Hackett was born Leonard Hacker in Brooklyn, New York, New York, the son of a Jewish upholsterer. He grew up on 54th and 14th Ave in Borough Park, Brooklyn, across from Public School 103 (now a yeshiva). Living next door was a yet-to-be-famous aspiring baseball player named Sandy Koufax. He graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1942. While still a student, he began performing in nightclubs in the Catskills Borscht Belt resorts. He appeared first at the Golden Hotel in Hurleyville, New York, and he claimed did not get one single laugh.
Hackett enlisted in the United States Army during World War II and served in an anti-aircraft battery.
Hackett's first job after the war was at the Pink Elephant, a Brooklyn club. It was here that he changed his name from Leonard Hacker to Buddy Hackett. He made appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and continued to perform in the Catskills. He acted on Broadway, in Lunatics and Lovers, where Max Liebman saw him and put him in two television specials.According to the The Love Bug audio commentary, Hackett once claimed that in the late 1940s, director Jules White, asked him if he would like to replace Curly Howard in The Three Stooges, due to Curly's stroke, but he turned down the role. But, Jules White himself said in an interview that Hackett was probably lying.
Hackett's movie career began in 1950 with a 10-minute "World of Sports" reel for Columbia Pictures called King of the Pins. The film demonstrated championship bowling techniques, with expert Joe Wilman demonstrating the right way and Hackett (in pantomime) exemplifying the wrong way. Hackett would not return to movies until 1953, after one of his nightclub routines attracted attention. With a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, Hackett's "The Chinese Waiter" lampooned the heavy dialect, frustration, and communication problems encountered by a busy waiter in a Chinese restaurant: "No, we no have sprit-pea soup ... We gotta wonton, we got eh-roll ... No orda for her, juss orda for you!" The routine was such a hit that Hackett made a recording of it, and was hired to reprise it in the 1953 Technicolor musical Walking My Baby Back Home, produced by Universal-International.
Hackett was an emergency replacement for Lou Costello in 1954. Abbott and Costello were set to make a feature-length comedy Fireman, Save My Child, with a guest appearance by Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Several scenes had been shot with stunt doubles when Lou Costello was forced to withdraw due to illness. Universal-International salvaged the project by hiring Hugh O'Brian and Hackett to take over the Abbott and Costello roles; Jones and his band became the main attraction.
On June 12, 1955, Buddy Hackett married Sherry Cohen. He lived in a home in Leonia, New Jersey before purchasing a home in Fort Lee in the late 1950s that had been owned by crime boss Albert Anastasia.
Hackett became known to a wider audience when he appeared on television in the 1950s and 1960s as a frequent guest on such talk shows as those of Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey, telling brash, often off-color jokes, and mugging at the camera. He was on the Johnny Carson show as a frequent guest. During this time, he also appeared as a panelist on What's My Line?.
Hackett starred as the title character in Stanley, a situation comedy that also featured Carol Burnett and the voice of Paul Lynde. It aired live on NBC before a studio audience. Stanley revolved around the adventures of the namesake character (Hackett) as the operator of a newsstand in a posh New York City hotel.
In 1960, he appeared as himself in an episode of NBC's short-lived crime drama Dan Raven, starring Skip Homeier, set on the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood. Hackett also appeared many times on the game show Hollywood Squares, in the late 1960s.
Hackett became widely known from his role in the 1963 box-office success It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. After starring on Broadway in I Had a Ball, Hackett appeared opposite Robert Preston in the 1962 film adaptation of The Music Man. Children became familiar with him as lovable hippie auto mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz in Disney's The Love Bug (1968). He appeared as Art Carney's replacement on The Jackie Gleason Show, and in the 1958 film God's Little Acre. His later career was mostly as a guest on variety shows and prime time sitcoms, such as Boy Meets World in its 4th season.
As a SingerEdit
Recorded: Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, first recorded by: Brian Hyland.
In 1978, Hackett surprised many with his dramatic performance as Lou Costello in the television movie Bud and Lou opposite Harvey Korman as Bud Abbott. The film told the story of Abbott and Costello, and Hackett's portrayal was widely praised. He and Korman did a memorable rendition of the team's famous "Who's on First?" routine.
Hackett starred in the 1980 film Hey Babe! with a 13-year-old Yasmine Bleeth, in her first screen appearance. That same year, he hosted a syndicated revival of the quiz show You Bet Your Life which lasted for one year
Throughout the 1970s Hackett appeared regularly doing TV ads for Tuscan Dairy popsicles and yogurt. But his most famous television campaign was for Lay's potato chips ("Nobody can eat just one!") which ran for 3 years, 1968-1971.
Hackett guest-starred on two episodes of Space Rangers as has-been comedian Lenny Hacker, a parody of his stage persona. The character's name was Hackett's own real name.
His latest film performance was voicing Scuttle, the goofy little seagull, in Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) and the direct-to-video sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea in 2000. Hackett also appeared in the short term comedy series Action which starred Jay Mohr as movie producer Peter Dragon. He played Dragon's uncle Lonnie. He appeared again with Mohr as a judge in the reality show Last Comic Standing.
Hackett's final film role was in the 1998 film Paulie, in which he played Artie, a pawnbroker. The film reunited Hackett with Jay Mohr once again.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Hackett was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In April 1998, Hackett guest starred in an episode of LateLine called "Buddy Hackett." The episode focuses on a news broadcast paying tribute to Hackett following his death, only to discover that the report of his death was a mistake. Robert Reich and Dick Gephardt also appeared in the episode, paying tribute to Hackett.
Hackett died on June 30, 2003, at his beach house in Malibu, California, at the age of 78. His son, Sandy Hackett, said his father had been suffering from diabetes for several years which was aggravated by his obesity.
- Walking My Baby Back Home (1953)
- Fireman Save My Child (1954)
- God's Little Acre (1958)
- All Hands on Deck (1961)
- Everything's Ducky (1961)
- The Music Man (1962)
- The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Muscle Beach Party (1964)
- The Golden Head (1964)
- The Love Bug (1968)
- The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
- Bud and Lou (1978) (TV Movie)
- Hey Babe! (1980)
- Loose Shoes (1980)
- Scrooged (1988)
- The Little Mermaid (1989) Scuttle
- Paulie (1998)
- The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000) (direct-to-video) Scuttle
- King of the Pins (1950) (pantomime)
- The Shoes (1961)
- Jack Frost (1979) (animation short; voice of Pardon Me Pete)
- Mouse Soup (1992) (voice)