My fellow film/television blogger Edward Copeland sums it up best (and, in fact, was kind enough to send me a heads-up in case I hadn’t heard about it) when he remarks about character great Lou Jacobi: “His face is much more familiar than his name, but to some extent that is to be expected for a character actor with as lengthy a career…” The venerable actor who undoubtedly caused a great many people to comment: “I’ve seen that guy before in (insert movie or TV program)” has gone to his greater reward at the age of 95.
Ask anybody what they remember Jacobi best in and you’re sure to get a variety of answers. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for his portrayal of Uncle Morty in the underrated My Favorite Year (1982) (second place goes to his wacky cross-dressing turn in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask ) but others may remember him from The Diary of Anne Frank (1959; as Mr. Van Daan), Little Murders (1971; as Judge Stern), Arthur (1981), Avalon (1990), or I.Q. (1994), his last appearance on the silver screen. He did a multitude of guest appearances on too many television shows to count: The Defenders, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Dick Van Dyke Show (the one where Rob and Buddy invest in Buddy’s uncle’s shoe store), That Girl, Barney Miller (a delicatessen owner in “Stakeout”), and so many more. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Jacobi came from vocal artist Billy West, who was inspired to imitate the actor (with a little George Jessel thrown in) to create the characterization of Dr. Zoidberg on the cult cartoon series Futurama.
Jacobi even achieved the dream of starring in his own television series: a blink-and-you-missed-it sitcom entitled Ivan the Terrible which ran for five weeks in the summer of 1976. That same year, he also participated in a sitcom pilot entitled The Rear Guard, which took its inspiration from the Britcom classic Dad’s Army. (I’ve seen clips of this pilot, and let me assure you that it was not Lou’s finest hour. We should all give thanks that Ivan made the cut instead.)
But concentrating on Jacobi’s film and television career does him a tremendous disservice: he also was a veteran on the stage, and first achieved notice in his Broadway debut in The Diary of Anne Frank in 1955, playing the role he reprised in the film version. His other notable stage appearances include Come Blow Your Horn (“Aha!”), Norman, Is That You?, and Don’t Drink the Water.
In a time when character actors seem to be getting scarcer, it is regrettable to have to say farewell to one of the best. R.I.P, Lou. You will be sorely missed.