Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bubba Smith 1945-2011

Sorry to hear of Bubba Smith’s passing. He was only 66. I worked with Bubba on two shows. Interestingly, neither of them are included in any of the obits I’ve seen. I guess he was more well-known for POLICE ACADEMY and the Oakland Raiders. But I worked with him on OPEN ALL NIGHT and THE MARY SHOW.

He was a series regular in OPEN ALL NIGHT -- a 1980 sitcom about an all-night convenience store. My writing partner, David and I wrote two episodes and guested in one of them. So yes, I acted in a show with Bubba Smith. He generally played the soft-spoken big man who you did not want to cross. In person he was just the soft-spoken big man. Of course I never said to him, “Y’know, the Oakland Raiders are just a bunch of pansies”. But he was a delightful guy. And what impressed me most was how serious he was about acting. It wasn’t just a lark. He put the same effort into learning how to play comedy as he did crushing quarterbacks into powder. You’d think directors and producers would be intimidated giving this 6' 8" bruiser notes but he was extremely receptive. And the results paid dividends. He was very funny, in an understated way that fit perfectly with his giant presence.

Bubba also guested for us on THE MARY SHOW. He played himself. I still love the premise. John Astin, as the theater critic, panned Bubba’s performance in a play that had just opened. So Bubba, furious, comes up to the newsroom to the beat the crap out of John. Name me one actor who hasn’t fantasized that same scenario. In the show, John talks him out of it and instead winds up coaching him. Watching Bubba Smith try to give a performance using John’s acting method was a hoot.

We had Bubba regale us with many football stories from his glory days in the NFL. Yes, that world is as violent and brutal as you imagine. Little things like broken bones and pain pale in importance with gaining an extra yard. They say he died of natural causes. I didn’t realize that the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers are considered natural causes.

He had dropped out of sight of late. I hope his last years were happy ones. I’m sure the tributes will talk about how big he was, how fierce he was, how popular he was. But I want to add how funny he was.

So long, Bubba. Thanks for the hits… and the laughs.

18 comments:

Dana King said...

I was in the Army when OPEN ALL NIGHT was on the air. I don't think I missed an episode. Loved that show.

Mac said...

Nice tribute. It's sad that he didn't have more years ahead of him, but it sounds like - between sports and acting - he had a very interesting (and hopefully, happy) life.

Johnny Walker said...

It always makes me sad that the subjects of such articles will never see how people felt about them. I bet he wouldn't have guessed how much of a big deal his death is being treated, even here in the UK.

Let's hope he was happy, at least.

Mike Barer said...

I remember Bubba stopped doing Miller Light commercials after students at his alma matter chanted "tastes great-less filling" while he was riding in a parade, he was concerned about influencing kids. What a class act.

Michael said...

Ken, given your abilities as a comedy writer, I wonder what you think about those old Miller Lite commercials. I thought some of them were downright brilliant--essentially, the best ones told a hilarious story (and some of them were hilarious) almost perfectly in 30 seconds. Lindsey Nelson talked in his autobiography about doing a game with Dick Butkus and mentioned that he had gone on to great success with that other "noted thespian," Bubba. Actually, they did great jobs in those ads.

michael said...

OPEN ALL NIGHT is one of those shows I wish someone would download or put out out on DVD.

I heard someone say he died young. Not for a football player was my reply.

Michael said...

Bubba had an actors workshop in Inglewood with a small equity waiver theatre. A friend played Nick in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf there and learned a lot from Bubba. He helped many people.

Geoff said...

Growing up in Canada, where the Police Academy movies were filmed, those movies were a TV staple here for years. Hightower, Tackleberry, Hooks and the rest were household names.

cshel said...

Another great tribute, Ken.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing Bubba Smith's first acting job was on The Odd Couple, in the episode where Felix replaces all the furniture with crazy avant-garde pieces. Bubba plays himself as Oscar is interviewing him. A very good start!

Claude O. Steen said...

I 2 enjoyed Bubba, first as a Baltimore Colt (could never get used to seeing him as a Raider or Oiler), and certainly in the Miller commercials. I had a feeling that those 'actors' enjoyed those commercials much more than the public did. Never heard of the OPEN ALL NIGHT series, so that was apparently running back when I had a life and seldom watched TV. Now I have neither! Go M's...if we played Oakland 162 times, would we have a .500 team?

Sebastian said...

I just saw the 'Open All Night'-Intro, and yeah, I wanna see that. First, George Dzundza kicks ass, and I totally love that theme!

Gordon said...

I just watched Stroker Ace the other day. Best Pit crew member ever in a racing movie.

Breadbaker said...

Interesting no one mentioned Bubba the way I remember him, as the heart and soul of two great Michigan State Spartan teams. RIP big guy.

Jane B. said...

Wonderful tribute. Bubba Smith worked out at my gym and I saw him there just last week. He was always willing to talk to people and was quite entertaining, to boot. I didn't know much about his acting/sitcom days. Thank you for this post.

ghost writer said...

It was my early childhood when Open All Night was live - but its amazing how its memories are still so fresh. I agree with Walker, let's hope...

writer blog said...

i read a blog yesterday which reminded me of this TV show and i miss it a lot :(
Regards,
Tina

Brian Phillips said...

Bubba Smith was part of one of my favorite moments of "Up All Night". The store had just been robbed and a customer walked in:

Customer: Do you have...?
Smith: Probably not.

Glad to hear he was a class act.