Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hal-lelujah


Barney Miller (1975-82) was one of our father's favorite shows, and even at a very young age, we recognized something solid and comforting about Hal Linden's steady, even presence. But in spite of these early memories, perhaps because he does almost everything well, and makes it all look so effortless, the multi-talented Hal Linden sometimes flies under our collective radar. He's a damned good actor, a fine light comedian, and we happen to adore his singing. (He's also got those salt-and-pepper looks and sonorous voice which drive us nuts -- just for the record.)

Handsome early publicity photo, c. 1960
Before earning his seven Emmy nominations for Barney Miller, the former Hal Lipshitz paid his dues by performing as a clarinetist and singer for various big bands, then getting his big break by replacing Sydney Chaplin in the original Broadway run of Bells Are Ringing in 1958. Linden also understudied in the legendary, if ill-fated, Lucille Ball musical, Wildcat (1960-61) and the similarly troubled-yet-fabled On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965-66); but his most visible and acclaimed role came as the male lead in the off-Broadway revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes (1962), which was greeted warmly by critics, and provided Linden the first opportunity to lay down vocals for an original cast album.


There was one more major triumph on the stage (a Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award for The Rothschilds in 1971) before Barney Miller turned Hal Linden into a TV superstar. However, it was eminently clear to viewers tuning in to the variety shows and specials which still were a staple of network programming, that Linden, fantastic as he was as the rumpled, beleaguered, yet dignified Captain Miller, seemed to be happiest when given the chance to put on a tux and be a song and dance man.

Dorothy Loudon, Hal Linden and Barbara Eden in The Best Of Everything variety special (aired  September 18, 1983)
Cathryn Damon, Hal Linden, Linda Lavin and Bonnie Franklin in The Hal Linden Special (aired April 11, 1979)
The Borden Twins, c. 1976
Because we do admire the man and his underrated talent so, we feel a mild pang of guilt for the first variety show clip we've chosen to celebrate Mr. Linden's 82nd year -- from a 1976 episode of The Donny and Marie Show where Paul Lynde and Karen Valentine debase themselves in wigs cast-off by The Borden Twins; The Welcome Back, Kotter boys bump booties; poor Little Jimmy Osmond is forced into mild drag and dances with what appears to be a strange mating of the dancing Old Gold cigarette box and a blow-up doll; and Hal sings a disco-fied version of "I Could Have Danced All Night." But it's all so wonderfully, jaw-droppingly entertaining, we simply had to share it with you -- and, at the very least, Hal walks away with most of his dignity intact...in spite of the bedazzled mock turtleneck they made him endure.


Just to even things out a bit, here, in infinitely less sparkly surroundings, is a rather lovely rendition of The Carpenters' "I Won't Last a Day Without You" from an episode of The Carol Burnett Show.


After Miller ended its seven year run, Linden continued to be visible in television movies, specials, and guest appearances; he also attempted three more starring vehicles, but neither Blacke's Magic (1986), Jack's Place (1992-93) nor The Boys Are Back (1994) managed to capture the public's imagination. Linden was as nimble an actor as ever, and if anything, seemed to be growing handsomer; but like other beloved icons of 1970's television -- Mary Tyler Moore, anyone? -- he was forever cast in stone as his most famous creation, and audiences seemingly couldn't accept him as any other character on a weekly basis. Acceptance as a guest star, however, or as his charming self, was another story: Linden took home two Daytime Emmy Awards for his work as host of the children's program, FYI, in 1984 and 1985; and won a third Daytime Emmy for his guest role on CBS Schoolbreak Special in 1994.

Suave as ever in Blacke's Magic (1986)
Most recently, Linden has been touring with his cabaret act, which he has performed off-and-on since the early 1980's. He also released his long-overdue solo album debut, It's Never Too Late (2011) -- which had also been in the recording process, off-and-on, since the early 1980's, but the initial tracks were shelved when record companies of the time couldn't see any investment value in Barney Miller singing pop and jazz standards. Happily, it's time finally came, and we certainly find Hal Linden richly deserving of all appreciation his talent receives -- and wish him much, much more.


HAL LINDEN
March 20, 1931

7 comments:

  1. lipshitz ➞linden
    lifshitz ➞lauren

    for hal and ralph,
    it was a namechanger.

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  2. I didn't even realise he was still alive... Oops. Happy Birthday, Moustache Man! Jx

    PS That "Donny and Marie" clip gives me nightmares...

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    Replies
    1. Karen Valentine's wig haunts my dreams.

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  3. He was such a handsome man. Really distinguished.

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    Replies
    1. I find him irresistibly charming. Love his singing and speaking voice.

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  4. Thanks for this retrospective of Hal Linden. I will have to buy his cd.

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