Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Steve Landesberg Dead at 74

Many of my readers (all two of you) have probably not heard of Landesberg. I was shocked to learn that so few people knew the man. I would have attributed this to youth, had one of the ignorant not been older than I am.

Steve Landesberg played Arthur Dietrich in one of the best comedies to ever air on TV, Barney Miller. If you've never seen it, you owe it to yourself to watch it. It airs on the U channels in Chicago, but sadly, only the first three seasons have been released on DVD.

Why is Barney Miller so awesome? Well, first of all, it was a true ensemble series, headed by Hal Linden as the kind, put-upon Barney Miller, Abe Vigoda as the ever old and cantankerous Fish, Ron Glass as the vain Ron Harris, Max Gail as the naive "Wojo", Jack Soo as the wry Yemana, and Landesberg as the know-it-all Dietrich.

The humor relied not on pratfalls or one-liners (though they had those in plenty) but in the quirky characters, their interactions with each other and with the crooks and victims in their district. How hard Miller worked to keep sanity in the squad room! Just thinking of some of the plots makes me laugh. Remember the hash brownies? The wolf man? Lugar's mail-order bride?

Dietrich was my favorite. He was smart, dry, and witty. Some great lines:

Miller: You speak German?
Dietrich: Don't you?

Guest: Do you have a Ph.D in psychology?
Dietrich: Yes.
Guest: Got it on ya?

Dietrich (calmly, upon seeing what a suspect had brought to the squad): Where'd we get the atomic bomb?

I only have these because of Wikipedia. Wish I had more.

Reports had erroneously indicated that Landesberg was 65 when he died. Apparently, the man gave out various dates of birth, wanting to be younger to hide his late start as an actor.


  1. I thought you'd give me more credit... I do know who he is. Vaguely. My dad was a big Barney Miller fan. And he was in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

  2. I cannot tell you the number of people who had no idea who he was and had never seen Barney Miller. I was depressed for a whole five minutes.