Sunday, February 05, 2006

Grandpa's Dead

Al Lewis, grandpa on TV's "The Munsters," dies

By Jeanne King Sat Feb 4, 7:33 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Al Lewis, best known for his role as Grandpa in television's "The Munsters," has died after a long illness, a local radio station said on Saturday.

A movie Web site listed his age as 95, but there have been reports that he was 83.

Lewis, who died on Friday, was born in Brooklyn and was raised by his mother, an immigrant sweatshop worker in the Brownsville district of that borough.[....]

Lewis worked as salesman and waiter and once owned a successful restaurant in Greenwich Village. He also was a poolroom owner, store detective and political candidate.

He worked as a circus clown and performed stunts on the trapeze bar, taught school, wrote two children's books and by the time he was 31, received a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University.

An avid college basketball fan, he also scouted for several basketball teams.

It wasn't until 1949 that he turned to acting and joined the Paul Mann Actor's Workshop where his classmates were Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. It was at the workshop that Lewis developed his comedic style.

His first big role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on the "Car 54, Where Are You?" series that ran from 1961 to 1963. In 1964, Lewis began playing Grandpa Munster, part of a wacky, endearing family of monsters whose fictional address was 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights.

"The Munsters" ran for two years on CBS, then continued on in syndication.
While most people remember him best for his "Grandpa", few people realize just how versatile a man this was.

But above all, he was a political activist and ran as the Green Party candidate against George Pataki (as Grandpa Al Lewis) and garnered 52,000 votes. He had a weekly radio show on the NYC Pacifica outlet, WBAI, and I remember him best, sitting outside his Village restaurant in nice weather, striking up conversations (and posing for pictures) with anyone, and I do mean anyone.

The man could bend an ear, as a number of women I've dated over the years can attest. He also had an eye out for, um, abundant talent.

But what's really surprising is his pre-acting work: he was a political activist on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti (a questionable conviction and execution for a double homicide and robbery), and did signal work in freeing the Scottsboro boys, nine black boys arrested and accused, and eight convicted (and all later cleared) of raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s.

The world is less of a place because of his death but it is a better place for him.

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