Family & Companions
A former jazz musician and a Tony winner, Hal Linden was perhaps best known as Captain Barney Miller, the world-weary head of New York's 12th Precinct on "Barney Miller" (ABC, 1975-1982). A talented musician-singer, Linden spent nearly a decade performing with such noted big band leaders as Sammy Kaye before channeling his energies toward acting. He found success on Broadway, beginning with a 1958 turn in "Bells Are Ringing" and punctuated by a Tony win for his performance in "The Rothschilds" in 1971. Having dabbled in the medium of television since the mid-1960s, the actor achieved mainstream fame when he was cast as "Barney Miller" three years later. Linden's nuanced performance, which echoed the show's balance of broad comedy and sincere human drama, earned him both critical acclaim and viewer loyalty. After the hugely popular series ended its seven-year run, Linden kept busy with continued hosting duties on the educational wildlife show "Animals, Animals, Animals" (ABC, 1975-1981), further successful runs on Broadway, and the occasional big screen appearance in such feature films as "Out to Sea" (1993), starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Employing a combination of sophisticated charm and everyman appeal, Linden enjoyed a prolific and diverse career on stage, TV and film, well into his octogenarian years.
Born Harold Lipshitz on March 20, 1931, he was born in the Bronx and raised in New York City. He studied clarinet as a young man and was playing regularly with symphony orchestras by his mid-teens. After graduating from the Manhattan School of Performing Arts, he studied music at Queens College before transferring to City College for a business degree. After hours, he sang and played with numerous big bands of the 1940s and 1950s, including such noted leaders as Sammy Kaye and Bobby Sherwood. The former even asked him to join his outfit, but Linden was drafted into the Army, where he provided music for military audiences and acted in Army revues. The experience sparked an interest in acting, so after his discharge, he began studying voice and drama at the American Theatre Wing in New York. In 1955, he met dancer Frances Martin, who gave up her career to marry Linden in 1958 and help raise their four children. Linden also adopted his professional surname while driving to an acting engagement in Linden, NJ.
Linden's marriage was not the only big event in 1958. That year, he made his Broadway debut in "Bells Are Ringing;" originally hired as the understudy to lead Sydney Chaplin, he replaced the actor and co-starred with Judy Holliday in the New York and national productions. Numerous lead and supporting roles in plays and musicals soon followed, culminating in a Tony Award for "The Rothschilds" in 1971. His performance caught the eye of producer Danny Arnold, who was looking for an actor to lead an ensemble cast for a comedy-drama series set in a New York police precinct.
Linden, whose television and film credits were limited up to this point - he had guested on a handful of series and provided English-language voiceovers for the American versions of several Japanese sci-fi films - proved a natural for Arnold's pilot, "The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller," which aired as part of an ABC summer anthology series called "Just For Laughs" in 1974. The pilot went unsold for that season, but was retooled and launched the following year. A smart, mature series that was buoyed by a strong cast of newcomers and veteran performers, "Barney Miller" won over audiences with its intelligent characters and scripts, which were often crafted and shot during all-night sessions after the studio audience had left. Such attention to detail, along with the performances and writing, earned the show numerous accolades, including three Emmys, two Golden Globes, and a Peabody Award. Linden, whose Barney shouldered the eccentricities of his detectives and the criminals they brought in with a wry humor that barely concealed a bone-deep weariness, was lauded throughout the series' run with Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, but shockingly, never brought home a trophy.
During this period, Linden was also seen during daytime hours on two different short programs for adult and younger audiences. Starting in 1976, he was the host of "Animals, Animals, Animals" (ABC, 1975-1981), an Emmy-winning series about zoo inhabitants and creatures in the wild. He also appeared in "FYI" (ABC), a 60-second informational program that provided tidbits of trivia to daytime soap opera audiences. Linden's popularity on "Miller" also earned him a primetime variety production, 'The Hal Linden Special" (1979) which showcased his musical abilities with plenty of song and dance numbers. When audiences began to trickle away in 1981, Arnold brought "Miller" to a close and scattered his detectives across New York City (Barney began a deputy inspector), and Linden kept busy in television features and Broadway, including a 44-week run in "I'm Not Rappaport" in 1985. The following year, Linden returned to television with "Blacke's Magic" (NBC, 1986), a detective series with comic overtones about a former magician (Linden) who uses his sleight-of-hand to solve crimes with the help of his ex-con man dad (Harry Morgan). Linden performed many of the on-camera tricks himself without any assistance, but it was not enough to extend the series beyond a single season.
Linden kept busy with Broadway and national performances during much of the 1980s and 1990s, including turns in "The Sisters Rosensweig" in 1993 and "Cabaret" in 2002. He also toured frequently with musical productions like "Man of La Mancha" and performed jazz, show tunes and standards with a variety of accompaniments from symphony orchestras to nightclub bands. He was also a frequent guest star on television and the rare feature, where he was put to excellent use as a graying Lothario in films like "A New Life" (1988) and "Out to Sea" (1993) opposite Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
He made two attempts to return to regular series work in the 1990s: "Jack's Place" (ABC, 1992) was a lightweight comedy which allowed Linden to reprise his role as sounding board to a cast of oddballs; this time in a restaurant setting. "The Boys Are Back" (ABC, 1994-95) gave him the chance to work with another well-liked TV performer, Suzanne Pleshette, as a married couple whose sons return home after years of independence. Linden found greater success as a rabbi who teaches three young men about tolerance in "The Writing on the Wall," a 1994 TV feature made for "The CBS, Schoolbreak Special" (CBS, 1984-1995). His performance would finally net him a long-overdue Emmy in 1995.
In 1997, Linden starred as Ebenezer Scrooge in a production of "A Christmas Carol" in Madison Square Garden before returning to Broadway in 2001 for "The Gathering." He also remained remarkably active in television, including a multiple episode stint on "The Bold and the Beautiful" (CBS, 1987- ) in 2006 and 2007. In addition to his theater and singing engagements, Linden was a frequent host for the March of Dimes telethons and served as spokesperson for the National Jewish Fund. Even as he neared his 80th birthday, Linden continued to act on screen, including a supporting role in the romantic comedy "A Kiss at Midnight" (Hallmark Channel, 2008). Two years later, he picked up a guest stint on "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010-15) as the womanizing, actor-father of Victoria Chase (Wendy Malick) in the show's first season.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made stage debut in a production of "Wonderful Town", the musical version of "My Sister Eileen", staged at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA
Signed to replace Chaplin five days later, starring opposite Judy Holliday on Broadway
Signed as understudy to Sydney Chaplin in "Bells are Ringing", which began its run at the end of 1956
Portrayed twins on "The Shameful Secrets of Hastings Corners", a busted NBC-TV pilot for a soap opera spoof
Co-starred in another failed pilot, "Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside", a police drama
Starred in the title role of "Barney Miller", a hugely successful ABC-TV sitcom set at a police precinct
First film in a leading role, "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?"
Portrayed Hollywood mogul Jack Warner in "My Wicked, Wicked Ways... The Legend of Errol Flynn", a CBS-TV biopic
Returned to features when he played a leading role opposite Alan Alda and Ann-Margret in the Alda-directed film, "A New Life"
Starred in "Jack's Place", an ABC-TV summer tryout series
"Jack's Place" given a brief run during regular season
Starred opposite Suzanne Pleshette on the CBS sitcom, "The Boys Are Back"
Return to the musical stage to star in pre-Broadway tryout of "Dodsworth" in Fort Worth, Texas
Succeeded Eli Wallach in the Off-Broadway production of "Visiting Mr. Green"
Assumed role of Billy Flynn in the Las Vegas production of the hit stage musical "Chicago"
Acted in "The Play's the Thing" in North Hollywood alongside daughter Nora
Returned to Broadway in the play "The Gathering"
Made NYC cabaret debut