When I discovered that Harry Shearer was possibly one of the assorted boys in the dance scene in The Parent Trap—the only scene with boys, as it happens—I knew I had to add him to the schedule. It had never occurred to me how long his career has lasted. The idea that, in a different world, we’d have Harry Shearer’s Frankie Bennett instead of Eddie Haskell should tell you something about him. His parents didn’t want him to be a Child Actor; they wanted him to be a child who acted, and they rejected the idea of a regular character. He could do a few episodes here and there, but not every week. Then for a month in college, he was a poli-sci major and wanted a serious life. That also would’ve been a very different world.
As it is, we have a man whose first job in the industry was at age seven, on Jack Benny’s radio show. Apparently Benny was wonderful to him. As was Mel Blanc, who became his mentor. Shearer’s first movie appearance was in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, one of three movies, along with The Robe and The Egyptian, where he’s listed as “Boy (Uncredited).” (As you may imagine, the closest The Egyptian gets to actual Egyptians is Peter Ustinov, who was one-sixteenth Ethiopian.) He did a few episodes of TV, too, including the TV version of The Jack Benny Program. In the ’50s, he was kind of floating around Hollywood.
Shearer then went to college. He has no listed TV or movie credits between 1957, when he was thirteen (like me, he has a December birthday; his is even late enough in the month to pretty well guarantee his being a year younger than simple math would indicate in any appearance), and 1976. Apparently part of that time was spent in a serious effort to avoid the draft, including graduate school and teaching English. Then after that, he was a member of the radio comedy group The Credibility Gap, along with, among others, Michael McKean. This launched him back into the public eye.
These days, Shearer is mostly known for his voicework, and it’s true that his earliest voice work is from almost immediately after starting his adult career, in 1978’s Loose Shoes—which has a truly fascinating cast. And, of course, there’s his work on The Simpsons. Apparently he loves Mr. Burns but the voice is very hard on his throat. Which is why Dr. Marvin Monroe unofficially died. He’s the reason Ned Flanders became so huge; they just loved the voice he chose. He says the voices are easy, and he wouldn’t do them if they weren’t, but Mr. Burns. One suspects Mel Blanc would be proud of the fact that Shearer can do Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers in the same take.
Also, there’s the Spinal Tap thing. Which is amusing, because of course Spinal Tap did a guest shot on The Simpsons. Of course he was Derek Smalls on the episode “The Otto Show.” He also voices Otto Mann. Most of his live action work these days seems to be appearing as Derek Smalls on something or another. It’s probably about half his live action work overall, at least as an adult. Still, deep in my heart, I’ll have a fondness for him in the minor role of Guido Finucci in the improbably good Stallone comedy Oscar.