You Might Remember Him
Biography offers new insights on the life of late Saturday Night Live star Phil Hartman
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief
In “You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman,” to be published September 23, biographer Mike Thomas gives insight into a difficult subject. “Saturday Night Live,” “Newsradio” and “Simpsons” cast member and gifted comedic actor Phil Hartman was, as Thomas shows, hard to get to know off stage.
Although Hartman met a tragic end, shot and killed at age 50 by his wife in a murder-suicide in 1998, he did not appear to possess the demons that have driven other comedic talents. If anything, the native Canadian greatly enjoyed Southern California, surfing, boating and working in visual arts for the music industry in his younger years (with Crosby, Stills & Nash, America, Poco and the like).
But Thomas digs deeper and uncovers tensions in Hartman’s life that ended up playing some role in how he died. Hartman did, as Thomas recounts based on extensive interviews with friends and family, worry about his career a great deal, and considered quitting acting both before and after SNL. Hartman fretted that he was not getting the breaks he needed, or the chance to do great work. Hartman only became a SNL cast member at age 38, considered old by the standards of that show, and was passed over the year before he was hired. After SNL, but before taking the role of Bill McNeal on “Newsradio,” Hartman tried to develop his own sketch series for NBC that did not end up being produced, which was another disappointment for his ambitions.
Being so immersed in his career, and also enjoying the fruits of his labor – including frequently taking his own boat to a retreat on Catalina Island off the Pacific Coast, Hartman had friction with his wife, Brynn, which Thomas portrays through extensive interviews with those who knew them both. Brynn was Hartman’s third wife (he had a short-lived marriage as a very young man, and a second more meaningful one in his early 30s), and the couple left behind a son and daughter. Brynn, who was 10 years younger than Phil, had her own acting ambitions, and consistently felt neglected by Phil’s pursuit of his career and his hobbies.
Thomas tracks this personal story that ended so abruptly, with sensitivity and care. No one will ever know all the details or thoughts that led to Brynn’s actions, but Thomas comes as close as may have been possible to illustrating the feelings, thoughts, motivations and dynamic of the Hartmans’ marriage in context of the events.
“You Might Remember Me” contains as much as it may have been possible to research and report about the life and career of Phil Hartman, and leaves the reader wondering what this gifted performer’s third or forth major marks in TV or movies could have been.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua