Sunday, January 30, 2011


I only knew him slightly, but once meeting and seeing David Frye perform in person, you could never forget him. His parody impersonation of Richard Nixon, with all the exaggerated gestures, became the image most people remembered almost more than that of Nixon himself.

Back in the early 1970s, he was a big star, with appearances on Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan. I met him backstage at America's first comedy club, The Improvisation in New York. He was trying out some new material, and I was with a young comic I had written some gags for. David said he was trying to spread out a bit beyond his Nixon impersonation, and would I be interested in writing some material for him. I was and did, though he didn't use it much. Everyone--all the TV producers and nightclub owners--they all wanted him to keep doing Nixon. Talk about being typecast! And David wrote all his own material for those bits, lots of it, and it was very funny stuff indeed.

He was a gentle man, but very high strung. I visited with him at several clubs when he was about to go on, and he was sweating profusely and very twitchy until his name was announced and he walked on. It was easy for him to transform his own neurotic energy into that of Nixon, which probably helped him perform one of the most amazing acts of mimicry ever seen. He was so good, in fact, that he never was able to escape the typecasting. When his death was announced this weekend in Las Vegas, I imagine I was not alone in picturing him doing Nixon from his 1970s act.

He enjoyed his fame, his stardom--but I wonder if he ever regretted that it was so tied to the man he so brilliantly impersonated. I think we probably missed out by not getting to know David Frye himself.


Richard34 said...

The same explosive fame came to Vaughn Meader who did a near perfect imitation of John F. Kennedy. He also had a large selling album called "The First Family. But upon JFK's death, Meader was no longer a recognizable name.

vilstef said...

Here's one of my favorite showbiz stories: After Kennedy's passing, Meader's fame cooled and it was back to the club circuit for him. About 1966 after finishing his show, Meader was at the bar of the club. A drunk looked at him, did a double-take and said, "Aren't you dead?"