Actor Harvey Atkin had a gift for Humor


Together with his bright-yellow bucket hat, chunky glasses and Groucho Marx moustache, Harvey Atkin’s Morty Melnick, the hapless manager of crummy Camp North Star, was the perfect foil for Bill Murray’s character in Meatballs.

Morty was the officious nebbish who composed the camp principles that Mr. Murray’s freewheeling mind counsellor, Tripper Harrison, blithely tore up. A sleeper, as he was the butt of Tripper practical jokes and such got the last laughs of the movie. It is Morty, waking to find his bed was set adrift in the lake, that amuses us.

That iconic summer-camp humor from 1979, which gave Mr. Murray his first starring vehicle, also launched Mr. Atkin’s career. It led to regular functions on the popular American television show Cagney amp; Lacey and Law amp; Order in addition to a slew of animation voices that amused generations of children.

“He was a very versatile performer,” said Larry Goldhar, Mr. Atkin’s representative for 47 years and his friend since high school. “He was good at straight drama as he had been at humor.” He was also by his own reckoning, some 3,000 TV and radio advertisements.

“He was a complete pro on camera,” added another beloved friend, actress Sharon Gless, who played Christine Cagney on Cagney amp Lacey. “Off camera, he was hysterically funny{}”

Mr. Atkin, who died of brain cancer on July 18 at Toronto at age 74, was no Morty-like nebbish in real life. Paradoxically, he was much more like Mr. Murray’s Tripper: a wisecracking life of the party, with a hundred humorous voices and 1001 jokes for all occasions. He shared Tripper’s fondness for bikes — that is, when a airplane wasn’t being piloted by him, roaring about on a Jet Ski or teaching children to swim with the support of the yellow hat of Morty.

“He’d wear that each and every time we had been swimming at home in the pool,” recalled his daughter, Lisa Atkin, laughing lovingly. “All my cousins and friends would come over and that hat was the boat for showing them how to swim. It would throw and they would have to reach for it it would be dumped by him on his mind and they would attempt to pull it. That yellow hat was synonymous with him.”

Elliot Harvey Atkin was created Dec. 18, 1942, in Toronto, the first of four children and the only son of Ida and Murray Atkin. Harvey’s grandparents were Russian Jews who had emigrated from the first decades of the 20th century. Murray, his father, began a construction company, to. However, the boy was a born entertainer whose present was waiting to be exploited, a class clown.

While he was attending Northview Heights school that came. 1 day in 1960, a teenaged Mr. Atkin offered to provide his friend, Mr. Goldhar, a ride home, but Mr. Goldhar wanted to remain for auditions in the drama club. The team was planning to do a production of Eugene O’Neill’s one-act drama The Rope for this year’s provincial high-school play festival.

“I said, ‘What are you talking about, what type of sissy thing is that? ”’ Mr. Atkin remembered in a 2014 interview with New York radio-host Frank MacKay. Mr. Goldhar, however, convinced him to come into the auditorium and watch.

As the pupils were practising for the auditions, Mr. Atkin, being the irrepressible joker, could not sit still. “I took the script and began horsing around. Unbeknownst to me, the instructor sat down, responsible for the application came in and said, ‘Hey, you, the man, you have the part of Luke”’ — the character. “I said, ‘Woah! I am not even in the club. ”’

However, Charles Joliffe, the teacher, would not let him back out. The upshot was that the college’s production went on to be a hit at the festival and Mr. Atkin nabbed its best-actor award.

Nonetheless, after he left college Mr. Atkin went to work for his dad’s construction company. He married his high-school sweetheart in 1963 and in a few years they had started a family. It was not till Mr. Goldhar launched his talent agency in Toronto in 1969 he started to dabble in show business.

Mr. Atkin started as a partner in the fledgling agency, but with his centre for his smooth delivery, he was landing voice-over and business jobs himself. From the mid-1970s, he had been popping up frequently in Canadian TV series such as King of Kensington and clinching the occasional little part in Toronto-shot Hollywood features, such as High-Ballin’ with Peter Fonda and the Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor humor Silver Streak.

Mr. Atkin’s unexpected breakthrough came in the summer of 1978, when Canadian producer-director Ivan Reitman, fresh from the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, recruited a cast of unknowns to emerge next to Mr. Murray at Meatballs. Celia Atkin remembered that she and her husband had only packed off their own kids to summer camp and were preparing for a quiet month once the call came for Mr. Atkin to perform an audition. A Friday, he was told he had got the part of Morty and also to report into the place, the Camp White Pine near Haliburton, Ont on Monday. “This was the end of the vacation,” Ms. Atkin laughed.

Filming lasted into September, when Mr. Atkin’s famous final scene on the raft was filmed. “It was cold, it was autumn and he said that he was so thankful he did not get pneumonia that day,” Ms. Atkin said. “Who knew it was going to prove to be such a excellent movie?”

The performance earned Mr. Atkin a Genie Award nomination and paved the way for more substantial work. The next big break came with Cagney amp; Lacey, the landmark drama about a pair of female new york police detectives. The show’s pilot was filmed in Toronto in 1981 and drew on Canadian talent, including King of Kensington’s Al Waxman as their boss and Mr. Atkin as desk sergeant Ronald Coleman. Mr. Waxman and Mr. Atkin were signed on to keep their functions once the series was picked up by CBS and production moved to the USA. (The pilot starred Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey and Loretta Swit as Cagney, but Ms. Gless took over the Cagney function for the series{})

In look, Mr. Atkin’s Coleman character was a version on Morty, with gigantic aviator glasses and a much bigger mustache. He “easily shouldered the responsibility of bringing some essential humour into the office, both in front and behind the camera,” remembered the show’s producer, Barney Rosenzweig. However, Mr. Atkin’s Coleman also had a tender side, memorably displayed in an episode in the fourth season, when he revealed he had a mentally disabled daughter.

Mr. Atkin’s own kids were his priority. Celia and he refused to uproot them and he stayed living in Toronto for the entire run of the show, frequently commuting to shoot his scenes. “His family always came first,” Ms. Gless said.

Lisa Atkin stated she and her younger brother Danny had a extremely grounded upbringing where their parents handled Mr. Atkin’s acting as a job like any other. “We were never permitted to get major heads,” she said. “He would do his job and when he arrived home he was our father, fixing things and playing with us and having fun{}”

Mr. Atkin’s ability at repairs was legendary among his family and neighbours, and even resulted in his hosting a regular handyman section on CTV. He was also multilingual, speaking Yiddish, Italian and French and understanding a smattering of other languages — even though he’d failed.

“Academics always eluded him,” said his oldest sister, former Harlequin Books editor Marsha Zinberg. “Harvey was very clever, but he had what we later discovered was an undiagnosed learning disability, so that he did not write examinations well.” He picked up languages talk among the advantages of being gregarious, them.

“He was a people person,” said Celia Atkin, noting that her husband spoke the roles he had been playing, but rather discussed the individuals he had met on the set. One of his many friends were his Cagney amp Lacey colleagues, Ms. Gless and her husband, Mr. Rosenzweig, who stayed close throughout the years. When Ms. Gless was in Toronto making the cable series Queer as Folk, the Atkins had her over for dinner each Friday.

“Harvey always took such good care of me,” Ms. Gless said, recalling how Mr. Atkin introduced her to the art of voice function. “He was generous enough to drag me along like a child to his performances. He was the king, as far as I was concerned, and he would let me sit and listen and learn.”

Mr. Atkin’s favourite task was expressing animations. As he wryly told one interviewer in 2013, “you are able to hide behind the mike and you do not have to get dressed {}.” His many credits included the Super Mario Bros.. Shows (in which he played bad man King Koopa), cult favorite The Adventures of Sam amp; Max: Freelance Police and, more recently, Scaredy Squirrel.

Recently, Mr. Atkin was known onscreen as Judge Alan Ridenour on Law amp; Order: Special Victims Unit. Even though the Atkins spent their sunset years wintering in Florida, Mr. Atkin never retired; he appeared in feature films shot in Miami and continued his most charity performances. “He always said ‘yes,”’ Celia Atkin said, “and he could always amuse.”

Mr. Atkin was diagnosed with brain cancer in the autumn of 2015. He died at Mackenzie Health at Richmond Hill in care. He leaves his wife children, Danny and Lisa Atkin, and their spouses; grandchildren, Ryan, Rachel and Avi Bromberg, and Amanda and Justin Atkin; and three sisters; as well as a large family.

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