Thursday, March 31, 2022

Happy 100th birthday to the late Richard Kiley

Today would have been Richard Kiley's 100th birthday, and while he is known and celebrated as a fine performer of stage and screen, I personally remember him best for one specific host/narration gig--no, not Jurassic Park, but a documentary that aired on HBO many, many times in the early 1980s:

Some Call Them...Freaks is a 1981 HBO documentary spotlighting "different" individuals like Robert Wadlow, Julia Pastrana, Tom Thumb, and others. It has a simple, often stark style, reliant on basic recreations, still photos, and Kiley's sober voice-over. Yes, there is some showmanship--Kiley dresses like a magician and appears on a stage set up to resemble a sideshow backdrop--but the overall pace and tone are subdued.

Check out the dedication at the beginning. The plain white text on black background with no music prefigures something serious. At least, it did when I was a kid. I knew this was something strange yet meaningful, and this special haunted me a bit. It was meant to humanize the spotlighted people, and it did so in a way, but I was also, for lack of a better word, freaked out by the presentation.

I still watched it, though! I must have seen pieces of this many times on HBO. Years later, I got into the "Hey, you can find old stuff on YouTube" phase of my life, and I was thrilled to find this special. It was more subtle than I remembered, and today it really stands out for being less hyper than what we see today. The style is much more akin to the kinds of educational films we used to see in school than current documentary fashion. And you know what? I like it!

Kiley does a great job in this special, and it will always be my favorite role of his. Happy 100th!


  1. The episode of Columbo he's in (A Friend in Deed) is in my top 3 Columbo episodes.