He was one of those delightfully pretentious comic actors you loved to hate, his flip manner and faux rich boy arrogance possessing his characters no matter what social stature they were. Louis Nye (first name pronounced Louie) was a master at sketch comedy, foreign accents and the quicksilver adlib. Born To Russian-Jewish émigrés in Hartford, Connecticut, he initially joined a troupe called the Hartford Players. Eventually he moved to New York and found work on radio and in musical revues. At his peak, he divided himself equally on stage, clubs, radio, films, comedy albums and TV, but it was the last medium that tapped into his talents best during the “Golden Age.”
He broke into the big time when he earned a regular gig on Steve Allen’s comedy show during the mid-50’s “Golden Age”. His best known character, hands down, was the droll, effete country-club braggart Gordon Hathaway with the forlorn-looking eyebrows whose off-the-cuff catchphrase salutation to Allen, “Hi, ho, Steverino!” continues to have life in various shapes and forms even today; most notoriously Rob Schneider’s Richard, the “makin’ copies” character from SNL. On occasion Louis was allowed some stretch in the acting department, playing it rougher and tougher, but, for the most part, his gents were more mincing than menacing.
The movies never made full use of his comic potential. Most of his parts were little more than flashy, extended cameos, some better than others. Often the unctuous con man, leering neighbor or opportunistic Madison Avenue executive, his movie credits include The Facts of Life (1960), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), Good Neighbor Sam (1964), A Guide for the Married Man (1967), Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978) and Cannonball Run II (1984).
As for TV sitcoms, he was always the second-banana, never the head cheese. Over the years Louis bolstered most of Hollywood’s star comedians including Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Bill Cosby, and Jonathan Winters. He played the spoiled rich boy Sonny Drysdale, an extension of his Hathaway character, on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962), and, most recently, Jeff Garlin’s dad on Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000), both characters pure Nye. Working in night clubs and TV until just a few years ago, he died at age 92 on October 9, 2005, of lung cancer. He was survived by his wife, Anita Leonard, a pianist and songwriter who penned the standard “A Sunday Kind of Love,” and son Peter, an artist.