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Veteran Comic and TV Actor Phil Foster, 72

July 09, 1985|MICHAEL SEILER | Times Staff Writer

Phil Foster, a veteran comedian and character actor who once joked that the only steady jobs he ever held were " 'Laverne & Shirley' and World War II," died Monday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at the age of 72.

Foster, in many ways an archetypical New York comedian who worked his way up from a job in the Catskill Mountains Borscht Belt to Hollywood, had been admitted to Eisenhower Medical Center three days ago suffering from a heart attack, a hospital spokesman said.

Stricken After Golf

Foster was stricken Friday night at his Palm Springs home after playing a round of golf, family friend Dottie Archibald said.

He was best known in recent years for his portrayal of Frank De Fazio, the flappable father of Laverne in the popular television series, but began his career as a stand-up comedian. His last appearances, like his first, were at a Catskills nightclub.

He was born Fivel Feldman on March 29, 1913, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of immigrants from Russia who had changed their name from Vishnodosky. He changed it again some years later to Foster, after a Brooklyn street.

Young Foster got a job as a social director at a Catskills hotel, did some comedy, then went back to New York City to study acting at the New Theater School at 43rd Street and Broadway.

Performed in Plays

Just before the war Foster, pursuing a career as a serious actor, went on tour with a group performing a cycle of Clifford Odets plays and found himself in a Chicago nightclub.

"The comic was very unfunny," Foster said in a 1979 interview in The Times. "I told everybody who would listen how unfunny he was and how much better I could do the spot. . . . The manager of the club called my bluff--he put me on."

The manager offered Foster a job--at $175 week, $140 more than he was making as a serious actor. He took the job.

World War II intervened in Foster's series of mostly one-night comedy stands, and he did several years of Army service before going back on the road.

Home remained, for a time, Brooklyn, and although he later moved west, his heart stayed there, family friend Archibald said Monday.

Bemoaned Dodger Move

Foster was recently one of the first inductees, she said, into the Brooklyn Walk of Fame, designed to honor those Brooklyn natives who went on to stardom.

And although he was a fervent Dodger fan there, he never forgave them for abandoning the borough for Los Angeles, Archibald said.

"He didn't miss a home game from the time he was 2 years old until they moved," she said. "I finally convinced him to go to a Dodger game (in Los Angeles) about four years ago, and he complained about everything--the weather, the hot dogs, the seats."

In his later years, Foster was active in a Hollywood workshop that offered comedy classes for free to aspiring comedians and in "Laverne & Shirley," the success of which kept him busy.

"It's been good to me," he said in the 1979 interview. "It enabled me to buy a house in Palm Springs."

'Comic in Every Room'

But, he continued, "what I'd really like to do if I made lots of money is buy a great big house and put an old comic in every room in it."

Foster mentioned a few names of contemporaries such as Phil Silvers, Buddy Lester, Jan Murray and Jack Carter, then added with a laugh: "A house full of comics--wouldn't that be something?"

Foster, who was divorced, is survived by his sons, Michael and Daniel.

Memorial services were scheduled for Wednesday at Groman Mortuary in Granada Hills at a time not yet decided. Burial will follow at nearby Eden Memorial Park.

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