Steve Landesberg died yesterday of cancer. The comedian and actor, best known as the annoying, dead-pan intellectual Detective Sergeant Arthur P. Dietrich on the classic cop sitcom Barney Miller, was somewhere between the ages of 65 to 73; there's some dispute over his age, which he often refused to disclose.
All of the Barney Miller characters were superb, but I particularly liked Landesberg's Dietrich, a droll, human encyclopedia. The scope and depth of his knowledge of truly arcane subjects was a running joke that never got old. Like the time the cops dragged an atomic device constructed by a teenager into the station house. No one knew what it was; an expert was summoned and declared it to be a nuclear device. Everyone was stunned into silence, staring at the contraption. The door to the squad room opened, Dietrich sauntered in, walked over, took a look, and nonchalantly asked: "Huh. Where'd you get the atom bomb?"
Dietrich's character was mellow and his demeanor unassuming. He often lobbed hardballs, but he made certain they went right over the heads of his targets. Take the Arkansan arrested for solicitation:
Man: I know why you arrested me.
Man: It’s because I’m from Arkansas.
Dietrich: Nah, we haven’t enforced that in years.
Or this gem:
Man: We like the same things you like here: A good cut of meat, fresh
lobster, a nice bottle of wine...
Dietrich: Red or white?
Man: It depends.
Dietrich: With possum?
Dietrich: Thought so.
But, for what it's worth, Abe Vigoda is still alive.