Carol Burnett, left, and veteran comrade in comedy Tim Conway laugh during a birthday party for Burnett in Los Angeles in 1986. Conway, the impish second banana to Burnett, died this week in Los Angeles at age 85. Conway had attended Bowling Green State University. (Photo by Nick Ut)

By LOU WILIN
STAFF WRITER

As a Bowling Green State University student in the 1950s, Tim Conway related quickly with people and made “something funny out of just almost nothing,” said a fraternity brother in Findlay.

Conway became a comedian whose various characters provided bumbling, knuckleheaded foolishness and slapstick for decades on television comedy and variety shows. He died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 85.

He reached the height of his fame in the 1970s on the “Carol Burnett Show” with characters like Mr. Tudball, the Old Man and The Dentist.

But Conway’s gift for making people laugh was evident long before he became famous for it. He had a winsome personality as a student in the 1950s, studying speech and dramatics at Bowling Green State University.

“He didn’t know a stranger. He was very personable,” said Larry Miles of Findlay. “He was very quick-witted. He could come up with things that people couldn’t imagine which had to do with comical relief.”

Back in those days, Miles and another fraternity brother who lives in Findlay, Jim Dysinger, knew Conway as “Tom.” Later his first name was changed to Tim because he was preceded by a British actor named Tom Conway.

But by any name, Conway was a hoot.

Conway, Dysinger and Miles were among those in a five-man room in a fraternity house at BGSU. Evenings normally involved the group of them talking about what had happened throughout the day, Miles said.

“Tim would come back and talk about the events of the day and evening and it would really be funny. He could make something funny out of just almost nothing,” Miles said. “He entertained everybody. There were a lot of evenings when we all should have been asleep but were still up and listening to him at 12 o’clock at night.”

He was not performing then as Mr. Tudball or the Old Man, or any other character.

“No. It was broader than that, in that he could find things of interest and funny in about anything anybody brought up or commented (on),” Miles said.

“What you see (of Conway performing) is not an act,” Dysinger said. “It’s him. He is that way all the time. He is ‘on’ all the time.”

Sometimes, when you were living with Conway, the antics could grow old, Dysinger said.

“He was automatic. He couldn’t help it,” Dysinger said. “He was just funny-crazy all the time. He was a great guy.”

Nothing was forced or rehearsed. He never fell back on old, worn-out subject matter. New humor flowed inexhaustibly from Conway.

“He had nothing planned. It just all came out, automatically,” Dysinger said. “It was different all the time.”

Years later, in 1961, Miles was watching “The Steve Allen Show” on television.

“All of a sudden a person appeared on the show and I said to my wife, ‘That’s Tom Conway!'” Miles recalls. He checked a listing about the program and found his old friend’s name was now Tim.

Ten minutes later, Miles received a phone call. It was Dysinger, asking if Miles was watching Steve Allen.

Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin

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