Character actor Kenneth Mars—whose knack for silly accents landed him roles as the one-armed police inspector in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and a Hitler-loving playwright in The Producers—has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Self-described as “Mel Brooks’ house kraut,” Mars first came to be part of the director’s company when he was cast in The Producers as Franz Liebkind, the crazed ex-Nazi whose Springtime For Hitler musical is seized upon by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel as the ideal candidate for a Broadway flop.
Several years later, Mars would team up with Brooks again on Young Frankenstein by playing another eccentric German, Police Inspector Hans Wilhelm Friedrich Kemp, who sports a monocle over an eyepatch, a primitive wooden arm, and an impressive mustache-and-sideburns combo, and speaks in a comically thick accent.
Mars’ skills at European accents of indeterminate origin was also on display in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?, where he played the morally dubious Hugh Simon, the Yugoslavian man who becomes mixed up in a suitcase-stealing farce with Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand.
A busy voiceover artist, Mars lent his talents for mimicry and dialects to shows like The Smurfs, Animaniacs, Darkwing Duck, Batman: The Animated Series, Life With Louie, Duckman, and The Jetsons, as well as to playing Ariel’s father King Triton in The Little Mermaid and its straight-to-video sequel and various video-game spin-offs. One of Mars’ longest-running parts was voicing Grandpa Longneck in many installments of The Land Before Time series, which he did right up until 2008.
Mars' many TV appearances included parts on Wonder Woman, A Different World, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Becker, and playing the eccentric, Wild West-themed ranch owner Otto Mannkusser on Malcolm In The Middle. In the 1970s, Mars had a recurring role on Norman Lear's Fernwood 2-Night and its continuation America 2-Night as W.D. “Bud” Prize.
In 1971, Mars starred opposite Shirley MacLaine in Desperate Characters, a film about a loveless married couple torn apart by their shared paranoia about the inner city; it was an understated role that proved there was more to Mars than just a funny voice. He had similar dramatic turns in The Parallax View, Night Moves, and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. In 1987, Mars first worked with Woody Allen, who cast him as Rabbi Baumel in Radio Days, then brought him back to play Armstead the Magician in 1992's Shadows And Fog.
Other notables among his nearly 200 roles: Fletch (Mars played Stanton Boyd, who utters the immortal line, “Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick”), Yellowbeard (as Mr. Crisp and Verdungo), Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (Mars played the main antagonist, The Mastermind), and reuniting with Bogdanovich on Illegally Yours. His last on-screen appearance was in an episode of Hannah Montana.