Frank Gorshin was the most skilled celebrity impersonator in Hollywood

He was so good at aping other actors it was "weird and eerie."

In the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," Frank Gorshin plays a man of two faces, split black and white. In reality, Gorshin was a many of a thousand faces. The public remembers him best as the Riddler on Batman, a role that earned him an Emmy nomination in 1966.

"The trouble with me is that I sometimes do get so interested in [the] portrayal of a character that my wife never knows who I am bringing home to dinner and often when I get home she wants to know who she is entertaining tonight," Gorshin told columnist Jack Meredith in a 1967 profile.

Gorshin might have brought home the Riddler for dinner. Mrs. Gorshin could just have easily expected to dine with John Wayne, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Ward Bond, Burt Lancaster and Bela Lugosi. They were all impressions in the arsenal of the ace impersonator.

Batman tapped into his skill. In the episode "Death in Slow Motion," we first see the Riddler dressed as Charlie Chaplin, doing his best mustache wiggle as "The Tramp."

Gorshin's technique was physical — he threw his entire body into an impression, not just his voice. "The entire body, arms, legs, feet, hands, gestures, all become the original," The Detroit Free Press observed of his act in 1969. "It is a weird and eerie performance."

"What makes Gorshin different is that he does a caricature analysis of them, much as a cartoonist adds zip to the character he draws by accentuating some characteristic of the individual," The Windsor Star wrote in 1967.

In his early 30s at the time, as his career was peaking, Gorshin claims he was shy and introverted as a schoolboy. He stepped into celebrity mimicry because he "didn't want to be an engineer or accountant."

One critic wrote: "Frank Gorshin can do more things better than almost anybody in Hollywood. He is not only an outstanding dramatic actor, a singer, dancer, and comedian, he is also a master mind [sic] who makes other impressionists fade almost to insignificance." 

Gorshin had no explanation for his innate talent. "It just happens," he told The Tracy Press in 1967. "For example, I saw Kirk Douglas in a movie and came out of the theater mimicking him. But it wasn't a planned thing."

The subjects of his impersonations were just as impressed.

Edward G. Robinson, the Hollywood legend of gangster film fame and one of Gorshin's most frequent routines, said, "Frank Gorshin's impression of me differs from others in that it is not superficial and shallow, merely imitating the voice. He seems to get inside the character he is imitating, producing depth of impression."

The only riddle then is why a man of such supreme talent never landed a spotlight starring role of his own. The answer might be simple — he had to much fun slipping into hundreds of different skins.

Watch Star Trek on MeTV!

Saturdays at 10 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
 
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

41 Comments

Post a comment
George57 10 days ago
I was too young to have caught any of his performances, so I look for them on YouTube.
BigE 25 days ago
There's no one like him today. He was extremely talented.
Nala92129 1 month ago
What an immense talent he had!
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Frank Gorshin was AWESOME as The Riddler! I never knew he had the talent of impersonation, but I'm not super surprised.
hyppymom 1 month ago
Frank Gorshin could be anyone and totally own it!!! One of my favorite actors. So talented! He made everything he was in better!!!
tootsieg 1 month ago
I remember Frank Gorshin’s impersonation of James Dean. THE BEST!! He did put his whole body into the character not just the voice.
JHP 1 month ago
he was a big loss:(

I call him the Smoker from Slovenia
Michael 1 month ago
I always thiught the Riddler on the tv series had the best costume. He had the tights, with the questiin marks, but couid go formal by adding a hat, and sometimes a jacket.

The role also seemed a bit deeper than tge other villains.
JHP Michael 1 month ago
not degrade him or character - he was daffy duck in green tights
daDoctah 1 month ago
I once heard that Gorshin first discovered his ability to impersonate others when a stage hypnotist put him under and suggested that he was one of the old standby actors: Robinson, Cagney, Burt Lancaster...somebody like that.

More believably, I've been told that his Riddler was based on Richard Widmark in the 1947 movie "Kiss of Death".

And if I'm to recommend a film of his where he just straight out acts rather than impersonates someone else, it'd be "Man of the Century", about a reporter who lives and acts like it's the 1920s; Gorshin is a mob boss who doesn't seem at all bothered by this guy who has somehow misplaced seven decades.
Lantern 1 month ago
Frank Gorshin appeared on the same Feb. 1964 Ed Sullivan episode that The Beatles debuted on. He did impressions of Hollywood people in a routine about the U.S. capital being located in Las Vegas. Don't know if ME TV or Decades has shown this, but it's included on the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show DVD.
MikefromJersey 1 month ago
Gorshin played a hood in the overlooked flick, "Ring of Fire", the title song a classic played by Duane Eddy. Beautifully filmed in Oregon/Washington.
Gorshin, his sidekick and beautiful Joyce Taylor are shepherded by cop David Janssen as he tries
to get them thru burning forests to safety.
Actual footage of a fire was used in the film and fit in seamlessly.
The producers got an entire town full of people to feign fleeing their homes, it's fun to see "real"
people and not extras.
A little gem that is evocative of it's time(1961) and era ("The New Frontier").
Soon to be eclipsed by the British Invasion and the real beginning of "The 60's", 1963.
For me, Gorshin steals the film, though the scene when Joyce Taylor vividly saunters into the diner in the beginning is a grabber. Well worth a look and not a super hero in a costume in sight.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfCOJLRk2D4&ab_channel=guitarandmusiclover7
Thanks Pacific, that is a classic by Johnny Cash, but it's the wrong tune! I refer to the
instrumental of the same name by the legendary guitarist Duane Eddy! I just saw him
on a Have Gun Will Travel, a Christmas episode, with Duane playing "Joseph" as he
and his wife Mary look for lodging on Christmas Eve. An outstanding episode, one
of the series best, feels like a Sam Peckinpah film.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdYC-RY7_us&ab_channel=ukbarton
Thats the one, though differing from the movie version in some respects. Nice sax in this
one.
Zip 1 month ago
I love watching impressionists, like Monet, Renoir, Matisse, etc.

No, seriously, I do. So I am going to have to check Gorshin out. Never knew he did impressions.
Pacificsun 1 month ago
There are few impressionists who have, meaning a leading role in a hit series. And that's because it would have to be a sustained character personality. And they may not have that within them. In fact, they might not be in touch (sufficiently) with their own personality, in order to know how to change it enough, to reach the depth of one in a continuing role they are trying to play. Robin Williams might've come closest. If you can call "Mork" a character. He was "riffing" off himself so much, it was hard to tell. Can anyone remembers if Jonathon Winters played an alternative lead or role for a long time.

Other ideas??
Barry22 1 month ago
He was the best villain on Batman, and he was great on that episode of Star Trek. Does anybody remember the summer replacement show he was on in the 70's, called Copycats?
UTZAAKE Barry22 1 month ago
Rich Little, Marilyn Michaels, Fred Travalena, George Kirby, Joe Baker...yeah, definitely remember The Kopykats.
LynCarceo Barry22 1 month ago
A favorite show. I never missed it, but now I do.
Catman 1 month ago
Frank Gorshin was truly amazing. I don't think anyone has ever surpassed his skills. Before he was on Batman, before he was on Star Trek, he was already a favorite of mine.
Snickers 1 month ago
To me Frank Gorshin will always be the Riddler.
Moody Snickers 1 month ago
I totally agree. He was the best Riddler imo.
Catman Snickers 1 month ago
To me, The Riddler will always be Frank Gorshin, but to me, Frank Gorshin will always be Burt Lancaster.
BrittReid 1 month ago
Dead on as The Riddler. Molly and Pauline weren't too shabby either.
LoveMETV22 1 month ago
EEEh that's opinion. IMO SNL had a few good celebrity impersonators, but they also had a few not quite so good.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 1 month ago
I do have to add this. When Will Farrell played Sean Connery on SNL's jeopardy against Norm McDonald's Burt Reynolds put me into stitches.
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 1 month ago
Yes the Celebrity Jeopardy skits were funny.
JHP LoveMETV22 1 month ago
hate to say it

SCTV had the best jeopardy skits ever
Moonpie 1 month ago
Just watched him on Charlie's Angels yesterday and he went through a parade of impressions so smoothly that were amazing!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?