Shragge: Leslie Nielsen made them laugh from Regina to Hollywood and back again

Article content continuedHe had left Regina at an early age and joined the RCAF and was still in training when

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He had left Regina at an early age and joined the RCAF and was still in training when the Second World War ended. Nielsen took some stints in radio before winning  a scholarship to study theatre. That eventually brought him to Hollywood and a career in the movies. Nielsen would later have an even greater career by spoofing disaster movies in the 1980s. We were excited to meet him so when Kathy asked if she should bring him into the studio, I said, “Oh no. I’ll go out in the hall and greet him there.” Big mistake. There were dozens of people there getting his autograph and simply adoring the tall, handsome actor. The moment came, I extended my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Leslie Nielsen. You must be Sherv…uh oh…”  As everyone laughed at my faux pas, Nielsen grabbed my hand and said, “No … I’m the real Leslie Nielsen. You must be Sherv Shragge!” I felt the flush of embarrassment reach from my toes to the tips of my ears.

The interview was a gas! Nielsen was hilariously funny. It revealed the comic actor anxious to be liberated from the serious persona that encased him. He would later be known as the “Laurence Olivier of spoofs.”

File photo of actor Leslie Nielsen. Date stamped on back of print: November 7, 1989 [PNG Merlin Archive]
Leslie Nielsen rose from humble roots in Regina to Hollywood stardom. jpg

The listeners chatted with him easily and he had everyone laughing. We both had low, deep voices and I remember one caller in particular who said, “The two of you talking together on the radio sound like two bowling balls going down the alley!”

Nielsen gained enduring recognition for his deadpan comedy roles after being cast against type for the comedy film Airplane!. Nielsen specialized in portraying characters oblivious to and complicit in their absurd surroundings. Nielsen’s performance in Airplane! marked his turning point, which made him “the Olivier of spoofs” according to film critic Roger Ebert, and leading to further acclaim in the genre with The Naked Gun film series.
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