This past Tuesday, the world lost an incredible actor, Maury Chaykin. The actor has appeared in so many films, to list his credits would be useless. If you’ve seen Atom Egoyan or Don McKellar films, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Chaykin’s work. If you’re a fan of Canadian cinema in general, you’ll have seen Chaykin. The man’s been described best as a character actor, always playing different roles without a single role defining who he is.
It’s perhaps his unique look, the rotund man who could either look sinister or jolly at the flip of a switch. He’s so very identifiable, and without the rugged good looks of a leading man, and so, the actor can move in from role to role.
If I look at his acting credits on IMBD, I can only say I’ve seen 15 out of the 150+ roles he has played in his long career.
His role as the title character in the short run A&E series Nero Wolfe was what I always knew him best in. He captured that role perfectly, taking what Rex Stout had put in novel and portrayed it with such perfection that no one could ever portray that character in the future as anything but a poor mimicry.
When the news of his death passed through the Twitter-sphere, I assumed it to be another case like the rumours which floated about Gordon Lightfoot. I saw that the day was his birthday, and so someone must have been mistaken. Sadly, I was wrong. The actor passed away at 61.
I’m going to take the opportunity to tell a bit of a story. First some background. I loved Nero Wolfe, as did my then-girlfriend. One year a couple friends of ours made a CD with songs for each of us in a group of friends. The one for my then-girlfriend was called “Nero Wolfe.”1
When I was working at a shit hole of a computer store, which we’ll call Boron Computing, I was behind the counter, restocking the shelves. In walks Mr. Chaykin, looking like a homeless man, his hair in every direction and attired like a bum. My then-coworker started helping him out. This coworker is also half of the duo who wrote and recorded “Nero Wolfe.” Mr. Chaykin was a tad irate, as something hadn’t gone right with the service of his computer. I can’t quite remember the details, or I wasn’t paying much attention. He wasn’t in a pleasant mood2. Maury just wants something taken care of, and he’s faced with two guys, one who’s stocking shelves, the other who’s supposedly helping him. The one who’s supposed to be helping him takes the paperwork, and starts looking data up in the computer, as he’s doing this, he starts humming a theme song, it’s the theme song to Nero Wolfe.
I gave my coworker an evil glare, thinking “dude, don’t be singing the theme song, that’s not cool!” Then I remembered that Nero Wolfe didn’t have a theme song and the title music would change with the story. I then realized that Vince was humming the song he wrote called “Nero Wolfe.” There I was standing behind him, a meter or two away from Chaykin, laughing my ass off, while trying to hold it in for fear of looking like a complete moron, and in turn looking like a bigger idiot than I feared.
That’s my Maury Chaykin story. He’ll be missed.