Dave Barry

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The Independent Online

Dave Barry, comedian and actor: born New York 26 August 1918; married (four sons, one daughter); died Los Angeles 16 August 2001.

Although the veteran comedian Dave Barry once admitted, "I've never become a major attraction", one of his few films was last week voted the best ever American screen comedy. In Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959) Barry played Beinstock, the balding, owlish manager of the all-girl band Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopaters.

"Can't understand it," he tells Daphne (Jack Lemmon) and Josephine (Tony Curtis), "first my glasses disappear, then one of my suitcases!" Soon, in poor Beinstock's stolen glasses, yachting cap and navy style blazer, Curtis is wooing the band's luscious vocalist, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), in the guise of a millionaire playboy with the voice of Cary Grant.

The son of a furniture-store owner, the Brooklyn-born Dave Barry's career began when, still in his teens, he appeared on radio's long-running talent series Major Bowe's Original Amateur Hour. He gained further experience on the Borscht Belt, the many Jewish summer camps that dotted the Catskill mountains. Moving to California, he provided comic character voices for many Hollywood-based radio shows before service in the Second World War. Attached to the army's Special Services Unit he spent the war doing what he did best – entertaining servicemen and women at home and overseas.

After the war, Barry began a long association with Las Vegas, where his quick-fire comedy act warmed up audiences for many top stars. "I'm the kind of comic who fits here," he told The New York Times:

My jokes are short and punchy. I give the audience no time to think. They've been saturated with free drinks in the casino – to give them cerebral comedy would be deadly.

Barry also performed on cruise ships, on television and in occasional films. For more than eight years, he worked in support of another Las Vegas favourite, the singer Wayne Newton, confessing: "I'd be foolish not to admit the yearning to experience the misery of being a big star."

He lived to see his best-known film chosen by 1,500 members of the American Film Institute as the funniest comedy in the history of the cinema.

Dick Vosburgh

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