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Remembering David Ogden Stiers (1942 - 2018)

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Remembering David Ogden Stiers (1942 - 2018)

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David Ogden Stiers was the sort of guy who forced you to step up your game.

Just ask Alan Alda. Who had - for the first five years that "M*A*S*H" was on the air - had Larry Linville (who played the weaselly Frank Burns) as Hawkeye Pierce's comic foil. But when Linville opted out of continuing to play this craven character as this Emmy Award-winning series was heading into its sixth season on CBS ... The powers-that-be at 20th Fox Television division decided to do something different.

Rather than giving Hawkeye yet another weasel to deal with, they opted instead to give him an equal. A surgeon who was just as brilliant as Dr. Pierce was. A character who - while he was admittedly pompous and something of a snob - was also Hawkeye's intellect equal.

(L to R) David Ogden Stiers as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III and Alan Alda as
Captain Hawkeye Pierce. Copyright 20th Century Fox Television. All rights reserved

To hear Alan Alda talk, bringing David Ogden Stiers in to play Major Charles Emerson Winchester III was one of the main reasons that "M*A*S*H" was then able to keep going for another six seasons. Adding that character to the canvas (Not to mention that talented actor to this show's already strong cast) put lots of narrative gas in the tank, so to speak.

And if you were to talk with other members of the team that produced this long-running / award-winning CBS show, they'd tell you about how kind & professional Stiers was. How David would often go out of his way to praise another performers' work onset (EX: Stephen T. McCarthy - who played a lot of small supporting roles on "M*A*S*H" while this 20th Century Television show was in production - recalled the time that Stiers, after seeing the footage that had been shot the previous day, deliberately sought McCarthy to say "I just saw the dailies, and what you did [yesterday] was the very essence of acting").

The folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios are equally enthusiastic when it comes to describing the time that they spent working with David Ogden Stiers. They describe him as being this hugely talented man who was incredibly easy to work with. Not to mention being a very witty collaborator.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

How so? Well, one of the biggest laughs in all of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" (i.e., The Beast - who's now looking to reward Belle's kindness - turns to Cogsworth for advice. "I want to do something for her," he says. "But what?" "Well, there's the usual things," the Beast's major domo replies. "There's flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep") was something that Stiers just ad-libbed one day while he was in the booth recording lines for this character.

In fact, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (i.e., the directors of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast," the first full-length animated feature to ever be nominated for a "Best Picture" Oscar) considered David's contributions to be such a vital part of that motion picture's eventual success that - from that point forward -- Wise & Trousdale wouldn't make a movie at Disney without Stiers. Which is why they had David voice the Archdeacon for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1996 and then sought out Stiers to voice Fenton Q. Harcourt (i.e., Milo Thatch's boss at the Smithsonian Institute) for "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" in 2001.

Other directors at Walt Disney Feature Animation were equally impressed with David's talent. Which is why - when Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois were putting together "Lilo & Stitch" and needed someone to voice Dr. Jumba Jookiba (i.e., the somewhat goofy alien mad scientist who gene-spliced Experiment 626 into existence) - they immediately sought out Stiers.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Likewise when the folks at Disney were putting together the English dubbed version of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" & "Porco Rosso," Kirk Wise & Tony Bancroft both insisted that David then be brought in to voice characters for these films.

But perhaps the greatest compliment that could be paid to Stier's voice-acting talent came with Walt Disney Animation Studios' 1995 release, "Pocahontas." On that project, directors Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg not only got David to voice Governor John Ratcliffe, that movie's villain, they also persuaded Stiers to play Wiggins, Ratcliffe's manservant. And David did such a good job of vocally differentiating between these two "Pocahontas" characters that few people outside of this film's production team realized that David had voiced both Ratcliffe & Wiggins.

At one of the many "Beauty & the Beast" anniversary events that The Walt Disney Company has held over the past 25+ years, I got the chance to interview Stiers. And at that time, I asked him what his favorite Mouse-related job was. David thought for a moment and then replied "I suppose that it would probably be 'Pocahontas.' But that's because one of my very first acting job was a Broadway musical called 'The Magic Show,' which Stephen (Schwartz) wrote all the songs for. So - when he and I got to work together on 'Pocahontas' - that then made that Disney movie kind of a family reunion for us."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"No. Wait. I've changed my mind," Stiers then said. "If I had to pick my absolute favorite Disney-related gig, it was when Kirk (Wise) & Gary (Trousdale) asked me to read the opening narration for 'Beauty & the Beast.' You see, because I did the narration for that film ... well, when it came time for Disney to do 'Beauty & the Beast' on Broadway, Michael Eisner then insisted that I also do the opening narration for the stage show as well."

"The Broadway production of 'Beauty & the Beast' has been running in New York for over seven years now [EDITOR'S NOTE: I did this particular interview with David back in late 2001. Just before the special edition IMAX version of this Academy Award-winning movie was released to large format theaters]," David continued. "And I just love the idea that - even when I'm sitting quietly at home - I'm still being represented on Broadway."

Just so you know: Even though Stiers had been battling bladder cancer for the past two years, he continued to work. Voicing the character of Mr. Maellard for Cartoon Network's "Regular Show" as well as continuing to appear on television (David's last on-camera appearance was in a 2017 TV movie, "The Jones Unplugged"). And were you to talk with the production teams who worked on those two projects, they'd tell you that Stiers was just as personable & professional while working on those shows as he'd been during the six years that David spent working on "M*A*S*H" and/or all the time he spent behind microphones while working on animated features for Disney.

David Ogden Stiers in the booth with "Lilo & Stitch" co-director Chris Sanders.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Here's hoping that - the very next time that the Disney Legends nominating committee gets together - that they then give some serious consideration to honoring this performer posthumously.

The staff of JHM wishes to extend its condolences to the friends & family of David Ogden Stiers during their time of sorrow.

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  • I live in Newport, Oregon and was a friend to David. He will be missed by so many here and especially those of us in the arts community. He and I would always have a joke-off when he came to the performing arts center. We would always try to up one another in the telling of jokes. He was like an encyclopedia of humor. It always ended in a draw though as I had to get back to work and he had to go home. I will miss him for that and his incredible talent. He loved our performing arts center, being associate conductor of our symphony and he was always in awe of our up and coming young talent whether they were musicians or actors. Rest in peace, dear David.

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