Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jose Chung Taught Me to Read

Here I haven't posted in a couple of weeks and once again death drives me to do so. This time it's the passing of Charles Nelson Reilly, who I discovered--as many did--on the classic game show Match Game. He was a regular fixture in the upper right seat, (presumably) drinking cocktails with the rest of the loutish band of miscreants like Richard "Newkirk" Dawson, Fannie "Fried Green Tomatoes" Flagg, and Brett "I Married Jack Klugman" Summers. I watched this game show a lot as a kid, even before I entered the public school system proper, and I'm convinced that Match Game and Charles Nelson Reilly taught me to read (with a little help from The Electic Company, but that's another post). These happy, laughing people making jokes I didn't get (and later, would be glad for not getting) saying a word and then holding up a card with that word on it? That's edjumacational.

Years later, in the late '90s, I wrote my first (and as yet, only) produced play--a piece of goofy, amateurish late-night comedy called The GenEx Files. Naturally I had the opportunity (as one might imagine) to watch a lot of the TV show with the similar name. And there, again, was Charles Nelson Reilly, playing a conspiracy-minded writer named Jose Chung in one of the classic episodes written by Darin "Flukeman" Morgan. It was, as they say, a revelation--here was the silly, flamboyant, fuh-LAME-ing Mr. Reilly in a completely different persona almost unrecognizable as him. When "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" led to a spin-off Darin Morgan-written episode of the dreary Millennium that saw the end of the character, I was saddened. In retrospect, I was glad to see Jose Chung go out with a bang rather than become a tired recurring character like the Lone Gunmen. Toward the end of his life he wrote and starred in an award-winning autobiographical show call The Life of Reilly that I wish I'd caught. Or known existed. But that's the kind of relationship he and I had.

So g'night, Jose Chung. Here's hoping you and the trolls of Central Park are enjoying cigars and martinis at the pearly gates.

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