conway was a frequent guest star on television series throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Among his recurring roles were Ephraim Wanker, Peggy Bundy's hillbilly dad on "Married with Children" (Fox, 1987-1997) and "Yes, Dear" (CBS, 2000-2006) as star Anthony Clark's uptight father. He earned his sixth Emmy Award in 1996 for an appearance on "Coach" (ABC, 1989-1997) and won over a whole new generation of fans with his vocal work for numerous animated series, including the "Hermie and Friends" video series, which reunited him with Don Knotts, and "Spongebob Squarepants" (Nickelodeon, 1999- ), which featured him as Barnacle Boy, elderly sidekick to superhero Mermaid Man (voiced by Ernest Borgnine). Conway also returned briefly to series work with "On the Spot" (Fox, 2002-03), a unique blend of sitcom and improvisational comedy. Meanwhile, Conway delivered a memorable guest starring performance on "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006- ), playing long-forgotten television star Bucky Bright. Conway earned another Emmy Award nomination, this time for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
Throughout the years, Conway reunited with Burnett, Korman, Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner for several retrospective specials, starting with "The Carol Burnett Show: A Reunion" (CBS, 1993), which featured some of the best clips from the show's original network run. The reunion proved so popular that the quintet paired up for two additional primetime specials, "The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers" (CBS, 2001) and "The Carol Burnett Show: Let's Bump Up the Lights" (CBS, 2004). The former was devoted largely to sketches in which Conway broke up his fellow cast mates, including the famed elephant sketch, which shed some new and well-deserved attention on his talents. The success of the Burnett specials led to Conway and Korman developing a stage act based on their best-loved sketches and characters from the series, which toured throughout the 1990s and early 2000s before Korman passed in 2008. The best of these performances were compiled on a DVD, "Together Again" (2006), which was sold through Conway's web site. In addition to his film and television career, Conway was a co-founder and vice president of the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, which benefited disabled and injured jockeys.
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