A poem… by Henry Gibson

I doubt that it will attract the notice that the passing of Patrick Swayze garnered, but character actor Henry Gibson also died earlier this week.

Like most TV viewers, I first was introduced to the mousy, soft-spoken comic actor on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Gibson would appear, wearing a quaint suit and holding an enormous artificial flower, to recite a humorous, often ironic rhyme about some innocuous subject. His bits always began with Gibson’s quavering, deadpan monotone, “A poem… by Henry Gibson.” His presentations concluded with a bow and a self-effacing, “Thank you.”

Gibson turned up frequently on television in his post-Laugh-In career, usually playing the kind of nebbishy, passive-aggressive types for whom he became famous. Most notably, he was a regular on the ABC series Boston Legal, as the put-upon Judge Brown. He also appeared in numerous films, including the recent hit Wedding Crashers, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

My favorite Gibson role was his voicing of Wilbur — the humble, radiant pig whose best friend is a talented spider — in the animated adaptation of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The casting was perfect, with Gibson bringing a delightful, plucky innocence to the role.

Until today, I did not know that Henry Gibson wasn’t really Henry Gibson. The actor, who was born James Bateman, took his familiar stage name as a pun on playwright Henrik Ibsen. I remember long ago noting the sonic similarity between the two names, but I’d always assumed that this was merely a coincidence.

I thought it appropriate that, in Gibson’s memory, we offer the following verse.

A poem… about Henry Gibson.
He always brought us laughter
When with blossom he’d appear;
His charming bits of doggerel
Made us grin from ear to ear.
As years passed, we discovered
He could also play things straight;
His talents as an actor
Proved nothing less than great.
We always will remember
This quirky little fellow;
His voice odd and distinctive…
His sunflower, bright yellow.

Thank you, Henry.

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