Mr. Warmth: MOMI to screen documentary about the late Don Rickles this weekend

Mr. Warmth: MOMI to screen documentary about the late Don Rickles this weekend
The Museum of the Moving Image will celebrate the Queens-born master of insult comedy with a screening of the documentary “Mr. Warmth, The Don Rickles Project,” on June 11.
Associated Press / Chris Pizzello
By Merle Exit

Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image is dedicating a day to the “King of Zing,” and will be airing films featuring the late, Queens-born comedian Don Rickles on Sunday.

In addition to the films, MOMI will be treating audience members to some surprise guest appearances, according to organizer Gabriele Caroti.

“It will be an event, not just two movies,” said Caroti, a filmmaker and fan of the late, great insult comic. “In other words, you may get special appearances.”

The museum’s homage, entitled “The King of Zing, from Queens: A Don Rickles Tribute,” begins with a screening of the 2007 John Landis documentary “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.”

The museum will follow up Landis’s documentary with a 35mm screening of the 1970 war comedy “Kelly’s Heroes,” in which Clint Eastwood leads a troupe of American soldiers — including Rickles as Staff Sgt. “Crapgame” — off on a mission to rob a bank in France.

Rickles appeared on TV and in films throughout his decades-spanning career, but is best known for his outrageous insult comedy, which earned him numerous monikers, but none he appreciated more than that bestowed on him by Johnny Carson, who saw into the heart of the kid from Queens.

“Milton Berle called me the Sultan of Insult, and I was called the King of Insult,” said Rickles in the film. “But the guy that gave me the best title — and I use it to this day — was Johnny Carson. He called me Mr. Warmth.”

Rickles was born in Queens in 1926 and raised by Jewish parents in Jackson Heights. He described his parents in his irascible style: “My father was born in Russia and came here when he was 3 with a gun, a grenade and a picture of Stalin in his pants” and “my mother was a very strong woman—a Jew Patton.”

Surprisingly, for someone who would go on to a career as an insult comic, Rickles was popular at Newport High School in Elmhurst, where he was elected president of his class and the school’s drama society.

Rickles enlisted with the Navy during World War II and served on a torpedo boat in the Philippines before enrolling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he studied alongside silver-screen greats, including Anne Bancroft and Grace Kelly.

But Rickles’ early attempts to break into dramatic acting devolved into a stand-up career touring comedy clubs throughout the country, and while many of his jokes fell flat, audience members delighted in the on-stage banter that arose between the comedian and his hecklers

But it wasn’t until the funny man from Queens performed before Frank Sinatra in a Miami nightclub, and dared to roast Ol’ Blue Eyes for his performance in “The Pride and the Passion” that Rickles cemented his reputation as one of the country’s preeminent insult comics.

Rickles would go on to become the star of his own TV program, “The Don Rickles Show,” and would appear in dozens of roles on both television and the silver screen throughout his decades spanning career, which ended in April at the age of 90 after he succumbed to kidney failure at his Beverly Hills home.

Landis’s ode to the late comedian originally premiered on HBO, and won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Special in 2008.

The biopic glimpses into Rickles’ work and features clips spanning the late comedian’s monumental career interspersed with interviews from celebrity acquaintances, including Bob Newhardt, Clint Eastwood, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Debbie Reynolds, Robin Williams, Martin Scorsese, and Whoopie Goldberg.

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