Tuesday, September 14, 2010

“We’ll do it now…and to the death.”

I learned of actor Harold Gould’s passing at the age of 86 Saturday from my good friend and esteemed blogging colleague Edward Copeland…and as might be expected, I’m devastated by the news. If you’re a regular reader at this tiny scrap of the blogosphere—or even someone who drives by when the mood strikes them—you’re no doubt aware that I revere the work of character actors; those individuals that you point at when watching a movie or TV show and shout “Hey, it’s that guy/gal!” even when you don’t know their name. I obtained my love of and respect for these unsung performers from my grandfather, John J. “Papa Jack” Sullivan, who practically knew them all on sight and would point them out at the drop of a hat whenever we’d watch something on TV together—something that both delights and infuriates his daughter (Mom), because I’ve carried on the tradition when we get together in front of the TV set, too.

Gould was one of the heavyweights in the character actor profession—it was only a couple of weeks ago that I sat down one Saturday night to re-watch The Sting (1973; which was the first PG movie I ever saw in the theatre) and, of course, he played the part of the dapper con man Kid Twist in that Academy Award-winning film. Sure, Paul Newman and Robert Redford were the big draws in that picture—but you need people like Gould and Ray Walston and Eileen Brennan and Charles Durning and et cetera in a movie like that—they’re, to use a term that Lorne Michaels often used to describe Phil Hartman, “the glue.” Gould had an incredible cinematic resume, appearing in such vehicles as The Satan Bug (1965), Harper (1966), The Front Page (1974), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), Love and Death (1975—from where the title of this post originated), Silent Movie (1976), The Big Bus (1976), Gus (1976) and Seems Like Old Times (1980)—keep in mind, that these are only the movies I remember seeing him in…there were many, many others.

Gould, a former drama professor, always acknowledged that his first love was the stage—but since I rarely venture out to the the-a-tah, I grew up seeing his oh-so-familiar face on the boob tube. He was a veteran guest star on nearly one hundred television shows, from Cain’s Hundred to Nip/Tuck, and had regular roles on such series as The Long, Hot Summer, The Bob Crane Show, Soap, Park Place and Spencer. I’m old enough to remember that he even headlined a few shows that, sadly, didn’t become bigger hits—he co-starred with Stefanie Powers in a series entitled The Feather and Father Gang, in which he played an ex-con man who investigated crimes alongside his lawyer daughter (Powers). I thought that show—adapted from a TV-movie entitled Never Con a Killer (1977)—was pretty good, with Gould’s character highly reminiscent of the sharpie he played in The Sting…but the Nielsens thought otherwise. I also remember Gould starred (with Soap actress Diana Canova) in a short-lived 1981 sitcom entitled Foot in the Door, an Americanized version of a Britcom called Tom, Dick and Harriet.

But growing up in front of the cathode ray tube, Gould was easily recognizable as Martin Morgenstern, the estranged pop of Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper)—a part he originated on Mary Tyler Moore and would reprise on the Rhoda spin-off. Gould would later land another plum assignment on The Golden Girls as ex-mobster Miles Webber, the boyfriend of Betty White’s Rose Nylund…and as with the Martin Morgenstern character, he would reprise Webber in a couple of episodes of the Girls spin-off, The Golden Palace. There were also shows on which he was not a regular but he made such an indelible impression—Gould appears in one of my favorite Get Smart episodes, “Island of the Darned” (and I always enjoyed that they fortuitously cast Harold as the bad guy in the 1989 reunion flick Get Smart, Again!), and was so memorable as the formidable Honore Vashon in the 1972 Hawaii Five-O three-part story arc “V for Vashon.” (He’d continue his reprisal tradition by playing Honore again in a 1975 Five-O installment, “The Case Against McGarrett.”)

The obit for Gould in the Washington Post mentions that the actor’s previous commitment to playing Karl Marx in an onstage musical abroad cost him what would have been a high profile role as hardware store owner/patriarch Howard Cunningham in the hit sitcom Happy Days; Gould originated the part in the “Love and the Happy Day” segment on Love, American Style and when ABC wanted him to do another pilot for what ultimately became the series he had to refuse. It wouldn’t be the first time this happened to Gould—he originated the role of Lou Marie, father of Ann Marie in the pilot of Marlo Thomas’ That Girl…but was replaced, as fans are well aware, by Lew Parker. (The pilot, “What’s in a Name,” is on the first season DVD set of Girl and to be honest…I kind of preferred Gould to Parker. But that might just be because I’ve always been a fan of his work.)

With Gould’s passing, the number of dependable, reliable character actors grows smaller and smaller by the minute…and it is unfortunate that in this day and age there seems to be very few performers who can take their place. Requiescat in pace, Mr. G—and thanks for all the wonderful memories.

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Wings said...

Gould was one of those actors I was always happy to run across in something or other. I loved him as Miles on Golden Girls, he had great chemistry with Betty White, but he was great in so many things. Just a sad loss.


Winifred said...

Sad to see him go. I remember him from Rhoda. They were such wonderful actors in that show.