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Peter Scolari

Peter Scolari

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: September 12, 1955 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New Rochelle, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

A talented comedic actor who broke through alongside Tom Hanks on the cross-dressing sitcom "Bosom Buddies" (ABC, 1980-82), Peter Scolari's early association with Hanks proved a double-edged sword. Although he went on to enjoy a charismatic, Emmy-nominated run as the ultimate neurotic yuppie Michael Harris on "Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990), Scolari was overshadowed by Hanks' rise to movie superstardom and was often invoked as a punchline comparing the two. Struggling to find a worthy follow-up to "Newhart," Scolari took many guest appearances and lower-profile roles before resurfacing as Rick Moranis' TV replacement on the adaptation of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (syndicated, 1997-2000). Happily, Hanks proved a longtime loyal friend, throwing prestigious credits Scolari's way, including small roles in his "That Thing You Do!" (1996), "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998) and "The Polar Express" (2004). Although his legacy was inextricably intertwined with and ultimately eclipsed by his former "Bosom Buddies" co-star, Peter Scolari was a worthy comic talent who deserved more recognition for his own unique gifts.

Born Sept. 12, 1955 in New Rochelle, NY, Peter Scolari started his career on the New York stage, which led to several television appearances. His work on the World War II-set "Goodtime Girls" (ABC, 1980) alongside Annie Potts helped bring him to the attention of network executives, who subsequently cast him as one of the two stars of "Bosom Buddies" (ABC, 1980-82), a small screen homage to the classic cross-dressing comedy, "Some Like it Hot" (1959). The high-concept, sometimes lowbrow series found Scolari and a young actor named Tom Hanks playing best friends who disguise themselves as women to take advantage of the low rent in an all-female residential hotel inhabited by a cast of charismatic women, including Wendi Jo Sperber, Holland Taylor and Donna Dixon. Although many viewers developed great affection for the Scolari/Hanks rapport as well as the good-natured show itself, the network pulled the plug before it could complete two seasons.

Fairly or not, Scolari's career would forever be marked by this early association with Hanks: Scolari had the blessing to befriend an actor who would eventually rise to the pinnacle of showbiz while remaining a loyal pal, but he also had the curse of having to live in Hanks' shadow as a punchline and/or cautionary tale of how difficult it truly was to achieve superstardom. At the time of the show's cancellation, however, Hanks and Scolari parted as professional equals, with the latter receiving a new but ultimately short-lived sitcom, "Baby Makes Five" (ABC, 1983). He quickly moved on to his longest lasting and best-received role when he joined the cast of "Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990) as the uptight Michael Harris, a local TV producer and the quintessential neurotic yuppie. Paired with Julia Duffy's deliciously spoiled princess-turned-hotel maid, Stephanie, and frustrating the low-key Dick (Bob Newhart), Scolari won over critics and audiences alike with his hilarious hyperkinetic character, earning a Viewers for Quality Television Award and three Emmy nominations for his role.

The long-running "Newhart" became a much loved classic across the board, and Scolari remained with the show until the end, when it capped off its successful run with one of television's all-time greatest series finales. Landing such a lengthy, juicy role opposite fantastic talents on a quality program was an accomplishment few actors could boast, but all of Scolari's considerable success came with an asterisk, since Hanks had transformed into a major movie star around this time and was well on his way to becoming one of the most bankable movie stars of all time. Scolari struggled to find a worthy next step when "Newhart" ended, booking small television and film spots before attempting to launch a string of nonstarter sitcoms, including "Family Album" (NBC, 1993) and "Dweebs" (CBS, 1995).

Happily, Hanks never forgot his friend, and gifted Scolari with a small part as a TV host in "That Thing You Do!" (1996), an affectionate look back on the 1960s music industry, written and directed by Hanks himself. From that success, Scolari stepped into Rick Moranis' shoes to spearhead the television adaptation of the successful Disney film franchise "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (syndicated, 1997-2000). Although the series proved to be disposable family entertainment at best, its likably low-stakes production proved endearing to many viewers. Scolari also branched out behind the camera, producing and directing a flurry of the show's episodes. The actor reunited with Hanks again to play astronaut Pete Conrad in the highly acclaimed U.S. space program miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998).

Scolari returned to Broadway with roles in shows like "Hairspray" and "Sly Fox" and a string of off-Broadway work, but never stopped notching screen credits. Another high-profile spot among Scolari's constant stream of TV guest spots and voiceover work came as a lonely boy riding "The Polar Express" (2004) alongside Hanks in the animated holiday movie. The film and its CGI approach proved polarizing with critics, although it still turned a healthy profit. The "Bosom Buddies" family continued to reunite when Scolari reunited with Wendie Jo Sperber to voice game show host versions of themselves in an episode of "American Dad!" (Fox, 2005- ) just before the actress died tragically from breast cancer in 2005. Following a supporting turn in the indie drama "Mentor" (2006) starring Rutger Hauer, Scolari retreated to the shadows for a spell, appearing less often on screen. He did play a bumbling FBI agent in the family adventure "A Plumm Summer" (2007) and voiced Ray Palmer/Atom on "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" (Cartoon Network, 2008-2011), but by and large, the actor remained largely out of the spotlight. Scolari did re-emerge on the hit cable sitcom "Girls" (HBO, 2012- ), created by young comic phenom Lena Dunham. He played Dunham's father to mother Becky Ann Baker, both of whom cut off their daughter so she can better concentrate on her writing.

By Jonathan Riggs

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