Family & Companions
As a comedic character actor virtually without peer, Phil Hartman was revered for his talents as an artist, actor, vocal performer and teacher, while serving as something of a surrogate parent to a wide swath of comedians who were lucky enough to work alongside him. Hartman received national attention for his eight-year stint on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), where he became famous for over-the-top characters like the Anal Retentive Chef and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, as well as his impersonations of Frank Sinatra, Ed McMahon and Bill Clinton; the latter widely considered to be his best. After being labeled "the glue" that held together the cast that brought the show back into prominence in the late 1980s into the next decade, he left in 1994 to star on the hit sitcom, "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99), on which he played a pompous and egocentric news radio host to great comedic effect, as well as continuing to contribute his unique voice to "The Simpson" (Fox, 1989- ), most famously as washed-up infomercial actor Troy McClure. He worked in film and TV for almost two decades, and often mused on his unique celebrity as a household name but not yet a star. Nevertheless, he was grateful for his successes and confident that the right role would one day come. Tragically, Hartman was killed in a murder-suicide committed by his wife in 1998, a heinous act that was widely and genuinely mourned throughout Hollywood and beyond.
Philip Edward Hartmann (he would eventually drop the second 'n') was born on Sept. 24, 1948 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. His parents, Rupert and Doris Hartmann, had seven other children and moved their family to the United States while he was still a child. He grew up in Connecticut and Southern California, where he eventually attended Westchester High School in Los Angeles (other sources site Redondo High School). Before he began to pursue a career in comedy, he studied graphic design at California State University at Northridge and after school, worked as a graphic artist. He eventually designed album covers for a number of successful bands, including America, Poco, Steely Dan, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; also designing CSN&Y's band logo. In 1975, Hartman switched gears by becoming a member of the influential Los Angeles comedy group, The Groundlings, after his girlfriend at the time took him to a show for his birthday. As a member, he became part of a talent factory that introduced him to several gifted performers. One of his fellow Groundlings was Paul Reubens, with whom he would collaborate frequently, most famously when the duo created Pee-wee Herman, the child-like creation that Reubens would later make famous. In fact, one of Hartman's first appearances onscreen was as Captain Carl/ Monsieur LeCroc on "The Pee-wee Herman Show" (HBO, 1981). He would resurface as a reporter in the cult film, "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (1985), which they co-wrote, and followed up with the popular kid's show, "Pee-wee's Playhouse" (CBS, 1986-1991), in which Hartman again played Captain Carl. Before "Big Adventure," however, the two also appeared in small roles in 1980's "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie," with Reubens playing Pee-wee and Hartman playing a background actor.
Despite working on a consistent basis, Hartman's career in the mid-1980s was mostly unremarkable, although his enormous talent as a voiceover actor was growing increasingly evident. He provided voices for characters in a wide variety of animated programs, including children's shows like "Smurfs" (NBC, 1981-1990), "Challenge of the GoBots" (syndicated, 1985-86), and "The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo" (ABC, 1985-86). In 1986, Hartman appeared in the comedy films "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "!Three Amigos!" But more importantly, he joined the "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) cast, alongside such burgeoning talents as Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey and Mike Meyers. The man who producer Lorne Michaels and the ever-changing cast would eventually nickname "the glue," would stay with the legendary show for eight years. Although he made frequent appearances in all sorts of sketches, Hartman was best known for his skills as an impressionist, portraying a belligerent Frank Sinatra, an overly inquisitive Phil Donahue and perhaps his most memorable creation, the newly inaugurated president, Bill Clinton, complete with thumbs up and perpetual smile. The show's utility performer could always deliver without breaking character and had a particular gift for playing authority figures full of barely-contained rage. Impressions aside, Hartman was usually written into scenes as a secondary player, not as the sketch star; his Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Anal Retentive Chef characters being two of the exceptions. As a result, however, he was written into a huge number of sketches and also did the majority of the faux announcer voiceovers when needed.
Inside the fabled Studio 8H of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Hartman became legendary for more than his considerable talents as a performer. During his lengthy run on the show, his age, seemingly stable home life, and the teaching skills he had developed while in The Groundlings made him a mentor and role model to many of the show's younger players, including Chris Farley, whom he tried to help kick the drugs that would eventually kill him just five months before Hartman's own untimely passing. Apart from "SNL," Hartman's visibility grew tremendously over the years, thanks in part to the characters he began voicing in 1991 on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ), including washed-up actor Troy McClure and incompetent lawyer Lionel Hutz, as well as to Hartman's appearances in various movies. In 1993 alone, Hartman appeared in three "SNL"-related films: "CB4," "Coneheads" and "So I Married an Axe Murderer." After eight years of success on the fabled sketch show, Hartman left in 1994, later admitting he felt out of place there due to the changing youth-driven dynamic best exemplified by an Adam Sandler sketch.
Hartman's goal after leaving "SNL" was to start a primetime variety show of his own, but was beaten to the punch by fellow "SNL" alum Dana Carvey. As a result, he took on the role of the gruff, authoritarian radio newscaster Bill McNeal on "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99). Given the characters he had already played on the late night sketch show, the mildly insane McNeal was a perfect fit. Although technically an ensemble comedy, which also featured Dave Foley, Joe Rogan, Andy Dick and Maura Tierney, among others, Hartman was its putative star. Just as on "SNL," Hartman became a father figure to other cast members, particularly Andy Dick, whose well-reported substance abuse problems were similar to Farley's. The show's critical acclaim was not met with equivalent ratings, however, and it was nearly cancelled after its fourth season. The well-crafted series would go on to enjoy a cult following long after its disappearance from the airwaves.
On May 28, 1998, literally days after his sitcom's fifth season renewal, Hartman was murdered by his wife Brynn, whose bloodstream contained alcohol, cocaine and the antidepressant, Zoloft. He had been shot three times - in the forearm, neck, and head while he slept - reportedly after an argument. Brynn left the house and later came back with a male friend to show him her husband's dead body. When he called 911, she locked herself in the bedroom along with her husband's lifeless body and, using a second gun, took her own life, with the couple's two children in their bedrooms down the hall. Although their marriage had seemed picturesque, after-the-fact reflections suggested that problems had existed below the surface, including his continued dismay over her drug use. Still, the comedy community was plunged into deep mourning for their much beloved comrade; not only for his on-camera gifts, but for his graciousness and loyal friendship as well. His enormous contributions were recognized through a series of tributes and memorials - all of which focused on how pervasive his contributions had been across the pop cultural landscape, particularly how his death would impact both "The Simpsons" and "NewsRadio." On June 4, the couple's bodies were cremated and spread upon Catalina Island, just off the coast of California. The Hartman's orphaned children moved to Wisconsin to be raised by their mother's sister and brother-in-law. After the comic's death, Hartman's good friend from their "SNL" days, Jon Lovitz, attempted to fill the Hartman void as the equally grating Max Lewis on "NewsRadio," but the struggling show's ratings dropped in the wake of the double homicide and the show fizzled out in 1999.
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to Los Angeles after growing up in Connecticut
TV debut in a comedy special, "Top Ten"
Feature film debut as Private Eye Chick Hazard, "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie"
Announcer for syndicated TV game show, "The Pop 'N' Rocker Game"
First credit as a screenwriter, "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"
TV-movie debut, "One Special Victory"
First starring role in a feature, "Houseguest"
Final feature, "Small Soldiers"