"Getting the job was the toughest part. Very, very difficult."
— Sid Raymond
Sid Raymond, 97, Actor With a Familiar Face, Dies
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: December 10, 2006
Sid Raymond, a jowly, jocular Edward G. Robinson look-alike who fell in love with show business in the Catskills, then did everything from beer commercials to Broadway to giving voice to a very big duck, died on Dec. 1 in Aventura, Fla. He was 97.
His family said he died from complications of a stroke, causing him to miss a phone call inviting him to audition for a pharmaceutical commercial. It might have been the first casting call this indefatigable performer let pass.
As a self-described second banana who appeared in famous movies without credit and turned up as an extra performer in big comedy acts on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Mr. Raymond for decades faced an irritating question: “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” For a performer, that was still a small price to pay for never waiting a table or mixing a drink for a paycheck. His one flirtation with employment outside showbiz was a stint selling vacuum cleaners.
As Mr. Raymond paid his bills and put two daughters through college, he brushed against celebrity after celebrity: he appeared with Liza Minnelli in “Pajama Game,” with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme on Broadway, and with Paul Newman in “The Hustler” and other movies. His friend Eli Wallach called regularly to trade jokes.
Mr. Raymond began his career as recreation director at a Catskills resort. He went on to be M.C. of the traveling version of the radio show “Major Bowes’s Original Amateur Hour,” which scoured America for talent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt watched a show in Georgia and laughed at his imitation of Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar.” During World War II, Mr. Raymond led a small troupe that performed at the front lines, sometimes under fire. His uncountable commercials included a voice-over in Spanish for Alka Seltzer. He appeared in a movie at 97 and has another one coming out (“The Sexiest Man Alive”), if his minuscule, slightly risqué part survives the cutting room.
Mr. Raymond’s most memorable invisible success was creating the voice of Baby Huey, a cartoon duck. His most visible success might have been appearing as a comical bartender on Schlitz commercials in the 1960s.
His crowning glory came in 2002, when the documentary filmmaker Howard Weinberg made a 27-minute movie about him, “Sid at 90.” It was shown on public television and at 30 film festivals. The Daily News called Mr. Raymond “the undisputed star” of the Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Mr. Weinberg said Mr. Raymond’s career refuted the popular notion that celebrity defines success. He called him “an inspiration for anyone who has ever clung to a passion.”
Raymond Silverstein was born in Manhattan on Jan. 21, 1909, and grew up in Queens. He dropped out of New York University to go to the borscht belt in the Catskills, where he honed a gift for mimicry first evinced when he was 2. In 1950, he took over the role of Finnegan, the bartender, on the popular radio show “Duffy’s Tavern.” He later played many more bartenders. In the 1950s, he acted in televised dramas like “Kraft Theater.” When the comedy act Wayne and Shuster were on Ed Sullivan’s show, they hired him for supporting roles. He was also in an episode of “The Honeymooners.”
Cartoon fans loved his Baby Huey, but they also liked him as the voice of Katnip, a cat who always lost out to Herman the mouse in the “Herman and Katnip” cartoon series. His other cartoon voices included those of the two identical magpies Heckle and Jeckle. (One spoke in a British accent and the other in Brooklynese.)
In 1935, Mr. Raymond met Dorothy Naftel in the Catskills. Her parents objected to her dating an actor, so he gave them two tickets to a show. “You can marry our daughter,” they said afterward, at least in his telling. “You’re no actor.” He soon wired her from Seattle, where he was in a show, and said he was sending her $100 to come out there and marry him. She said, “Make it $125 and you got a deal.”
In addition to his wife of 69 years, Mr. Raymond is survived by his daughters, Cynthia Raymond and Margo Cohen, both of Manhattan; his sisters, Ruth Freedman, of Manhattan, and Dorothy Amcher, of Orlando; and one granddaughter.
Mr. Raymond’s showbiz tales included an evocation of the most boring act in vaudeville, Fink’s Mules. He told of being in the same taxi with Georgie Jessel and Eddie Cantor, but claimed he but couldn’t remember what they said. One of his last jokes involved a son sending a prostitute over to his widowed father, in his 90s, still a self-proclaimed ladies’ man. She tells him she is his birthday present and will give him whatever he’d like. “I’ll take the soup,” he says.
Sid at 90 is a 27-minute video that spotlights actor, comedian, impersonator and variety performer Sid Raymond, and challenges the popular assumption that celebrity defines success. An inspiration for anyone who has ever clung to a passion, Sid Raymond concedes that, as an actor, he was never a star. But in the context of an enduring spirit, fame seems somehow beside the point.
Sid at 90 is a portrait of rare perseverance. It celebrates the love of performance that keeps an actor going, gig to gig, in spite of hard times, heartbreak, and virtual obscurity. It delivers pure enjoyment as it portrays the life of a journeyman actor and honors the systems that support him: Screen Actors' Guild, Actors' Equity, and AFTRA.
Sid at 90 had its world premiere at The 12th Annual New York JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL at Lincoln Center January 14, 2003. WLIW 21, the Long Island, New York Public Television Station, broadcast Sid at 90 soon after.