Splat Fact: Jack Riley was very funny and a very nice guy.
Aug 25 2016
You may know Jack Riley’s voice as the father Stu Pickles on Rugrats and All Grown Up! Or his face as the sour patient Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show (the 70s one, although Riley also appeared on the later one), or from countless other TV shows, films and commercials. Jack passed away last week, of pneumonia at the age of 80. For decades, his voice was so much a part of the entertainment world; the air will sound a little different without him.
Riley’s career started in Cleveland radio. Well, no, really he started by being drafted into the army, where he toured military bases in comedy shows worldwide. It was after getting out of the army that he became one of the many popular air personalities and funny people that Cleveland radio turned out in those days. (Among them: Alan Freed, Tim Conway, D**k Orkin, and Jim Runyon. Don Imus also passed through.) He and his comedy partner Jeff Baxter peppered their show with sketches and voiced a variety of unusual characters.
When Tim Conway moved to Hollywood, Riley followed in 1965, on the promise that Conway would find him work writing comedy sketches. Soon Riley was finding his own work as an actor, plenty of it, including a semi-regular role on the short-lived sitcom Occasional Wife, and he often appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, sometimes as Lyndon Johnson.
He appeared in 49 episodes of The Bob Newhart Show. Making psychology patients the subject of humor could have been awkward or offensive. But thanks to the direction and the actors’ skill, quirks, and (in the Carlin character’s case), dry, disarming manner, we could laugh without guilt. (Nevertheless, real psychologists of the day noted something wrong with that show: Nobody ever got cured.)
Indeed, Carlin went on to reprise the Carlin character, or someone like him, in the later Newhart show, on St. Elsewhere, and other programs.
But by then, you couldn’t not hear Riley in commercials. He was the voice of Country Crock Margarine, and in the 1990’s voiced the character “P.C. Modem,” for CompUSA. His film appearances included the Mel Brooks movies History of the World: Part I, To Be or Not to Be, and High Anxiety. And did you recognize him in Spaceballs?
You can hear Jack Riley still, on YouTube, TheSplat.com online, and Rugrats reruns on Teen Nick (with added Splat Facts and more).
And if we pause a bit, there is still something of his voice wafting in the air.