Actor and comedian Buddy Hackett has been called one of America’s funniest and most inventive comics. He certainly left his comedic mark at Disney, on such smash hit feature films as The Love Bug, in which he played the wacky, mystic sculptor Tennessee Steinmetz, and The Little Mermaid, in which he provided the voice of Scuttle, the daft seagull who’s always showing off his false knowledge about humans.
Buddy’s wide range of facial expressions and his distinctive voice served as inspiration to animator Dave Stephan. who headed the Scuttle animation unit. “We tried to put Buddy’s sort of cross-eyed look and side-of-the-mouth delivery into the character,” said Stephan. “His readings were just so funny it gave us a real handle on the character and something great to work with.”
Born Leonard Hacker on August 31, 1924, Buddy was a gentle man with a huge heart off-camera.
He learned to make people laugh while growing up in Brooklyn, New York. As he explained, “I was a poor kid; we didn’t have the material things. I wanted attention and I got it by being funny.”
Entering the work force as an apprentice upholsterer to his father, Buddy quickly made a break for show business, working as a waiter-entertainer in the “borscht circuit” of the Catskill Mountains. He went on to become a popular headliner in comedy clubs across the country, which led to a starring role in the hit road production of Call Me Mister and, later, his Hollywood debut in the 1953 motion picture Walking My Baby Back Home, starring Donald O’Connor.
Buddy went on to star in a number of motion pictures, including the drama God’s Little Acre starring Robert Ryan in 1958, The Music Man starring Robert Preston in 1962, and the all-star comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963, among others. In 1988, he joined funny man Bill Murray in the comedy Scrooged, a modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
During the 1950s, he entered television, starring in a number of series including his own sitcom, Stanley, with Carol Burnett. In 1958, he replaced Art Carney for two years as a regular cast member on The Jackie Gleason Show. Later, he played Hollywood comedian Lou Costello in the 1978 television film Bud and Lou.
Buddy first arrived at Disney to star in The Love Bug with Dean Jones and Michele Lee; the film became the highest-grossing motion picture in the United States in 1969. Two years later, he starred in the Disney television special The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World and, in 1992, lent his voice to the character Louie in Disney’s Dinosaurs series, which aired on ABC.
Following the splashing success of The Little Mermaid in 1989, Buddy returned as the voice of Scuttle in the 2000 direct-to-video feature The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.”
In later years, Buddy and his wife, Sherry, were dedicated to the rescue of unwanted dogs and cats, creating a nonprofit animal refuge called “Buddy Hackett’s Singita.” Its annual fundraiser, the Singita Comedy Spectacular, premiered at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in 2002.
Buddy Hackett passed away on June 30, 2003, in Malibu, California.