The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: Eddie Deezen

While we all adore and root for the stars and starlets of tinseltown, there is a treasure-trove of good men and women who have been integral to the success of all our favorite films. Bona fide, hard working and talented people who may never star in a film or see their name on a poster hanging in the local cineplex but will never escape our minds and imaginations when it comes to some good iconic and funny roles they play. This column is a tribute to the “Oh, That Guy” types, the common actor and the B-listers. They are the…

UnsungHeroesofHollywood

Eddie Deezen

Eddie DeezenAge: 56

Number of Film & TV Roles: 76

Notable Roles: Grease; 1941; Midnight Madness; Grease 2; Zapped!; WarGames; Punky Brewster 

Typical Roles: The biggest nerd in the world.

Why He’s Great: If you needed someone who personified the word “nerd” in the ’80s, you turned to one nerd: Eddie Deezen. His combination of looks and voice was unparalleled in the realm of nerddom. He was so nerdy that he didn’t even appear in Revenge of the Nerds because he would have made the other nerds look too cool in comparison. Eddie Deezen is what Jerry Lewis was trying so hard to be for all those years. 

Biography (via Wikipedia): Deezen was born Edward Harry Dezen in Cumberland, Maryland, the son of Irma and Robert Dezen. A class clown in his youth, Deezen started out with aspirations of becoming a stand-up comedian, moving out to Hollywood within days of graduating high school in order to pursue a career. As a comedian, he performed at least three times at The Comedy Store, though eventually decided to abandon stand-up and focus on acting after bombing his last act and having difficulty memorizing his routine. Deezen attempted stand-up one last time, however, when he appeared on an episode of The Gong Show in the mid-1970s, only to be gonged by singer-songwriter Paul Williams.

Hollywood career

Deezen landed his first and perhaps best known role in the film Grease, playing nerdy student Eugene Felsnic, a part he won through a standard audition process. During Grease’s post-production period, Deezen won another small role playing a bully in the low-budget independent science fiction movie Laserblast. Despite being his second film, Laserblast marked Deezen’s screen debut when it was released in March 1978, three months before the theatrical release of Grease.

Following the massive success of Grease, Deezen found himself being cast in a string of high-profile comedy films playing similarly nerdy characters, including Robert Zemeckis’ directorial debut I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Steven Spielberg’s 1979 epic comedy 1941. Deezen was in such demand by 1979 that he was constantly having to turn down roles. At least two such notable instances were the characters of Eaglebauer in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Spaz in Meatballs, both of which Deezen turned down in order to film 1941.

Throughout the early 1980s, Deezen perpetuated his trademark nerd persona in several major films, including WarGames, Zapped! and Disney’s Midnight Madness, as well as returning to the role of Eugene Felsnic in Grease 2, one of only seven actors from the original Grease to return for the sequel. In 1984, Deezen was cast in a recurring role on television, playing a goofy superintendent on the first season of Punky Brewster. After filming only eight episodes, however, Deezen voluntarily left the series due to his reluctance to perform before a live audience and a continuing difficulty in remembering his lines.

1983’s WarGames marked the final mainstream film of Deezen’s live-action acting career as he began working exclusively in independent film for the remainder of the 1980s, starting with his first starring role in the 1984 cult comedy Surf II: The End of the Trilogy, where he played the movie’s antagonist, mad scientist Menlo Schwartzer.

1984 also saw the release of Revenge of the Nerds, the film that is generally credited with making the stock character of the stereotypical “nerd” a mainstay of teen films. Despite having arguably created the nerd archetype in such movies before, Deezen was not cast in the film. He remarked in an interview that he later asked the producers of Revenge of the Nerds why he hadn’t been offered a role, and was given the response that he was deemed “too geeky”, whereas casting was instead just looking to dress “normal people” up as nerds. Despite this, Deezen says he is frequently “recognized” by strangers for being in the film
Deezen worked steadily throughout the remainder of the 1980s and early 1990s, continuing to play nerds in both bit parts and major roles, including the ensemble comedy Million Dollar Mystery, Critters 2: The Main Course, The Whoopee Boys and The Silence of the Hams. He worked several times alongside comedian Tim Conway, most notably appearing in two of his Dorf videos, and struck up a partnership with prolific low-budget filmmaker and producer Fred Olen Ray, who gave Deezen leading roles with the films Beverly Hills Vamp, Mob Boss and Teenage Exorcist.

To date, Deezen’s last live-action appearance was a cameo as a security guard in the 1996 Leslie Nielsen spoof Spy Hard. In a July 2009 interview, Deezen revealed that he would return to acting in front of the camera, stating “The truth is, it is extremely tough to sustain a career in Hollywood. It is tough enough ever getting work, just the sheer odds. I loved John and Matthew and it would definitely be my pleasure to work with them again. Believe me, if the right role was there and available, I’d be there in a second”.

In 2012, Deezen starred in a live-action comedic short film entitled I Love You, Eddie Deezen. The plot revolves around a nerdy woman’s cross-country journey to find the man of her dreams: Eddie Deezen. The short was released on November 19, 2012.

Voice acting

In the mid-1980s, Deezen transitioned into voice acting, a change of pace he favored due to better pay and not needing to memorize dialogue. He started out lending his voice to animated feature films, including Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird and Don Bluth’s 1991 Rock-A-Doodle. According to a 2011 interview, Deezen unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of the title character in Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, losing out to comedian Charles Fleischer.

Deezen eventually found full-time voice work on television in the mid-1990s, playing recurring characters on the animated series Grimmy, Duckman, Kim Possible and What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, as well as guest spots on many others, including Johnny Bravo, Recess and Darkwing Duck. His best-known voice-over character, however, is that of Mandark, the arch-nemesis of the eponymous Dexter on Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Laboratory, a role he played for the series’ entire run from 1996–2003. Deezen also voiced the character on the TV special Dexter’s Laboratory: Ego Trip and the video games Cartoon Network Racing and FusionFall.

In 2004, Deezen returned to the big screen once again under the direction of Robert Zemeckis to supply voice and motion capture performance for the blockbuster holiday film The Polar Express, playing the role of the nerdy “Know-It-All”. He reprised this role for the subsequent video game.
Deezen regularly lends his voice to radio and television commercials. In the late 1990s, he provided the voice of Pop (of Snap, Crackle and Pop) in commercials for Rice Krispies cereal, and Nacho, the mascot for Taco Bell’s kid’s meals commercials, alongside Rob Paulsen as Dog. In 2011, Deezen was under consideration for succeeding Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of The Aflac Duck, but did not win the role.

Personal life

Deezen still lives in Hollywood, where, according to him, “Along with my unemployment checks and residual checks, I will continue living the ‘great American dream’ – getting paid while doing absolutely nothing”.

Deezen is a huge fan of The Beatles, proclaiming himself to be their “biggest fan”. He was interviewed as himself for the unreleased 2005 film Me and Graham: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, a documentary following two filmmakers searching the US and UK for the ultimate Beatles fan. For over a year his official website featured a difficult Beatles trivia quiz – devised by Deezen himself – with a $100 prize for anyone who could answer all the questions correctly. Deezen revealed in a later interview that nobody had ever claimed the prize.

Deezen is also a pop culture trivia buff, and since 2011 has been a contributing writer to several trivia websites including mental_floss, TodayIFoundOut.com and Neatorama.com. While most of Deezen’s articles pertain to The Beatles and their members, he also regularly writes about such subjects as baseball, American history and classic comedy acts like The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Martin and Lewis.

Deez Clips:

 (Deezen at 1:00)

7 thoughts on “The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: Eddie Deezen

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  5. Pingback: TIL Eddie Deezen, who played a ton of movie nerds in the 70s and 80s and who's role as Eugene in Grease is considered the archetype for the movie nerd, was turned down for a role in "Revenge of the Nerds" because he was "too geeky"

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