Remembering Our Favorite Laugh-In Stars

Henry Gibson passed away last Monday at age 73. Current television viewers probably remember him from his role as Judge Clarence Brown on Boston Legal, but Baby Boomers will always picture him holding a large flower and reciting poetry on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Laugh-In was a rapid-fire sketch comedy show that was "must see TV" long before the phrase had been coined. The idle chit-chat around the water cooler in the late 1960s was always peppered with catchphrases made popular by the show, such as "look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls" and "you bet your sweet bippy." To appear on Laugh-In increased a person's coolness quotient exponentially, which provided the show with an impressive albeit eclectic pool of special guest stars. Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Cher, Harry Belafonte, Wilt Chamberlain and Richard Nixon are just a few of the famous folks who uttered "sock it to me" or got smacked with a rubber chicken. Even if you were born long after Laugh-In was defunct, you probably recognize some of its regulars, perhaps from frequent appearances on The Love Boat or possibly from Academy Award-winning films:

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1. Goldie Hawn
Goldie had a small role on the short-lived sitcom Good Morning, World, but it was her perpetually giggling, clueless blonde persona on Laugh-In that propelled her to stardom. Dancing in a bikini with wacky slogans painted all over body probably helped her to get noticed as well.

2. Lily Tomlin
Tomlin's Ernestine the Telephone Operator was so popular that the Bell System offered her a $500,000 contract to film a series of commercials for them. She gave them a gracious "thanks, but no thanks." Tomlin's Edith Ann (who was five years old and spouted her monologues from a giant rocking chair) soon had the nation finishing their declarative sentences with "And that's the truth!" followed by a Bronx cheer.

3. Henry Gibson
Gibson was sort of the Jack Handey of Laugh-In, except his deep thoughts usually rhymed:

"The Thumbnail." A poem by Henry Gibson.
Did you ever stop to figure
Why the thumbnail is so hard?
Well it hasn't any choice
With all that skin to guard.
It may look fat and pudgy
But it's heart is good and true.
It's prettier than a toenail
And easier to chew.

4. Sammy Davis, Jr.
Davis was a frequent guest on the show, and one of his trademark schticks, lifted from comedian Pigmeat Markham's stage routine, launched yet another catchphrase, "here come da judge."

5. Judy Carne
British actress Judy Carne (Burt Reynolds' ex-wife) brought that oh-so-necessary-for-60s-credibility mod Carnaby Street touch to Laugh-In. She endured being assaulted week after week with water, flour, sandbags, you name it, just for announcing "It's Sock It To Me Time!"

(The most famous Sock It To Me, so as not to disappoint those who came expecting the Nixon clip:)

6. Arte Johnson
Johnson's most memorable character was Wolfgang, a German soldier who wasn't aware that WW2 had ended. Clutching a cigarette, he'd peer from between some bushes and comment "Veeery interesting," two words which eventually became as repeated as Fonzie's "Aaaay." Arte also portrayed lecherous old Tyrone F. Horneigh, who was forever trying to pick up Ruth Buzzi's Gladys Ormphby on a park bench and getting whacked over the head for his trouble.

7. Ruth Buzzi
Ruth Buzzi was the only cast member to appear on every single episode of the show, and despite her versatility (she played everything from flight attendants to Southern belles to socialites), she was mainly known as spinster Gladys Ormphby. Gladys wore a visible hairnet, spent most of her time on a park bench, and wielded her purse like a weapon when approached by cads who were only interested in her body.

8. JoAnne Worley
JoAnne Worley was loud and larger-than-life—Carol Channing, Ethel Merman and Phyllis Diller all rolled into one. She would frequently trill her lines operatically rather than just speak them, and she had a special affinity for chicken jokes.
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The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate is pointing at you! Share your Laugh-In memories, be they good or bad, with the rest of us.

Read all past installments of Kara's TV-Holic series.

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September 18, 2009 - 8:30am
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