So, with my local station airing The Absent Artist yesterday, it got me thinking about another of the fun guest-stars over the course of the series: Victor Buono, seasoned stage actor and comic poet, authority on Shakespeare, and gourmet chef. He was noted for playing a great many villains, often leaning towards the humorous. He loved making people laugh.
Every now and then, he took parts that were more serious. He took some disturbing parts in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Strangler, for two, but I haven’t seen those films and can’t say if he played those characters dead serious or not. I can say with complete confidence, however, that his performances in those films are brilliant.
He played lighter characters in films such as Who’s Minding the Mint?, recorded some hilarious poetry and recited it perfectly serious (I just found and heard two tracks of it and laughed and laughed), and he was one of the regulars of classic television.
On Perry, he first appears as a starving artist in season 5’s The Absent Artist, one who quite likes money even though he proclaims not to. He’s the least dangerous of Victor’s Perry characters, his worst crime being driving a car with a dead body to another location where the person was known under a different name.
In season 7’s The Simple Simon (which, interestingly enough, is one of the theatre-themed episodes) and season 8’s The Grinning Gorilla, he appears as the murderers. I don’t remember much about The Simple Simon (something I need to rectify), but in The Grinning Gorilla he was apparently acting under the orders of another man who was working with him on their twisted scheme. Murder hadn’t originally been involved or planned, but when the time came, Victor’s character comments that he did that for his fellow conspirator as well as everything else he had done for him.
And of course, he has the distinction of appearing in the only color episode, The Twice-Told Twist, as the modern-day Fagin getting young boys into crime. Benjamin Huggins has a cover of being a philanthropist and is also a great aficionado of certain types of Mexican art. There’s a very interesting scene between him and Perry that gets cut from the syndicated version, where Perry visits him at his residence and they end up discussing art. Benjamin puts Perry into a class with him and bemoans, what are they to do with so much evil around them? Perry responds that the only thing to do is to be able to recognize it when it appears.
(It’s interesting that twice in season 9, a villain puts Perry in the same class with him. Perry’s double Mr. Grimes does this in The Dead Ringer.)
I’m never quite sure whether Donna Reales is telling the truth or lying in court, when she says that Benjamin told her to tell lies to Robin Spring to make her come outside. He certainly looks angry, but whether that’s because she’s telling the truth or lying isn’t fully made clear. I would guess, however, that she is telling what happened and he really did deliver those instructions.
There are some hints of the humorous with all of Victor’s Perry characters, but overall they’re among his more serious portrayals. Probably the most serious character I’ve seen him play, however, is a gangster on The Untouchables. That was certainly interesting. And quite a switch, since the character was absolutely dead serious, no joviality at all.
My favorite of his bad guys is probably Count Manzeppi on The Wild Wild West. I wish they would have used that character in more than two episodes. He also has the curious distinction of being part of both the very first Wild Wild West episode and the very last thing the original cast members did together, the second reunion movie.
I’ve only seen him play two good guys so far, that I can recall—a government agent on Sea Hunt (another very interesting concept) and an old actor coming back to reprise his role in a play that bombed on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. He had some of the best lines of the whole script in the latter.
Whomever Victor plays, it’s always a treat to have him onboard. I get excited when I start to watch something and his name comes up as one of the guest-stars (or he comes up, if it’s a show where the guest-stars aren’t listed at the beginning), because I know it’s going to be great. I’m happy that among his many credits are those four Perry episodes.