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Frank Gorshin


Last Updated: 1:06am BST 19/05/2005

Frank Gorshin, who died on Tuesday aged 72, made many film and television appearances but was most memorable as the frenzied Riddler in the 1960s hit television show Batman.

As the arch enemy of Batman and Robin, his trademarks were an emerald green skin-tight costume covered in pink question marks and a chilling, crazed laugh; his henchwoman was Jill St John. Gorshin was the only Batman actor nominated for an Emmy, and many fans of the series considered that Jim Carrey's version of the Riddler in the film Batman Forever (1995) failed to match up to Gorshin's.

Gorshin said recently: "The funny thing was, the Riddler was seen as a sex symbol by both sexes, and suddenly I became this great pin-up on teenagers' walls and in locker rooms."

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Born in Pittsburgh on April 5 1934, Frank Gorshin was the son of a rail worker and a sempstress. He started in showbusiness as an impressionist; at the age of 15 he worked as an usher at a cinema in Pittsburgh, and he remembered every tone and gesture of the stars he saw on the screen and turned them into an act. He won a talent contest in Pittsburgh, the prize for which was a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller's Carousel night club in New York.

His career took off, but aged 19 Gorshin decided to enlist in the US Army, and in 1953 he was in Korea, attached to Special Services as an entertainer. In the Army he met Maurice Bergman, who later introduced him the Hollywood agent Paul Kohner.

To create his version of the Riddler, Gorshin drew on the impressions which had made him famous - he claimed that he combined the passion of Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956) with the homicidal insanity of James Cagney in White Heat (1949). He added: "I developed the Riddler's fiendish laugh at Hollywood parties. I listened to myself laugh and discovered that the funniest jokes brought out the highest-pitched giggle." Gorshin was already a veteran of 18 films and had made several appearances on television shows before being launched as the Riddler at the age of 30.

Among the films in which he appeared were The Proud and Profane (1956), with William Holden and Deborah Kerr, and Dragstrip Girl (1957), with Fay Spain; he also played Joe Gruen in Invasion of the Saucermen, released in 1957. In that year he was visiting his parents in Pittsburgh when Paul Kohner telephoned him, suggesting that he hurry back to Hollywood for a screen test for Run Silent Run Deep (1958), which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

Not being a good flier, Gorshin decided to go by motor car. He drove for 39 hours before falling asleep at the wheel; in the subsequent crash he fractured his skull, waking up in hospital four days later; to add insult to injury, a newspaper in Los Angeles reported that he had been killed, and the role of Officer Ruby went to Don Rickles instead.

Gorshin was slight but athletic, and his wide mouth and menacing eyes were perfect for roles as henchmen.

He was the bank robber in That Darn Cat! (1965); he played an inmate of a federal prison in The Great Imposter (1961), with Tony Curtis; and he imitated Marlon Brando for his role in the Judy Holliday and Dean Martin film Bells Are Ringing (1960). He also made many guest appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the same time, Gorshin continued to perform his nightclub act. For example, he opened for Bobby Darin at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, and later shared the bill with Red Skelton at the Sahara and with Judy Garland at the MGM Grand.

After Batman, Gorshin appeared in an episode of Star Trek, in which his performance as Commissioner Bele was recognised with a nomination for an Emmy.

His career continued to thrive. He appeared on Broadway, notably in Jimmy (1970) and Guys and Dolls (1971), and he continued to make films.

Only last month Quentin Tarantino directed him and Tony Curtis in a episode of CSI, and at the time of his death, from pneumonia, he was still working on two films; one was Angels With Angels, in which he gives a remarkable performance as George Burns.

Frank Gorshin is survived by his wife, Christina Randazzo, and by their son.

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