A veteran character player with a long career on stage and screen, the silver-haired, often mustachioed Joseph Maher was usually cast in comedic roles, generally as butlers or clerics. The Irish-born actor moved to Canada at age 22 where he briefly worked for an oil company and as a bartender before joining an amateur theater troupe. He made his professional debut with the Canada Players in a 1959 production of "The Taming of the Shrew" and migrated to the USA three years later. Maher soon became a prominent stage actor, co-starring with Dustin Hoffman in "Eh?" (1966-67), Zoe Caldwell in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1968) and Al Pacino in "The Local Stigmatic" (1969). During this time, he alternated between NYC and regional theaters. He also found time to act in the occasional TV production, like his supporting turn to Julie Harris in "Little Moon of Alban" (NBC, 1964).
Maher continued to spend much of the 70s and 80s alternating between theater and the small screen. He appeared in support of Rosemary Harris and Eva Le Gallienne in "The Royal Family" (1975-76) while simultaneously featured on the NBC daytime drama "Another World." Maher earned back-to-back Tony Award nominations in 1979 and 1980 as Best Featured Actor in a Play for "Spokesong," a drama set in Ireland, and "Night and Day," a revival of Tom Stoppard's play. In the 80s, the actor went on to establish himself as one of the foremost contemporary interpreters of the works of Joe Orton (often directed by John Tillinger). As the befuddled but determined police inspector Truscott in "Loot" (1986), Maher all but stole the show and earned a third Tony nomination. He similarly enlivened productions of Orton's "What the Butler Saw" (which he performed in both NYC and London) and "Entertaining Mr. Sloan." One of his last stage appearances was in a 1995 staging of "The Entertainer" at the Long Wharf Theatre.
Maher's stock in Hollywood rose in the 70s beginning with his turn as a Wall Street executive interested in sex games in "For Pete's Sake" (1974) followed by his butler to Warren Beatty in "Heaven Can Wait" (1978). He continued to amass credits in the 80s, although in mostly forgettable fare (e.g., "Going Ape!" 1981, "Funny Farm" 1988). In 1992, Maher played the bishop in "Sister Act" and ushered in a period of intense work. He was a museum curator in "The Shadow" (1994) and a dimwitted colleague of Albert Einstein's in "I.Q." (also 1994). The actor had one of his best roles as the artist's dealer in "Surviving Picasso" (1996) while his last released film "In & Out" (1997) typically cast him as a priest.
In tandem with his feature work, Maher appeared as a regular on a number of TV sitcoms. He was Billy Dee Williams' butler in the short-lived "Double Dare" (CBS, 1985), After a turn as St Peter counseling a returned soul in the Fox comedy "Second Chances" (1987-88), Maher joined the cast of "Anything But Love" (ABC) for the 1989-90 season. More recently, he had a recurring role of a doctor on "Chicago Hope," co-starred as a college chancellor in "Goode Behavior" (UPN, 1996) and was an interior designer on "Style & Substance" (CBS, 1998).
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to Canada
Stage debut in Toronto production of "The Taming of the Shrew"
Moved to NYC (date approximate)
Off-Broadway debut in "The Hostage", starring Julie Harris
Broadway debut as understudy in "The Chinese Prime Minister"
TV debut in "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "Little Moon of Alban", also starring Harris
Was a member of the acting company at the Theatre Company of Boston
Film debut in small role in "Passages From James Joyce's Finnegans Wake"
Co-starred with Zoe Caldwell in the Broadway production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"
Company member at Charles Playhouse in Boston, MA
First major film role in "For Pete's Sake"
Portrayed a butler in "Heaven Can Wait"
Appeared in the CBS TV-movie "My Old Man"
Play "Dance for Me, Simeon" performed at the George Street Theatre in NJ
Received first Tony Award nomination for his featured performance in "Spokesong"
Garnered second Tony nomination for "Night and Day"
Stage directing debut, "The Hostage" at the Long Wharf Theatre; also acted in
Co-starred as the butler Sylvester in the short-lived CBS detective series "Double Dare"
Won critical acclaim for his turn as the police inspector in the revival of "Loot"; received thrid Tony nomination
Played St Peter in the Fox sitcom "Second Chance"
Played a doctor on the short-lived sitcom "Laurie Hill" (ABC)
Cast as the bishop in "Sister Act"
Co-starred on the UPN sitcom "Goode Behavior"
Played the artist's art dealer in "Surviving Picasso"
Last film role as a priest in "In & Out"
Last TV appearance, as regular on the CBS sitcom "Style & Substance"