Phil Hartman was one of the rare comedians who could make you crack up by just standing there and making the slightest facial movement.
But he wasn't content to do that. In his years on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (1986-1994), Hartman adopted persona after persona, staying true to the character, instead of inserting his own ego. This made him nearly unique in a show populated by catch phrase-spouting caricatures.
Nor did he have the destructive dark side or inflated ego of fabled past and present "SNL" progeny. Hartman always seemed a playful father to upstarts such as Adam Sandler and David Spade.
Never one to hog the spotlight, Hartman was also a consummate, edgy straightman and true ensemble player. He could do slimy, serious and surreal all with self-effacing ease and style. His impersonations and characters -- from his jolly, Carson-affirming Ed McMahon, to his big-hearted Big-Mac munching Bill Clinton, to Susan, the disturbing, lipstick-smeared She-Male on "Sprockets" -- were awe inspiring and always honest.
Hartman's class, comportment and comedic control left us with such legendary irreverent moments and characters as:
Barbara Bush: In a frumpy frock and ill-fitting white wig, Hartman's Barbara encounters opposition from a venomous Nancy Reagan (Jan Hooks), when she attempts to move into the White House. A First Lady catfight ensues as the hefty Barbara forces the broken, possessive Nancy out of her new domain.
Charlton Heston: Hartman gives the hysterical "Soylent Green" catch phrase, "Soylent Green is people!" perfect reverential, windbag intensity.
The Sinatra Group: As a bitter, blustering, politically incorrect Frank Sinatra leading a "McLaughlin Group" mutation, Hartman's seedy Sinatra calls Sinead O'Connor (Jan Hooks) "Uncle Fester," tells Luther Campbell (Chris Rock) he has a "Ben Vereen quality" and cruelly taunts Steve and Eydie Gorme (Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson).
The Anal Retentive Chef: Hartman's compulsive-obsessive gourmet is too busy prissily tidying up every minor spill, separating out shriveled slices of pepper and creating veritable landfills with his layered, complicated disposal methods to ever begin, much less finish, cooking the entree.
Pub Date: 5/29/98