Second Banana: Tim Conway

 

Over the last couple of years, comedic actor Tim Conway has been in the news quite a lot and not in a good way. As Alzheimer’s ravaged one of television’s funniest minds his wife and daughter were in a court battle over his care. That battle is done as of this morning as Conway has passed away aged 85.

Born Tom Conway, he started his career in local television in the late 50s and early 60s in his hometown of Cleveland. He was writing and co-starring in comic skits that aired as filler for B-movies shown on the CBS affiliate WJW. His partner in crime was Ernie Anderson, whose greatest claim to fame was as the primetime announcer for ABC in the 1970s and 80s (“Next week on The Loooooooooove Boat!”) and the father of movie director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights). It was in these sketches that he was discovered by actress Rose Marie who was visiting the station during a promotional tour for The Dick Van Dyke Show. She secured him an audition on The Steve Allen Show and his national career took off from there. Tom became Tim in order to avoid conflicts with another, already established performer.

Despite his obvious talents he was forever the second banana. All attempts at being the lead in a series was met with prompt cancellation. His car was easily recognizable around Southern California for its “13 WKS” license plates, noting his string of mid-season cancellations. He was also the guest host on a show that was so bad ABC canceled it after one showing. Turn On (1969) was a sex-centered show by Laugh-In creator George Schlatter. Too risque for its time, some affiliates bailed during the first commercial break while many West Coast affiliates watching the East Coast feed simply refused to air it.

His greatest legacy was his years on the Carol Burnett Show and his ability to send co-star Harvey Korman into uncontrollable fits of laughter with his improvisations, especially in the “Dentist Sketch.” In 2013, Conway reminisced about it with Conan O’Brien;

Conway leaves behind his wife, seven children and, thanks to the internet, millions of fans who will revel in his absurdity for generations to come.

Published in Humor
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There are 15 comments.

  1. Moderator

    Harvey was a master of deadpan improv. He will be missed.

    • #1
    • May 14, 2019, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Member

    EJHill: That battle is done as of this morning as Conway has passed away aged 85.

    That is wishful thinking. My experience in this area (and I have a lot as I deal with families going through Parkinson’s/Alzheimer’s etc) is that, now with no posturing as a doting caregiver needed since the loved one is dead, the gloves really come off in the estate battle. Money will not insulate you from the ravages and battles of old age… see Casey Kasem, Stan Lee, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on Star Trek), Mickey Rooney, Buzz Aldrin, etc. These people have money, fame, access to lawyers and advisors and their situations are still train wrecks. As you get older, surround yourself with those who REALLY care about you and make it so you can’t screw it up for yourself. (Such as deciding your patient, care-giving daughter is now out to get you and choosing your cleaning lady to help you care for yourself and manage your money.)

    • #2
    • May 14, 2019, at 12:26 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  3. Thatcher

    The only way you couldn’t laugh at the stuff Conway did was if you were dead. He had it all: pratfall ability, funny facial expressions, and most important – timing.

    RIP, Ensign Parker . . .

    • #3
    • May 14, 2019, at 12:49 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  4. Member

    Not to mention his second banana role in McCale’s Navy:

    And the modern remake, retired superheroes Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants:

     

    • #4
    • May 14, 2019, at 12:50 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  5. Member

    EJHill: Despite his obvious talents he was forever the second banana.

    As I mentioned in the other Tim Conway tribute thread, I learned from Tim Conway’s difficulties accepting that he was best at being “second banana” to be more accepting of my abilities that would throughout my career make me a pretty good second banana, but mean that I was never going to be top banana. By accepting what Tim Conway apparently wouldn’t, I was able to excel at being second banana, and avoided getting frustrated that I was never promoted to top position. So besides a whole bunch of fun, Tim Conway taught me a valuable life lesson. 

    • #5
    • May 14, 2019, at 1:16 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  6. Member

    His son Tim Jr has a radio show in LA and I always enjoyed the times that Tim Sr would come on the show. A number of years back he and Harvey Korman did a two man show that my FIL and MIL caught in Phoenix and they talked about how funny it was for a long time. He seemed to be a genuine and humble man.

    • #6
    • May 14, 2019, at 1:45 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  7. Thatcher

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    By accepting what Tim Conway apparently wouldn’t, I was able to excel at being second banana, and avoided getting frustrated that I was never promoted to top position.

    I realized the same thing. In the Navy, I was the fifth most senior officer on my submarine. That meant at age 28, I was behind the CO, XO, Navigator, and Engineer in the line of command (I was the Weapons Officer, a Department Head position).

    When I got to the Department of Energy, I realized my Navy experience didn’t mean squat when it came to how promotions were handled in the civilian government world. Once I accepted the fact I was not going to be promoted to management, I embraced it and became very successful. Double happy when my wife and I adopted our three daughters.

    The point with Tim Conway (and many other comedians and actors) is not everyone is cut out to be the lead in a movie, or the headliner in Vegas. But when you do find where you belong, you can become memorable, and that is what Tim Conway is to me. Not a front line star, but someone who never failed to make me laugh . . .

    • #7
    • May 14, 2019, at 1:47 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  8. Member

    RIP. I always enjoyed his Dorf on Golf routine.

     

    • #8
    • May 14, 2019, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Member

    EJHill:

    Born Tom Conway, he started his career in local television in the late 50s and early 60s in his hometown of Cleveland. He was writing and co-starring in comic skits that aired as filler for B-movies shown on the CBS affiliate WJW. His partner in crime was Ernie Anderson, whose greatest claim to fame was as the primetime announcer for ABC in the 1970s and 80s (“Next week on The Loooooooooove Boat!”) and the father of movie director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights). It was in these sketches that he was discovered by actress Rose Marie who was visiting the station during a promotional tour for The Dick Van Dyke Show. She secured him an audition on The Steve Allen Show and his national career took off from there. Tom became Tim in order to avoid conflicts with another, already established performer.

    Thanks for the bio information, Mr. Hill! As a Clevelander I’ve always known that Tim was from Chagrin Falls, but I never knew the story of how he got started. I think Rose Marie is still alive and over 100 years old? Any body know?

     

    • #9
    • May 14, 2019, at 4:10 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Steven Seward:I think Rose Marie is still alive and over 100 years old? Any body know?

    Rose Marie passed last year between Christmas and New Year’s.

    • #10
    • May 14, 2019, at 4:27 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Member

    Thank you for this post, @ejhill. I am oddly saddened by his passing – as if another bit of my childhood disappeared today. One of my favorite movies as a kid was “Private Eyes” with Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Completely ridiculous, but I still remember it fondly. The Conan appearance was great!

     

    • #11
    • May 14, 2019, at 7:17 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Lincoln

    namlliT noD (View Comment):

    Not to mention his second banana role in McCale’s Navy:

    Totally geeky and useless trivia fact: The writer who created Conway’s Ensign Charles Parker character on “McHale’s Navy”, series’ pilot writer Gene L. Coon, went on to create the Klingons on “Star Trek” five years later. Because they’re obviously so similar….

    • #12
    • May 14, 2019, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Moderator

    Nerina Bellinger (View Comment):

    Thank you for this post, @ejhill. I am oddly saddened by his passing – as if another bit of my childhood disappeared today. One of my favorite movies as a kid was “Private Eyes” with Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Completely ridiculous, but I still remember it fondly. The Conan appearance was great!

     

    Indeed. My brother and I found that movie hilarious when we were kids and I’d love to see it again. He and Don Knotts also made a couple pretty funny Westerns, as I recall.

    • #13
    • May 15, 2019, at 7:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Moderator

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Nerina Bellinger (View Comment):

    Thank you for this post, @ejhill. I am oddly saddened by his passing – as if another bit of my childhood disappeared today. One of my favorite movies as a kid was “Private Eyes” with Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Completely ridiculous, but I still remember it fondly. The Conan appearance was great!

     

    Indeed. My brother and I found that movie hilarious when we were kids and I’d love to see it again. He and Don Knotts also made a couple pretty funny Westerns, as I recall.

    The Apple Dumpling Gang

    • #14
    • May 15, 2019, at 8:04 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Coolidge

    Stad (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    By accepting what Tim Conway apparently wouldn’t, I was able to excel at being second banana, and avoided getting frustrated that I was never promoted to top position.

    I realized the same thing. In the Navy, I was the fifth most senior officer on my submarine. That meant at age 28, I was behind the CO, XO, Navigator, and Engineer in the line of command (I was the Weapons Officer, a Department Head position).

    When I got to the Department of Energy, I realized my Navy experience didn’t mean squat when it came to how promotions were handled in the civilian government world. Once I accepted the fact I was not going to be promoted to management, I embraced it and became very successful. Double happy when my wife and I adopted our three daughters.

    The point with Tim Conway (and many other comedians and actors) is not everyone is cut out to be the lead in a movie, or the headliner in Vegas. But when you do find where you belong, you can become memorable, and that is what Tim Conway is to me. Not a front line star, but someone who never failed to make me laugh . . .

    WEPS!

    • #15
    • May 17, 2019, at 3:43 AM PDT
    • 1 like