RIP, Kenneth Mars

Kenneth Mars, 1935-2011. This is how I remember him.

In one of my previous lives, I worked retail in Beverly Hills. I saw celebrities on a regular basis. Most just walked in and walked out. Some were nice, like Aaron Eckhart. Some were even nicer, like Jane Lynch and Ellen DeGeneres, both of whom laughed at my jokes. Some were deeply frightening – I’m looking at your creepily ill-defined mug, Priscilla Presley.

To my great dismay, I missed a legendary visit from Lauren Bacall, who swept in while wearing a cape, picked up a blue tablecloth, announced, “This is precisely the color of Gary Cooper’s eyes!” Picked out several thousand dollars worth of merchandise and then swept out, stating, “You will send this to my hotel!” Not that my co-workers knew where the hell she was staying, or who would pay for it once it got there. But, believe you me, they figured it out. Just as I magically figured out where to send Priscilla Presley’s mountain cabin decor. Such is life serving celebrities.

So, our experiences with celebrities were frequently one-offs. Except for Dennis Franz, who’d show up everyday with a bag of candy, just wandering around, eating, not buying anything. Nothing against Dennis Franz, but I don’t really count him. He wasn’t a customer, he was just killing time, presumably between the end of his stint on NYPD Blue and the grave.

But we did have one regular customer who was also a celebrity, and his name was Kenneth Mars. He was mine to take care off, which thrilled me to no end. I was raised on The Producers and Young Frankenstein, and I do mean, raised on them. My dad has always been a strange sleeper, and often the only thing that would lull him to sleep was a lay down on the couch, to the accompaniment of The Producers. If I’ve seen The Producers once, I’ve seen it 200 times. To this day I can recite the entire thing. So when Kenneth Mars walked in, I was floored. There are few people on this earth who would’ve made a bigger impression on me, and they are Gene Wilder and Mike Nelson. If you don’t know who Mike Nelson is, I am sorry for you.

So, Kenneth Mars was on a quest for new furniture, and he’d come in regularly to test dining room sets. A big guy, he never could find a table that would give his legs proper clearance. In fact, he called me Midget, and I called him Gigantor. He was loud and crazy and I ate it up with a spoon. He’d frequently berate me and the selection of tables. “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you get a decent table in here?” While I stood there on the inside going, “hee hee hee hee!!!!” But on the outside I’d respond in kind, saying, “Maybe we don’t make tables for giant people, maybe you should go somewhere else.” Once my manager pulled me aside and said, “I’m uncomfortable with the way he’s treating you. I think I need someone else to step in.” I was appalled. “It’s Kenneth Mars! He’s being funny! I’m being funny! I’m being funny with Kenneth Mars! Try to take this away from me and I’ll cut you.”

One day, the day he finally decided to buy something, I wasn’t there. I don’t know who handled the transaction, but when he next came in, to pick it up, the vibe was off. He seemed agitated and unhappy, not his usual cheerful self. I got the impression somebody had tried to tame him in my absence. Maybe they’d said something like, “Please stop berating our selection of tables. They are all very fine, ridiculously over expensive tables, and we are proud of them.” But Kenneth Marses aren’t for taming. He was the author, we were the audience, and he outranked us.

Actors are not animals, they’re human beings! — They are? Have you ever eaten with one of them?

5 thoughts on “RIP, Kenneth Mars

  1. Sharon says:

    I agree with you – he was very funny and probably had that type of humor. I have read so many people write that he was a very nice man.

  2. aileen says:

    love that, carrie! i don’t think anyone could actually tame him. he came in again, i think after you left, and he did a dance for me! wonderful person!

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