I first heard about Leslie Nielsen by reading about his exploits in the newspaper at the Lombardi Golf Classic. An article talked about what a sense of humor he had and how beloved he was by everyone.
But that couldn't be. Leslie was the guy from "Forbidden Planet," "The Poseiden Adventure" and numerous dramatic appearances on television. This was before the world found out about his ability to be funny in "Airplane."
As part of my job at WKTI, I encouraged Reitman and Mueller to have Leslie on as a guest. He turned out to be our favorite.
And Milwaukee turned out to be his adopted hometown.
He traveled with a little bellows in his palm that he would use to the same effect as a whoopee cushion. No one knew he had this device and at always the most opportune moment he would hit it with a facial expression to go along that made people think it was real. He loved that device and used it for years. He felt it made people laugh and loosen up around him and it always did. When we had dinner it would fall upon me to ask Leslie how he was feeling just as the waitress walked up. Some would be polite and others would laugh immediately but no one enjoyed it as much as Leslie.
Because of his sense of humor, I always felt as though I should come up with something memorable to make him laugh. Thankfully, he enjoyed them all.
Before airport restrictions it was all right for people to meet their loved ones at their gates when they arrived. After talking about the idea on the air, 400 people showed up to greet Leslie when he walked off the plane.
Mayor Norquist proclaimed it Leslie Nielsen Day and after the announcement was read, the crowd of 400 serenaded Leslie with his favorite sound. I don't think I ever saw him happier. That story became so well known that when Leslie was interviewed in Japan, they asked him about his reception when he arrived in a place called Milwaukee.
I had his head carved in a chunk of cheddar that looked exactly like him. He posed by it happily and for weeks after I would be startled by the sight of the cheese Leslie greeting me when I opened the refrigerator door.
We held the shortest parade in history for him. It was a one-block parade down Mitchell Street, and no one felt more honored than Leslie. He happily crawled up upon the back of the chicken-shaped Champion Chicken Van. He happily waved to the crowd as he rode the uncomfortable chicken.
He called me once and said he was coming to town and asked if I would pick him up. I met him at Mitchell International and we walked out to the curb where the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile picked us up. I didn't acknowledge it and neither did Leslie. He just walked on the vehicle and sat down and pretended it was just another car.
He told me he was going to be on "Larry King Live" to promote his fake tell-all biography. Let me preface this by saying that whenever we would go anywhere people would ask him if he was Leslie Nielsen. He would say no, he was Murray Frumpkin. He used that alias all the time.
So when I was the first caller on the show that night I told Leslie that I was Murray Frumpkin. He smiled a big smile and said, "Oh hello, Murray." I asked him if there was any truth to the rumor about him and Madonna. Larry King leaned in toward Leslie and said, "Do you know Madonna?"
Leslie said that he didn't but he'd like to. For some reason Larry followed up with, "Do you know Murray Frumpkin." Leslie said that he did and they both laughed. Two minutes after the show went off the air my phone rang. I knew who it was. I was greeted with that unmistakable deep voice saying, "You son of a bitch!"
The last big gag came about because people always confused Leslie with Peter Graves. We solicited a billboard company that would donate outdoor space. One did and gave us the big outdoor board at Hawley and Wisconsin Avenue. The board was covered with a huge photo of Peter Graves that featured the deliberate misspelling, "Welcome Leslee Kneelson."
We kept Leslie blindfolded and when he looked up and saw the billboard he laughed until he had tears in his eyes.
When I heard that Leslie passed away I was deeply saddened. I wrote a note to his wife Barbaree and told her how much I loved him. She wrote me back and told me that he loved me, too. I will cherish his friendship forever.
I read tons of Facebook posts from friends who were saddened, too. As I looked at the obituaries online I saw that they referred to him as comedian and comedy legend. I'm sure he would have been thrilled by that.
Gino Salomone has loved movies and entertainment since he was a boy on Milwaukee's Northwest Side. He squinted from the glare of the movie lights that his family shot as a child, and his proudest high school accomplishment was a 30-minute "feature" he made for John Marshall High School.
He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Mass Communication.
Salomone created a business called Rerun Reunions through which he booked personal appearances for actors from "Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch," "MASH," and from "Saturday Night Live."
Salomone has one screen credit, the Lab Technician in "Naked Gun 2 1/2." He was cut out of two other movies. Hollywood has not called since.
He is also the movie critic for WISN-TV where his feature, "Gino Goes to the Movies" airs on the weekend newscasts. He also reviews movies for the Dave and Carole Show on 96.5 WKLH radio. His interviews have been used by E! as well as the TV Guide Channel.