Rickles, Don 1926- (Donald Jay Rickles)
Rickles, Don 1926- (Donald Jay Rickles)
Born May 8, 1926, in New York, NY; son of Max (an insurance salesman) and Etta Rickles; married Barbara Sklar (a secretary), March 14, 1965; children: Mindy Beth, Lawrence Corey. Education: Attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Office—P.O. Box 48559, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2775; Eliot Weisman, Premier Artists Services, 1401 University Dr., Ste. 305, Coral Springs, FL 33071; The Shefrin Group, 808 S. Ridgely Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Comedian and actor, 1950s—. Actor in films, including Run Silent Run Deep, 1958; The Rabbit Trap, 1959; The Rat Race, 1960; Muscle Beach Party, 1964; Bikini Beach, 1964; Pajama Party, 1964; Beach Blanket Bingo, 1965; The Money Jungle, 1968; Kelly's Heroes, 1969; Where It's At, 1969; Keaton's Cop, 1988; Innocent Blood, 1992; Casino, 1995; Dirty Work, 1998; and Mikey and Dolores, 2008. Voice for animated characters, including Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story, 1995, and Toy Story 2, 1999. Actor in television series episodes; appearances as himself in specials and on talk shows. Military service: Served in the U.S. Navy.
First star inducted into the Caesars Palace Walk of Fame, 2006; Pinnacle Award, U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, 2007.
(With David Ritz) Rickles' Book (autobiography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.
Don Rickles's long career in the entertainment industry began in the 1950s as a stand-up comic. One of his biggest boosters was singer Frank Sinatra, who first saw him in 1957. The meeting came about after Rickles's mother Etta, a friend of Sinatra's mother Dolly, suggested that Sinatra see her son's act at a club in Miami, Florida, to which Rickles had moved to be near his mother after his father died. Sinatra did, and Rickles became a fringe member of the Rat Pack that included Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop. For nearly his entire career, Rickles has been a headliner at clubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Las Vegas, Nevada. His first Las Vegas appearance was at the Sahara in 1959, and he later played all of the major spots and continued to do so into his eighties.
Rickles has appeared in films, proving himself to be a fine dramatic actor. Simi Horwitz wrote in Back Stage West: "His sleazy heavies in 1958's Run Silent Run Deep, which marked his film debut, and 1960's The Rat Race are memorable. Among his more recent flicks are Martin Scorsese's Casino in 1995, starring Robert De Niro."
Horwitz also interviewed Rickles, asking him what could be said today that could not years ago and what could be said then that cannot today. Rickles replied: "I might sound like an egotistical bum when I say this, but I never used the F-word or any of that language—not that I put it down. Today they do it and people laugh. But it was never in my vocabulary. What I've always done, even from the beginning, is exaggeration. I've appeared before four presidents and made fun of all of them, but it was never mean-spirited. Just saying, ‘That tie you're going to wear, Mr. President—it's ridiculous. Take it off.’ It's the way I say it. It's kept my longevity."
About his work in Casino, Rickles told Horwitz: "It was marvelous. To work with Marty Scorsese and Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci—I had a great time. I was the class clown as they were being serious. You know, Robert De Niro would start a scene the way he does, talking very low—he's a great actor—and I'd say, ‘I can't work with this man; he mumbles,’ and the whole crew would laugh, and so would Bob, and Marty got crazy."
As a comedian, Rickles's sarcastic brand of humor kept him off television until the first time he was a guest of Johnny Carson in 1965. Carson dubbed him "Mr. Warmth," during one of his appearances, a nickname that was later incorporated into a documentary tribute titled Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. Comedian Milton Berle called Rickles the "Sultan of Insult." Since that time Rickles has appeared in a long list of series episodes, as well as on awards shows and specials.
In his autobiography, Rickles' Book, written with David Ritz, Rickles offers his life story, which Library Journal reviewer Richard Dickey wrote "is written in the same manner of his comedic style—short, entertaining vignettes that end with a great punch line." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that "a memoir isn't the right format for this cantankerous old comic now into his ninth decade."
Rickles reaches back to his life in Queens and recalls his poor grades in school, failure as a salesman, and trouble attracting girls. He writes of his wife Barbara, to whom he has been married since 1965, his children and grandchildren, and his best friend, comedian Bob Newhart. Rickles reveals that comedy was not his first love, that he sought a career as a serious actor. He enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and studied with such future stars as Grace Kelly, Ann Bancroft, and Jason Robards, but he was unable to break in. His career as a comedian, however, has been stellar, and show business has been good to him. Liz Brown reviewed Rickles' Book in the New York Times Book Review, writing that the memoir "betrays a sense of wonder at the whole enterprise, at what happens when you stare at an audience and it stares back."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 20, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Rickles, Don, Rickles' Book, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.
Adweek, June 17, 2002, Rebecca Flass, "Vegas Calls in New Campaign: R&R's Freedom Positioning Key to Selling the Land of Liberace," p. 5.
American Banker, October 14, 1998, Cheryl Winokur, "Fidelity Ads to Feature Comedian Don Rickles," p. 10.
Amusement Business, March 19, 1990, "Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles in First Concert Tour Together," p. 7.
Back Stage West, February 22, 2007, Simi Horwitz, "Telling It Like It Is: The Fearless Don Rickles and Other Established Artists Share Their Insights in Our Special Comedy Issue," p. 1.
Buffalo News, December 9, 2007, Jeff Simon, "It Is a Tribute to One of the Greatest Nightclub Acts That Ever Was."
Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 1995, Steve Daly, "This Spud's for You: Don Rickles' Big-Screen Comeback," p. 75.
Esquire, January, 2001, Mike Sager, "What I've Learned; Don Rickles Comedian, 74, Los Angeles," interview, p. 76.
Fresno Bee, June 11, 2007, Rick Bentley, "Don Rickles? He's a Nice Guy, Really," interview.
Golf, August, 2007, Connell Barrett, "Take My Clubs … Please!," interview, p. 31.
Home Improvement Market, May, 1997, Joseph M. Kelly, "Rickel Signs Don Rickles as Spokesman," p. 22.
Houston Chronicle, July 7, 2007, Douglas J. Rowe, review of Rickles' Book, p. 3; December 1, 2007, Diane Werts, review of Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, p. 10.
Interview, September, 1986, Betsy Bornes, "Alan King and Don Rickles," p. 252.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2007, review of Rickles' Book.
Ladies Home Journal, April, 1988, Larry King and Peter Occhiogrosso, "Talking about Everyone," p. 79.
Library Journal, May 1, 2007, Richard Dickey, review of Rickles' Book, p. 82.
Memphis Business Journal, January 19, 2001, Theresa Bechard, "Rickles to Hurl Barbs at Gold Strike Casino," p. 35.
Michigan Quarterly Review, fall, 2002, John Limon, "Don Rickles and Death," pp. 549-553.
New Yorker, August 2, 2004, Zoe Heller, "Don't Call Me Sir," p. 32.
New York Times, October 7, 2004, Anthony Ramirez, "The Last Clown in His Class," interview, p. B3.
New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2007, Liz Brown, review of Rickles' Book, p. 49.
Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), May 30, 2007, "Don Rickles to Play Bloomington's Coliseum."
People, November 20, 1995, "Talking with … Don Rickles: The Duke of Dis," interview, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2007, review of Rickles' Book, p. 51.
Reader's Digest, March, 1982, Maurice Zolotow, "How to Insult People for Fun and Profit," p. 101.
Time, August 7, 1995, Belinda Luscombe, "Don Rickles, Auteur Bait," p. 77; December 13, 1999, "Don Rickles," interview, p. 113.
TV Guide, September 25, 1993, Bernard Weinraub and Frank Swertlow, "Mr. Charisma's Back!," p. 28; November 21, 2004, Tim Williams, "Q&A: Don Rickles," p. 19.
USA Today, November 15, 2006, Steve Friess, "Caesars Gives Rickles a Big Thumbs Up," interview, p. 3; November 30, 2007, Gary Strauss, "Insult Master Rickles Isn't Warm, but He's Hot," p. 8.
Vanity Fair, April, 2003, "Don Rickles: A Cornerstone of the Dean Martin Era, Don Rickles, ‘the Merchant of Venom,’ Has Raked a Parade of Celebrities over the Coals at His Shows," interview, p. 454.
Hockey Puck, (unofficial Don Rickles Web site), http://www.thehockeypuck.com (December 31, 2007).
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (documentary tribute), directed by John Landis, Home Box Office (HBO), 2007.