Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Remembering Severn Darden

by guest contributor, Alfred Myers:
In browsing the Bellairsia website, I noticed that The House With a Clock in Its Walls lists Severn Darden as one of the actors. Darden was a product the famous Second City Comedy Group that originated at the University of Chicago. It, and its direct predecessor, the Compass Players, generated much of the edgiest comedy of the late 1950s and early '60s and produced such stars as Mike Nichols, Elaine May, and Shelly Berman.

Darden was also a great talent, but he never made the big breakthrough that some of the others did. I consulted one of my favorite reference books, Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever of 2002, and found to my regret that he died in 1995. He did have a fair number of movies to his credit, such as Day of the Dolphin and a couple of the Planet of the Apes movies, but never as more than a featured player. Probably the only movie in which he attracted critical attention was his first, a James Coburn caper flick called Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in which he did a very amusing turn as a highly neurotic safecracker.

I am perhaps the last living Severn Darden fan outside of his immediate circle of family, friends, and professional associates. This is a result of having seen him live with the Second City Troupe in Greenwich Village in early 1965. Their specialty was comic sketches improvised on themes suggested by the audience. The night I saw them some meathead in the audience had yelled out "Egyptology," and this defeated even their best efforts to get something going. However, they did perform a brief blackout sketch which I have fondly remembered all these years and is my reason for writing this reminiscence, lest it be lost to posterity.
THE SCENE: a darkened stage, with intermittent flashes of lightning. The troupe's three-piece band (keyboard, drums, trumpet? I'm not exactly sure after all these years) is making violent thumps and storm noises. On the extreme left, stage front, is Darden and on the extreme right is another actor. Both are attempting to steer huge imaginary ship's wheels.

DARDEN:
Ahoyyyy!

OTHER ACTOR:
Ahoyyyy!

DARDEN:
Identify yourself!

OTHER ACTOR:
Captain Gardiner of the Rachel! Who are youuu???

DARDEN:
Captain Ahab of the Pequod!!! Have ye seen the White Whale? Have ye seen the White Whale????

OTHER ACTOR:
Yeesss! Three days ago! We killed him!!!!!

DARDEN:
Shit!

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