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On this Day in Movie History, May 8, 1926: “The Merchant of Venom” Born

Call him what you will, he certainly will have a fast comeback for you. Though it may sting, it is all meant in good humor. It was on this day, May 8, 1926 Don Rickles was born. People who know him say he has a heart of gold.

After the Golden Era of Hollywood ended, Don Rickles is one man still living to tell his tales. One of the most respected talents in entertainment, Rickles aspired to be a serious actor and studied drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His classmates included Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft and Jason Robards. Dissatisfied with the number of acting roles he was offered he started doing stand-up in the night clubs, toiling for over 20 years sharpening his wit and honing his insult routines.

Don made his film debut in Run Silent Run Deep (1958). The movie was a big hit. Afterward, Rickles continued acting, starring in films like X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), Bikini Beach (1964), Enter Laughing (1967), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970).

In 1973, Don became a regular on Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. From 1973 until 1984, Don appeared frequently on Dean’s show, paying tribute to some of his friends, like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and was even the roast master on the roast for Dean Martin himself.

In 1976, Don had his own TV series “C.P.O. Sharkey” (1976), which enjoyed a two year run.

After 1984, Don began taking it easy, appearing in a few minor film roles. But in 1995, Don made a big comeback, appearing with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in Toy Story (1995) in the role of the grouchy Mr. Potato Head. In 1999, he returned as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 2 (1999).

When asked by Jay Leno if he ever worries that his insult comedy might be too offensive for the audience, he answered “You know, every night when I go out on stage, there’s always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I’m always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I’m *not* going to offend!”

But he has also been known to say, “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny.”

He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Live Theatre at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

1906 – Roberto Rossellini (director: Seven Deadly Sins, The Messiah; died June 3, 1977)

1919 – Lex Barker (Alexander Crichlow Barker Jr.) (actor: A Place Called Glory, La Dolce Vita, Apaches Last Battle, Away All Boats, Executioner of Venice; died May 11, 1973)

1940 – Ricky (Eric Hilliard) Nelson (actor: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Rio Bravo, Wackiest Ship in the Army, Love and Kisses; singer: I’m Walkin’, Be-Bop Baby, Poor Little Fool, Lonesome Town, Never Be Anyone Else But You, Travelin’ Man, Garden Party; Rock and Roll Hall of Famer [1987]; killed in plane crash Dec 31, 1985)

1941 – James Mitchum (actor: In Harm’s Way, Code Name: Zebra, Hollywood Cop, Marked for Murder, Ride the Wild Surf)

1954 – David Keith (actor: The Great Santini, Take This Job & Shove It, An Officer and a Gentleman; director: The Curse, The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck)

1964 – Melissa Gilbert (actress: Little House on the Prairie, The Miracle Worker, Her Own Rules, Murder at 75 Birch)

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