Buddy Hackett, born Leonard Hacker, was one of two children born into a Jewish family living in Brooklyn, New York. His mother Anna (née Geller) worked in the garment trades while his father Philip Hacker was a furniture upholsterer, and part-time inventor. Hackett grew up across from Public School 103 on 54th Street and 14th Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and was active in varsity football and drama club at New Utrecht High School. Hackett suffered from Bell's palsy as a child, the lingering effects of which contributed to his distinctive slurred speech.
While still a student, Hackett worked as a "tummler" (Yiddish for "tumult maker") entertaining guests in the Catskills Borscht Belt resorts. While there, he began performing stand-up comedy in the resort nightclubs as "Butch Hacker". He appeared first at the Golden Hotel in Hurleyville, New York, claiming later he did not get one single laugh. Following his graduation from high school in 1942, Hackett enlisted in the United States Army and served during World War II for three years in an anti-aircraft battery.
Hackett's first job after the war was at the Pink Elephant, a Brooklyn club. It was here that he changed his name from Leonard Hacker to Buddy Hackett. He made appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and continued to perform in the Catskills. He acted on Broadway, in Lunatics and Lovers, where Max Liebman saw him and put him in two television specials.
Hackett's movie career began in 1950 with a 10-minute "World of Sports" reel for Columbia Pictures called King of the Pins. The film demonstrated championship bowling techniques, with expert Joe Wilman demonstrating the right way and Hackett (in pantomime) exemplifying the wrong way. There was an anecdote that, because of this appearance, Hackett received an offer to join the Three Stooges from Jules White, the head of Columbia short subject department, in 1952. Curly Howard had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1946; his older brother, Shemp Howard was intended to replace him only on a temporary basis until he fully recovered, but Curly died in January 1952. It was said Hackett even joined Moe Howard and Larry Fine for a rehearsal, but turned down the offer eventually when he felt he did not fit with the act's comedy style and wanted to develop his own style as a solo act. This rumor was later dismissed as either untrue or unfounded.
Hackett would not return to movies until 1953, after one of his nightclub routines attracted attention. With a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, Hackett's "The Chinese Waiter" lampooned the heavy dialect, frustration, and communication problems encountered by a busy waiter in a Chinese restaurant: "No, we no have sprit-pea soup ... We gotta wonton, we got eh-roll ... No orda for her, juss orda for you!" The routine was such a hit that Hackett made a recording of it, and was hired to reprise it in the Universal-Internationalmusical Walking My Baby Back Home (1953), in which he was third-billed under Donald O'Connor and Janet Leigh.
Hackett was an emergency replacement for the similarly built Lou Costello in 1954. Abbott and Costello were set to make a feature-length comedy Fireman, Save My Child, featuring Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Several scenes had been shot with stunt doubles when Lou Costello was forced to withdraw due to illness. Universal-International salvaged the project by hiring Hugh O'Brian and Hackett to take over the Abbott and Costello roles, using already shot footage of the comedy duo in some long shots; Jones and his band became the main attraction.
Hackett became known to a wider audience when he appeared on television in the 1950s and '60s as a frequent guest on variety talk shows hosted by Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey, telling brash, often off-color jokes, and mugging at the camera. Hackett was a frequent guest on both the Jack Paar and the Johnny Carson versions of The Tonight Show. According to the board game Trivial Pursuit, Hackett has the distinction of making the most guest appearances in the history of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. During this time, he also appeared as a panelist and mystery guest on CBS-TV's What's My Line? and filled in as emcee for the game show Treasure Hunt. He made fifteen guest appearances on NBC-TV's The Perry Como Show between 1955 and 1961. He appeared with his roommate Lenny Bruce on the Patrice Munsel Show (1957-1958), calling their comedy duo the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," 20 years before the cast of Saturday Night Live used the same name.
Here is one of Buddy's many appearances with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show"...
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A woman goes to her rabbi with a serious problem. Her two female parrots have picked up a bad habit. Any time she has visitors, the two parrots embarrass her by saying, in unison, "Hi ! We're hookers. Want to have some fun?"
To her surprise, the rabbi breaks into a smile, explaining that he has two male parrots which he has trained to pray and who've become very observant, spending much of the day praying in their cage.
He's confident that if the woman brings her two parrots over to his house, his two parrots will exert such a positive influence that her birds will turn into model parrots.
The next day the woman drives over to the rabbi's house and brings her two parrots into his home. As she looks around, she notices a large cage with two parrots, each wearing a little kippah and a tiny tallis as well as holding a miniature prayer book while they rock back and forth in prayer.
Sure enough, as soon as she places her female parrots in the cage, they shout out to their male counterparts: "Hi! We're hookers. Want to have some fun?"
One of the rabbi's parrots immediately turns to the other, squawking: " Moishe, put the book down. Our prayers have been answered!"
and a great joke about Japanese sex from his Atlantic City days...
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