‘Mr. Warmth’ Director John Landis Remembers Don Rickles: ‘An Equal Opportunity Slanderer’

When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia.

“For me at 18, it was heaven,” says Landis of working with the likes of Rickles, Donald Sutherland, Clint Eastwood, Harry Dean Stanton, and Telly Savalas.

Flash forward more than four decades and many Rickles shows later, to 2007, when Landis is approached by Rickles’ son Larry, who died in 2011, to direct a film about his dad. “I didn’t think he was getting the respect he should,” even though he was still appearing on talkshows, Landis explains.

The legendarily hard-working comedian was hesitant at first, worrying that putting his act on TV might mean fewer people would come to his live shows. So he asked Landis to use no more than 15 minutes of performances, and “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project” became a documentary rather than a concert film. “I wanted to capture not only what he did, but who he was,” Landis says.

“His act was at least 40 percent – maybe 50 percent improvised. He’s real old school.”

When the octogenarian walks on stage in the film, “he drops 30 years,” Landis says.

“He created an atmosphere, it was really performance art, where whatever he did was funny,” says Landis, “He was one of those unique talents – he could take a room and just seize it.”

“He’s an equal opportunity slanderer, yet no one takes offense,” Landis says. As Sarah Silverman says in the film, “Everyone wants to be sh** on by Don Rickles.”

“Mr. Warmth” ended up winning Emmys both for Rickles for individual performance and for outstanding variety, music, or comedy special. “It had a very happy ending,” Landis says.

The director says the man himself was as far from his acerbic jibes as could be. “He was kind and generous and warm. This is a very sad time for me, because I loved him,” says Landis. “It’s like losing a really beloved uncle.”

Like Joan Rivers and other comics of that generation of comedians, Rickles never stopped performing. When Landis spoke to him after the comedian began heaving health problems, Landis says he wanted to get well fast, not so he would feel better, but so he could get back on the stage. Or as George Burns once told Landis, “I can’t die, I’m booked.”

 

More TV

  • THE EXPANSE -- "Intransigence" Episode 309

    'The Expanse' Moves to Amazon for Season 4

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • Arrested Development Season 5 review

    TV Review: 'Arrested Development' Season 5 on Netflix

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • Showtime Executive, Gary Garfinkle.Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS©2012

    Gary Garfinkel, Co-Head of Content Acquisitions at Showtime, Dies at 55

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • KIM POSSIBLE - The cast of

    'Kim Possible' Disney Channel Movie Casts Its Dr. Drakken, Shego, Other Key Characters

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • Ted Danson Remote Controlled Podcast

    Remote Controlled: 'The Good Place' Star Ted Danson on His 'Delicious' Role

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • Josh Holloway Colony

    Josh Holloway on Season 3 of 'Colony' in Trump Era: 'It's Scary, the Parallels of This Show'

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

  • Mick Betancourt Joins Syfy's 'Deadly Class'

    Mick Betancourt Joins Syfy's 'Deadly Class' in Showrunner Switch

    When director John Landis first met Don Rickles, he was just an 18-year old “go-fer, a schlepper,” on the set of war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.” Long before Landis directed such classics as “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” the young production assistant forged many friendships over the nine-month shoot in Yugoslavia. “For me at 18, […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content