Magazine article The New Yorker

Fibreglass Menagerie

Magazine article The New Yorker

Fibreglass Menagerie

Article excerpt

FIBREGLASS MENAGERIE

In the mid-nineteen-nineties, Charles Grodin retired from acting and withdrew to Connecticut, to spend more time with his wife, Elissa, his young son, and a collection of life-size fibreglass animals--including a buffalo--that he installed in his back yard. He wrote books filled with lightly curmudgeonly anecdotes and began recording one-minute syndicated commentaries, about this and that, for CBS Radio, sometimes ending with the words "Oh, boy. "

But, a few years ago, when Grodin was in his mid-seventies, he began to act again: demand for his representations of pained, wincing men somehow overpowered his wish never to leave Wilton. For example, Grodin played a recurring character--an unsolicitous, if insightful, doctor--in the fourth season of "Louie."

At eleven-thirty on a recent morning, Grodin was not far from his home, in the Red Barn restaurant, in the shadow of the Merritt Parkway. Staff members greeted him as "Mr. G."; the hits of the Carpenters, including "Top of the World," played on the sound system. Grodin--baseball cap, zip-up corduroy jacket, wan smile--said that he hadn't been out to the movies in fifteen years. When he is offered work, "I never say, 'How much?' I say, 'Where?' " He praised Louis C.K. for getting him home at a reasonable hour. Grodin then described his first day on "While We're Young," Noah Baumbach's new comedy, in which he plays Ben Stiller's father-in-law. Baumbach spent perhaps two hours shooting a brief scene in which Grodin has his bow tie adjusted by Naomi Watts. Quoting a remark made by the actor Joe Bologna during a visit to the Universal Studios theme park, Grodin asked Baumbach, "Who do you have to fuck to get off this tour?"

Grodin ordered a turkey club sandwich and described his garden animals. "I'm kind of on hold for a cow right now," he said. He started his collection after a visit to United House Wrecking, in Stamford. "I decided--I don't know why--that I was going to get a number of these. My wife looked at me. She calls it Chuck's World."

He went on, "That's O.K., but then I wired them for sound. And it wasn't the sound of a horse or a buffalo or an elephant or a dog--it was me doing different dialects. Like the buffalo has a Yiddish dialect. And the elephant is an upper-class English." Impersonating his elephant, he said, " 'Have you been talking to Bob the buffalo? …

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