Rickles Recollects | Recollections of Rickles

When I heard the news that Don Rickles had died, the first thought that entered my mind was this: “Well, I guess I can finally post my interview.”


If you follow me on social media, then it probably won’t be a surprise to you that I interviewed Rickles, but you might reasonably raise an eyebrow upon learning that it never made it online. There were a few reasons for that, but the two most prominent were as follows:

  • An editor wanted to do the job that editors are supposed to do and – gasp! – edit the piece.
  • A writer – one who suspiciously resembled yours truly – didn’t want to dramatically change the piece he’d written.

Having read these two reasons, you have undoubtedly realized that there’s really only one reason that the piece didn’t run, and that’s because I had a rare burst of…ego? You can call it that, I guess, since it really came down to my belief that I thought the piece that I’d put together was better in its existing form than it would have been if I’d gone with the editor’s request, which was to basically cut the word count in half, at which point she’d make any additional trims that she might feel to be necessary. But I don’t see that as ego. Even now, I cannot conceive of how I could’ve cut that much out of the piece that awaits you and still tell the story that I wanted to tell. So I walked away from the outlet, even leaving behind the kill fee that was offered, because…I’m an idiot? Maybe. But I just wanted the piece to remain more or less intact.

At this point, I’m 41EE0evtz0L._SS500sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just take the piece to another outlet, one which would have been more agreeable to a longer piece, and that’s a fair question. Unfortunately, it’s one that I don’t really want to get into, as the answer would likely detract from the entire point of posting the piece, which is to pay tribute to the man who – among his many other accomplishments – turned the words “hockey puck” into an insult that millions dreamed of having him hurl at them.

Naturally, I asked Rickles to hurl it at me when I talked to him in June 2015, politely waiting until the very end of our conversation to do so, and even though he’d almost certainly been asked it thousands of times by that point in his career, he was still kind enough to grant my request.

Yes, that’s right: Don Rickles was kind. But don’t spread it around. Even in death, I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to ruin his rep.

So here’s the piece, just as I put it together for the original outlet, right down to the original intro that references Rickles’ age as 89 years old. (He was 90 when he died.) I’d like to offer my thanks to the other actors who spoke to me for the piece back in 2015 as well as my apologies that it didn’t run where I’d intended for it to run, but given that everyone who loved, respected, and appreciated Don Rickles is thinking about what he meant to them right about now, I just thought it would be better to let it be seen here than not to let it be seen at all.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rickles. And thanks for calling me a hockey puck. I’ll never forget it.


Whether or not Don Rickles’ stand-up makes you laugh, few would argue that the 89-year-old comedian is anything less than a legend. But even with as much mileage as Rickles has gotten from talk shows and celebrity roasts, he never managed to find full-fledged success on his own as a TV star.

Four times Rickles took a shot at headlining his own series, and three of those series1968’s The Don Rickles Show (a variety show), 1972’s The Don Rickles Show (a sitcom), and the FOX comedy Daddy Dearestlasted for a year or less. As Rickles said during a 2005 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, “I had shows that would go, ‘Fail! BOOM! Forget about it! Fail! BOOM! Forget about it!’ That was my name: Fuggedaboudit.”

As a result, the two-season, 37-episode run of CPO Sharkey, which was part of NBC’s primetime line-up from 1976 to 1978, seems like a rousing success by comparison. While it doesn’t come close to hitting the comedic heights Rickles regularly achieved while stalking any given stage, ripping audiences to shreds and having them beg for more, Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey was still the closest prime-time television ever came to capturing the essence of Don Rickles.

Not that he didn’t consistently deliver memorable moments while guest-starring on other people’s shows, mind you. If ever a comedian was gifted with the ability to make a big impression with a small role, it’s Don Rickles.

During the ‘60s alone, Rickles’ list of TV credits reads like TV Land’s greatest hits: The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The Addams Family, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle, USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, F Troop, The Wild Wild West, Gilligan’s Island, The Lucy Show, I Spy, I Dream of Jeannie, and Get Smart. Not that he stopped there: he kept up the guesting through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ’90, and ‘00s, and even as recently as September 2015, he popped up on the pilot episode of FOX’s Grandfathered.


After many years and many complaints from outraged Rickles fans demanding its release on home video, CPO Sharkey is now available on DVD through Time-Life. Both seasons are available individually, but they’re also both included within a larger set entitled Mr. Warmth! Don Rickles: The Ultimate TV Collection, which additionally offers four Rickles comedy specials from the ‘70s: The Many Sides of Don Rickles, Don Rickles: Alive and Kicking, Mr. Warmth, and Rickles.

Rickles spoke with us about his life and career in conjunction with the release of the Mr. Warmth! set, but to get a bit more insight into the mind of the legendary comic, we reached out to a few folks he’s worked with over the decades for their recollections of Rickles.

“Oh, this is about Don’s TV career? Well, that shouldn’t take long at all, then.”Bob Newhart 


So how happy are you that CPO Sharkey has finally hit DVD?

Don Rickles: Well, you know, it’s something we did years ago, and Time-Life and a few other people said, “Gee, this is good stuff.” And I remembered it from way back and liked it, so when they decided to make it a box set, I was very happy about it.

Have you had a chance to go back and revisit any of the episodes?

Oh, no. Geez, it’s so long ago. In the process of making it, they asked me questions about it, but I didn’t really need to relive any of that stuff. [Laughs.]

Do you remember how the series originally came about? I know it was created by Aaron Ruben, who’d worked on The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

Well, that’s how it happened: Aaron Ruben. In those days, I was doing a lot of TV, and he said, “Rickles, you’re a Navy man. Let’s give it a try.” And he wrote this stuff, and it had a nice little run.

It seemed like CPO Sharkey was a rare occasion where TV finally worked out how to best utilize you.

Well, Aaron wrote sort of a wisecracking guy, the chief that I played, and it fit into my kind of character. They’ve always had trouble with television writing for Don Rickles, because I am one of a kind. I know that. Nobody does what I do…and lives to do it again. But it was the style that I created, and most of the world found it funny.



“I’m sure I know why Don did CPO Sharkey: he was just tired of being on the road. We all were at that time. Being a stand-up comic, you’re traveling around and you don’t get home that often, and by that time we had wives, and we had kids, and they had to go to school. So I’m sure that had an awful lot to do with Don deciding to do a situation comedy. That, and the fact that it was one that had been created by Aaron Ruben.

“You know, I have a place in history as far as Don and CPO Sharkey are concerned. I was filling in for Johnny Carson, it was a Friday night, and Don was on. I remember he was doing some bit on immigration, and he was stamping his feet on the floor and pounding his fist on the desk…and he pounds Johnny’s cigarette box, his wooden cigarette box, and he breaks it. And Doc (Severinsen) and Ed (McMahon) and everybody went, ‘Ohhhhhhh…that’s Johnny’s favorite! Oh, you broke Johnny’s favorite!’ So Johnny comes in Monday, and he looks down and he sees his broken cigarette box. And that’s when he took the cameras next door.”


The clip of Johnny Carson storming the CPO Sharkey set after you broke his cigarette box on The Tonight Show has become the stuff of TV legend.

Rickles: They still talk about the cigarette box like crazy. [Laughs.] It really happened like that: I had no idea he was coming in until he was there. But what I really loved was when I said, “Johnny Carson, ladies and gentlemen,” and he said, “They know who I am! You don’t have to keep telling them who I am!”

We had a great chemistry together whenever we worked. He was really marvelous. David Letterman was great and was very good to me, and Jimmy Kimmel, he’s kind and adorable and sweet, and I have a great deal of fun with him, too, but no one compares to Johnny Carson.

Johnny Carson was my hero, rest his soul. When I was on with Johnny, the notes would say, “Don’s gonna talk about automobiles.” And we’d get on the show, and instead he’d say, “How’s your mother?” And I’d say, “You never liked my mother. Why’d you bring that up?” And we’d do, like, 20 minutes kidding about our mothers. His expressions were unbelievable. He was a master, he really was.

People tend to think of you almost exclusively in terms of comedy, but you actually attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Yeah, I did, and a lot of people don’t realize that. Yeah, I’m kind of proud of that. I graduated there. After the war, I came out of the Navy and auditioned there, and I was accepted. I was delighted. With my kind of humor, I thought I’d never make it there, but it happened. I was there with people like Grace Kelly, and Jason Robards was a good buddy of mine. People of that caliber were in my class. We had good times there.

When you first started doing TV, you did a number of one-off appearances. Was it a case of people who had come looking for you, or were you just actively seeking out work?

Well, I was an unusual guy. I started out in California at a place called Slate Brothers, and a lot of actors and directors came to see me. But, you know, even to this day, everything I’ve done, I’ve done myself. I’ve never had a writer, except for when I was doing television. And even then I was always being… Well, I wouldn’t say I was being a wise guy, but I was being a guy who was all attitude. I could talk about a million different things, but it was the attitude that made it funny.

The Addams Family


“Don played a bad guy on The Addams Family, and he was very good. He was playing a role that was comedic, but he wasn’t being a comic. He was being a comic off-camera…and I think everyone on the set was hoping that they weren’t going to be chosen as the object of his comedy! [Laughs.] But Don was—and still is, I suppose—a very talented straight actor.

I remember seeing him in a movie called The Rat Race, and I still remember how impressed I was with the character he played. I had never heard of him before that, but he had a substantial role, and he was very dynamic. His power was what caught my fancy. He made it interesting enough that I went, “Who is that guy? He’s good!” And he wasn’t mumbling the part or playing everything down in an attempt to be truthful or realistic: he really made a statement with the character. It was only later that I learned that he was doing stand-up, so I think if he had continued, he would’ve had a decent career as a straight actor. He certainly made an impression on me.”

Some of those early TV appearancesnot to mention your early film workwere in dramas. Was that a conscious effort to do something different on camera than what you were doing on stage?

Rickles: Well, it was tough trying to do the dramatic stuff, because there wasn’t that much for me. Because of my reputation on stage for being the guy who made fun of people in a funny way, not many people thought of me for the acting parts. But I loved it. Run Silent, Run Deep was my first picture. Can you imagine? With Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. That was some beginning. And then I did The Rat Race, with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds. I was supposedly the first guy ever to slap her onscreen. It worked pretty well. [Laughs.] But I was the heavy in that, and I got a lot of recognition about it. The most recent one was probably Casino, with Robert De Niro, and I had a good time doing that.

When you were doing the one-off appearances on sitcoms in the ‘60s, did you have any particular favorites?

Oh, geez, there were so many. I thought Gomer Pyle was a whole lot of fun, with Jim Nabors, and working with Don Knotts and Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show. And I worked with Don Adams on Get Smart. I did the cycle, I really did. And then more recently I did Hot in Cleveland with Betty White. But, you know, when I look back on it, I did a lot. [Laughs.] I mean it! You know, people still call me and say, “I just saw you on television,” because they repeat that stuff.

Gilligan’s Island

“I grew up in Nevada, and my parents divorced when I was four. My father (Joe Wells) had a trucking company in Reno and moved to Las Vegas and continued the company, and while he was in Las Vegas, that was the height of the Strip and all of that, and he was one of the shareholders in the Thunderbird Hotel. Not the gaming part of it, but the hotel. Don always laughed and said, ‘Your father gave me the first job in the lounge.’ He was one of the comics in the lounge, and every time I’d see him, he’d say, ‘I loved your dad! Your dad is the reason I’m here, you know. Your dad is the reason I got started.’ I don’t know if that’s really true, but he did work the Strip at the Thunderbird, and he remembers it every time he sees me and he talks about it, so whatever it was that my father did for him, it stuck with him.

“When he came to do Gilligan’s Island, it was wonderful, because Sherwood (Schwartz, the series’ executive producer) had said to us, ‘If it had been a five day shoot instead of a four day shoot, I wouldn’t have hired Don, because you can’t laugh that many days in a row!’ Because in between every take, we would just be on the floor, laughing. He never stopped! Sherwood said, ‘You’d’ve been worn out by day five!’ In between takes he kept us laughing, but I think he enjoyed doing the show, because I don’t think he really got all that many opportunities to do that. Or maybe he just didn’t get as many as he wanted. Acting was just natural to him. It really was.”


Before CPO Sharkey, you had a variety show called The Don Rickles Show, but then you also had a sitcom called The Don Rickles Show, which was by Sheldon Leonard and Hy Averback.

Rickles: Yeah, right! Hy, rest his soul, and Sheldon, too. They were great. We did The Don Rickles Show, and…well, again, that was a fun thing to do. But the competition in those days was real strong, and so I had a run at it, but I never had something that lasted until CPO Sharkey. That’s why I’m so excited about this box set. But, you know, there’s also going to be a Don Rickles Show box set coming out in the fall, and I’m delighted about that, too.

It always seemed like TV had trouble trying to bring the essence of Don Rickles to prime time.

They always did. Because they tried to write what I do, and you can’t. It’s an attitude that’s very difficult to put in print, if you know what I’m saying. It comes with my personality. Did you see the inaugural with Ronald Reagan?

I did. It’s hysterical.

Oh, thank you! I mean, how many people have done that? And I’ll never forget: Frank Sinatra, rest his soul, he said, “We’re gonna have Rickles at the Reagan inauguration.” And they said, “Oh, no, no, no.” And Frank said, “If you don’t have Rickles, you don’t have me.” That’s what he said! I was thrilled. And they never censored me. They never said, “You can’t say this, you can’t say that.” Frank said, “Don, you just do what you do.” And I did. And I thought it was very funny! In fact, it’s one of the highlights of my life.

I also got to know George Bush and Barbara Bush during the inaugural. She was great, and she still is, but she wrote me a letter about a year ago which I thought was very funny. She said this and that, but then at the end, she added, “And I must say, you were so good in Beach Blanket Bingo.” [Laughs.] I just thought that was great.

When it came to your own prime-time series, did you try to find some sort of happy medium where it would work for you, or did you just say, “Give me what you want, and I’ll see what I can do”?

No, pretty much they would write stuff and I would embellish on it, or not use it at all and just use the idea, just to make it as funny as possible.

Were you disappointed when The Don Rickles Show didn’t take off?

Well, sure, you’re disappointed. You’d like it to go longer. But in those days, I was doing something that nobody else did, so I was grateful that they let me get that far, let’s put it that way.

The Don Rickles Show


“I don’t think the concept of our show was appropriate for him, trying to make him into a middle-class ad man on Madison Avenue. With his personality and his largesse, it really didn’t fit. Don’s persona was what made all the rules, and they were trying to put him in a suit of clothes that wasn’t really his.”


How do you look back on your episode of The Twilight Zone?

Rickles: Ah, yeah, [with] Burgess Meredith. It was great. I thought it was damned good. I had a lot of fun doing that, too. It was good fun.

You also did an episode of Run for Your Life.

With Ben Gazzara! Yeah, that was a very dramatic part. Working with Ben was great, and I was playing the heavy then. It was great that they could see me in that kind of a role. You know, another one that I did where I was the heavy was with Ray Milland: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. [Laughs.] So when I think about it, I had a pretty good circle of shows and films to do. I did Wagon Train, and I did F Troop, with Forrest Tucker. That was the first time I’d ever gotten on a horse! I played a chief in that. As I’m talking to you, I’m going, “Man, I did a lot of stuff!”

Including The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Where I held them up in an elevator. [Laughs.] Lyle Delp, that was my name in that, and I held Mary and Dick up in an elevator. Dick still talks about that. You know, when they talk about shows like that, it’s kind of nice, because it brings memories of fun.

I Dream of Jeannie


I knew Don before he appeared on I Dream of Jeannie, and I found him to be a very warm and loving man. But he could be brutal onstage. Just brutal! When I was married to Michael Ansara, we were good friends with Charlie Bronson and his first wife, Harriett. Charlie loved Las Vegas, and we would go with him, and this time he said, “We have to see Don Rickles!” But he said, “You’re gonna be embarrassed.” Now, of course, Charlie and Mike, both of them were very… How can I say it? They weren’t outgoing guys. They were a lot like the characters they played. So I said, “Are you sure you want to do this, Charlie?” But he did, so we went up there.

As it happened, there were many, many celebrities in the audience. I was dressed in a very short cocktail dress and high heels, but my hair was in, like, little sausage curls all over my head, which was the style at the time. So we sat there, and Don… Boy, he went through that audience. I don’t know how they took it. But he never, ever came near me. He never said a word about me. And I thought, “Gee, he could at least say I’m here!”  But then he started in on Mike. And the first thing he said to Mike was, “Oh, I see you brought your daughter with you!” But that was it! Then he went on to whatever he did next.

After the show, he ame over to me, and he said, “You know, I’m so sorry, Barbara. I’m so sorry, but…I just can’t insult you. I can’t insult you! You’re so cute, you’re so little, and then the blonde curls… And your name is Barbara! That’s my wife’s name, and I love her so much!” So I said, “Okay.” He was darling. He almost cried! So that was my first encounter with Don. It was nice. It was a fun evening, actually, because he’s so funny. We laughed ‘til we cried. And, of course, I saw him many times after that, both performing and social occasions. But he never insulted me. Never!

When he finally did come on the show, we talked a lot, but I remember one time in particular. I was in full genie garb at that moment, of course, but he was watching Bill Daily and Larry (Hagman), who were working out what they were going to do in their scene to make it funny. So they decided they were going to tumble down this dirt hill, and it was funny, but it was kind of dirty, and they were obviously going to be sore afterwards. Don was playing the sergeant who was telling them what to do, so he stood at the top of the hill, and he was yelling at them to get down the hill…and then all of a sudden he says, “Ah, you guys, you’re gonna go down and break your necks for this? You know, the genie’s got the show!” Actually, those weren’t his exact words: he, uh, didn’t say “break your necks”!”


I’m talking to your buddy Bob Newhart for this piece.

Rickles: I never liked him.

That’s what I hear.

[Laughs.] God bless him. We’ve traveled the world together. Here we are, two American kids from two different worlds, and we became great friends. A lot of it had to do with the wives, as I say in my shows. His wife and my wife are almost like sisters. But Bob and I have had some great times together. We first crossed paths when I was working in Vegas, and Ginnie, his wife, was there with Bob, visiting. Ginnie said to Bob, “Why don’t we go and see Don? He’s working here at the Sahara Hotel.” He says, “Oh, okay.” And she said, “He’s very nice. He’s wonderful. You’re going to enjoy him.” And the joke was, he came in and sat in the front, and I said, “Here’s Bob Newhart and his wife, Ginnie, a hooker from Detroit.” And he said, “Jesus Christ, you told me he was going to be nice!” [Laughs.] But Bob got a kick out of it.


“The problem is, I never know what version of the story of how we met he’s told! What did he say, that we met when my wife and I were on vacation? It was at one of his shows in Vegas, at the Sahara. What we had in common was that Ginnie knew Barbara, and when we were in Vegas, she saw that Don was in town.

“I hadn’t met Don, so we got together with him before his 4 A.M. show, and we sat and talked, and as we’re going to go in for Don’s show, Ginnie said, ‘Oh, he’s just the nicest man! And he’s very much a family man: his daughter Mindy was just born, and he was saying, ‘Oh, I’d love to be home with her!’

“I said, ‘Uh, honey, the man you’re going to see is a little different than that…’ I’m trying to prepare her. Well, Don comes out, and the first thing he says is, ‘Well, I see that the stammering idiot from Chicago is in the audience tonight, along with his hooker wife from Bayonne, New Jersey!’ And I look over at Ginnie, and her jaw is wide open. And I said, ‘Honey, I tried to tell you: that’s what the man does!’”


I also talked to Fred Dryer, from Hunter.

Rickles: Oh, yeah, the football player.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that he had nothing but fond memories of working with you.

Oh, he remembers me? Well, how do you like that? Isn’t that funny? I haven’t seen that man in, God, I can’t even remember when. Isn’t that nice, that he’d still talk so well about me.



“Don was cast on Hunter because the character was off-center. We didn’t ask him to come in and play a bad guy, per se. It wasn’t a serious role. It was something where he was a victim of a double cross: he got caught in the middle of a mob deal, so the cops were after him, but at the same time so was the mob. So he was on the lam, and…well, you know how that goes! But it was perfect for him, and he was great in it. The great thing about stunt casting, as it were, is that when those people come in, you just kind of say, ‘Here’s the dialogue that you have to say, but you can put it in your own words and make it fit however you feel is the best way for you to do it,’ and they’re more comfortable that way. That’s what I think, anyway. Not that I’m a big adjudicator of what’s creative or not, but with Don, it seems like he’s best when he gets the idea of what it is and you just kind of let him go. So under those circumstances, he came in and was really just a lot of fun.

“I had known Don before Hunter, and when he came on the show, we kind of caught up a little bit, but we would all do things to take a shot at him every day. He was an open target for us, just like we were for him. But I’d knock on his trailer door and say, ‘Don, you know, I’ve just been told by the guys in the office that you were terrible in dailies, and…you’re fired.’ And, of course, he’d get a big kick out of that, and then he’d proceed to wear me and everyone else out. Then we’d get a bullhorn and announce things like, ‘Attention, Don Rickles: the office has called, and Caesar’s Palace wants their ashtrays back.’ Just stupid, sophomoric stuff. But we had a lot of fun, and he was great. He kept everybody loose, and…it was just a pleasurable show, to get up and drive across town and be with Don. When you saw his name on the call sheet, it was exciting, because you knew he was going to entertain everybody – which he did – but at the same time he did a great job with his role.

“The crew got together on the last day, when we were shooting a big shootout in a warehouse in east L.A., where everybody gets shot, so they had the squib guy there, and…the whole fucking day was hilarious. And it had a lot of energy to it, because it was Don’s last day. He’d been really good in the show, and we were going to say goodbye to him, so I had some of the guys put together a little gift basket of stuff, and we brought a cake out before his last scene. He said, ‘Oh, geez, this is really kind of you,’ but he knew something was up. So we said, “Don, this is just a little parting gift from the cast and crew and everybody. Thanks for being on the show. You’re a great guy and a true champion. We’ve got one candle on there to celebrate that you’ve been on the show for the first time, and, well, we just want to fill this whole cake up, so you can come back as many times as you want.” All this bullshit. And then we said, ‘Here’s your gift.’ And he says, ‘Ah, gee, thank you guys so much for all this,’ and then he made a bunch of really fucking funny jokes, singling some people out, and it was just really hilarious. And as he’s talking, he’s kind of slowly opening up the gift…and when he opens it up, it’s a Fleet Enema.  And we said, ‘You know, Don, we thought that, before your last scene, you could go to your trailer and take it.’ We actually left Don Rickles speechless.”


The last time you had a TV series of you own was when you did Daddy Dearest for FOX.

Rickles: Boy, you really checked me out, didn’t you? [Laughs.] God love you.

Richard Lewis said that the show would’ve been huge if it had been as funny as its outtakes.

That’s what a lot of people involved in the show have said. But Richard was fun to work with. When they said, “Cut,” I always kidded around, and some of the stuff came out really funny. I got a big kick out of that.

Daddy Dearest

“It was a tough time. The show went through so many changes. That it failed is a sad blur to me. The experience was both hilarious, mostly off-camera, and frustrating on. It just didn’t work. Had the show just been the outtakes, which are on YouTube, it would have been a mega hit.”


Outside of sitcoms, you made a big name for yourself on the celebrity roast circuit.

Rickles: Oh, yeah, with Dean, Frank, Sammy, and so forth. They were always so fun for me. There’s one in particular, the Jerry Lewis one. It wasn’t so much about Jerry as it was the people who were there. Not to be too egotistical, but I thought I was very funny on that. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll have to look at it. I mean, if I start laughing, then you know it’s pretty good! [Laughs.]

Sinatra was another hero to me. Frank was great to me. I went out with him for the last two years of his life, and we had great fun. He treated me like a kid brother. He was terrific.

Are you ever surprised when someone is shocked by something you’ve said?

Well, unless they live under a rock, you’d think they’d get the idea by now. [Laughs.] My father, rest his soul, was a salesman, and he taught me something which, as a writer, I’m sure you already know: when you’re selling yourself, you can’t please everybody. When I started out, they used to stare at me in the tough joints that I worked, and eventually, little by little, they started to say, “That’s funny!” And now today, young people are coming to see me, which I’m thrilled about. Now, when I say “young,” I mean 22, 23, 24, 25. But they’re big supporters of mine, and that makes me feel real good at my age.

You’re truly multigenerational: I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter, and I was able to use the frame of reference that “Daddy’s talking to Mr. Potato Head today.”

Hey, my grandchildren get a kick out of that, too! [Laughs.]

(The Unit)


“The writers wrote a dream sequence for my character, Kim Brown, and in the dream, Don Rickles made a random appearance. I remember thinking when I read the script, ‘Okay, that’s weird and funny, but they’ll never get Don Rickles.’ I don’t know if he was doing someone a favor or if he was just inspired to show up and play himself, but I was so impressed that they actually got Don Rickles. It was so surreal that it truly did feel like a dream.”


I mentioned that Daddy Dearest was your last series, but it almost wasn’t: you did a pilot in 2005 called The Catch that was created by J.J. Abrams but ultimately wasn’t picked up.

That’s funny you say that, because I still keep in touch with J.J., and I just got a note from him. He said, “This is a can’t-miss, Don. We’re gonna roll with this! This is definitely a hit!” [Laughs.] They didn’t pick it up, but it was an hour show, and I was a bounty hunter or something. J.J.’s a great creator and a damned good director, but because it didn’t make it, I always rib him about it.

Do you ever look back with regret at your series that only lasted for a single season or find yourself wishing that CPO Sharkey had gone longer?

You know, it’s the old story: it wasn’t to be. But I can’t complain. At all. I’ve got a wonderful wife of 50 years, that’s pretty good. I’ve got wonderful grandchildren and a wonderful daughter. Unfortunately, I lost my son, rest his soul, but otherwise God’s been good to me. I’ve never been in trouble. I’ve never been into dope or anything like that. And I’m really proud of the fact that… Not that the other guys don’t deserve applause, because people laugh at it, but I’ve never done anything off-color. Never. If you’ve ever seen my act, I’ve never said anything that’s off-color. I’m actually kind of proud of that. Today there’s lot that “Up Your Kazoo” stuff.

Was it frustrating that TV writers so rarely managed to find your voice?

Well, yeah, that was always the problem. I said, “No, no, no, if a guy comes and submits something to me, they’ve got to try to say things that I would say.” But then it’d end up being, “No, no, I don’t say it like that.” It has to be me saying it.  That’s why writers and I have never been able to make it run smoothly: I always had to inject myself into it. Not because I was egotistical, but…it’s all about your attitude. If I’m talking to you and I say, “I’ve got to be very honest: this is annoying doing your show,” well, we’re on the phone, so you haven’t seen my expression when I’m saying that. But if you were sitting next to me, you’d laugh, because it’s the way I say things and how I say them. That’s been a good gift for me.

Nowadays people might call some of your material politically incorrect? Does that bother you?

Not anymore. Not today. When I first started, I had cancel-itis. My mother, rest her soul, used to sit outside of the club in the car, waiting to take me home. She used to sit in the kitchen at these joints and tell the owner how great I was, and they were staring at me. But I worked a lot of tough places in those days, doing what I do. It was dangerous. But that’s what got me there, you know? I believed in it. And I just kept on going.

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One Response to Rickles Recollects | Recollections of Rickles

  1. Patricia Reinsfelder says:

    You were right not to cut it down and edit it. It was GREAT! A true joy to read.

    BTW – really bummed that they stopped The Middle reviews. I’ve enjoyed reading seasons 1-4, and will be sad when I’ve finished seasons 5 & 6.

    Keep up the good work, Will…wherever that is.

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