One scene, one actor

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- Sometimes, magically, stardom comes to a performer in a single scene.

It happened for Richard Widmark in 'Kiss of Death' when he shoved a little old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs.


Lana Turner became an instant star as a bit player in a tight sweater walking past Mickey Rooney in an 'Andy Hardy' picture.

Sean Penn batting himself on the head with his shoes in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.'

Then there was Bronson Pinchot as the eccentric in 'Beverly Hills Cop.'

The instances are rare, but they happen.

That sort of lightning bolt on-screen hit Gilbert Gottfried a few months ago in 'Beverly Hills Cop II.'

Remember Sidney Bernstein, the crooked little underworld accountant that Axel Foley intimidates in the picture?

That was Gottfried, a Brooklyn-born stand-up comedian who laces his off-screen dialogue with one-liners. The diminutive Gottfried is irreverent about almost everything, including himself.


''Beverly Hills Cop II' has made a big change in my life,' he said on a recent visit to Hollywood. 'People in wheelchairs and walkers are chasing me down the street for the first time.

'I'm famous for being obnoxious. Ask my friends. Ask my parents. I played Bernstein as a loud, irritating Jew. It was a caricature, but not anti-Semetic. Even other Jews are being nice to me now.

'When the producers sent me the script it was originally titled 'The Merchant of Beverly Hills' and I had a much bigger part.

'I think I offended one critic who pretended to be Jewish. What's Jewish? In San Antonio Pat Boone is too Jewish.

'I am looking ahead to more pictures. Studios and producers are showing interest in me now. I could do Max Headroom on the big screen or maybe Dudley Doright. I figure in the future I'll be doing things like Pewee Herman or maybe Rod Steiger in 'The Pawn Broker.'

'Most of my work has been done on stage and it's easier to make the transition to film comedy that way than from screen to stage. I know how it is. I went to see 'Terminator' on stage with Sir Ralph Richardson.'


Gottfried has already completed a second picture, 'Hot to Trot,' again in a small but memorable scene.

'I play a horse dentist in the picture,' he said. 'It's based on a disgusting animal, Bobcat Goldthwait. I guess it's a toss-up between me and Brando for one-scene cameos.

'The difference is the directors allow me to improvise. In the beginning Bernstein, the accountant, was a straight part. But Tony (director Tony Scott) let me ad lib.'

The directors of both films had to stop filming Gottfried's scenes several times as his fellow actors and the crew broke up laughing.

'It's a matter of thinking funny,' said Gottfried. 'I guess that's what I do. 'I appeared on 'Saturday Night Live,' but no more. It's beyond funny or un-funny. It's like a restaurant in a good location. It's just there. These days I get more laughs out of '60 Minutes.''

Gottfried said he worked with Eddie Murphy -- the star of 'Beverly Hills Cop II' -- on 'Saturday Night Live,' but doubts if Murphy remembered him, much less asked him to play Bernstein because of a great friendship.

'I got the part on merit,' he said with a grin. 'I won out over Alan Garfield and Daryl Hannah. I played the same kind of abrasive Jew as Bernstein in a guest shot on Bill Cosby's show. The character was named Ron Babcock, but I did him Jewish.


'People ask me if I was always funny and I say no. The class comedians in school all ended up as shoe salesmen.

'When I got out of school I had to think about a career. It was either become a comedian or a tree doctor. Maybe it was a high-fiber diet that made the difference. I still haven't found out if I can make people laugh. I've been paid to stay off stage.

'For years I worked for nothing and in my first professional appearance I was paid something less than Stallone makes.

'Now things are different, thanks to Sidney Berstein. I'm getting a lot of offers to work in Europe. But they're all from Yugoslavia.'

Latest Headlines