Born on March 20, 1931 in the Bronx, New York, Hal Linden was already an esteemed vocalist and clarinetist by the time he reached his teens. He eventually landed a number of roles on Broadway in projects like Something More and Three Men on a Horse. He won a lead actor Tony for his role in The Rothschilds before starring in his greatest claim to fame—that of the titular character in Barney Miller, the long-running detective sitcom on ABC, with Linden earning seven Emmy nods for his work. Over the decades, he has continued to forge a rich career as both a screen actor and live performer in a range of projects.
Background, Early Career and Education
Hal Linden was born Harold Lipshitz (sometimes appearing as Lipschitz) in the Bronx, New York, on March 20, 1931 to Frances Rosen and Charles Lipshitz. He was a highly creative youth who, as a vocalist and musician, attended the High School of Music and Art, later taking on the last name “Linden” upon seeing a water tower with the tag Linden, New Jersey.
Linden was already a professional clarinetist by his mid-teens and played with a variety of bands. He was drafted into the army during WWII and was thus able to join military musical groups as well. Upon realizing that the big band era was coming to an end, he developed an interest in acting. Linden later attended Queens College, transferred and graduated with a B.A. from City College in 1952, going on to pursue more training at the American Theatre Wing.
Tony-Winning Broadway Star
Linden got his start on Broadway by becoming an understudy to Sydney Chaplin, specifically for the role of Jeff Moss in the 1956 musical Bells Are Ringing. Linden eventually took over the part and made Broadway his home. He had standby and understudy parts in Something More! (1964) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), and rounded out the decade as part of the cast of Illya Darling (1967), The Education of H*y*m*a*n K*a*p*l*a*n (1968) and Three Men on a Horse (1969).
In autumn 1970, Lindon starred as Mayer Rothschild in The Rothschilds, a musical that chronicled the rise of a Jewish banking family in Germany while chronicling the routine injustices faced by the community. The dynamic Linden won a lead actor Tony for the role. He then went on to star in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1972) and a 1973 revival of The Pajama Game.
Linden faced a crossroads in his career after filming a pilot for a sitcom about a group of New York City detectives. Once the show was picked up, the actor decided to give TV a chance, having already been featured in shows like Car 54, Where Are You? and the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. The show Barney Miller debuted in 1974 and would come to stand out for its ethnic diversity. Linden played the titular role of a Greenwich Village precinct captain, co-starring over the years with the likes of Max Gail, Ron Glass, Barbara Barrie, Jack Soo, Ron Carey, Steve Landesberg, Abe Vigoda, Linda Lavin and Gregory Sierra, among others.
Also featuring a distinctive, groovy theme song, Miller was a long-running hit. Linden, who once thought his career would be that of a non-marquee character actor, thus became a fixture for TV audiences across the country for eight seasons. He received seven consecutive lead actor Emmy nominations for the show but had no wins. (Linden would go on however to win several Daytime Emmys.) He also received several Golden Globe nominations for his work on Miller.
Once Miller went off the air, Linden made a Broadway comeback with I’m Not Rappaport. He maintained a presence on TV as well with various movies and the show Blacke’s Magic, which ran for one season. And during the ‘90s, Linden was part of the cast of the series Jack’s Place and The Boys Are Back. Having taken on big-screen parts here and there, in the new millennium Linden made guest spots on fare like Touched by an Angel, Gilmore Girls, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Will & Grace¸ The Mindy Project and 2 Broke Girls. Linden also returned to Broadway in 2001 as the star of The Gathering, playing a sculptor who survived the Holocaust, and the following year took over the role of Herr Schultz in Cabaret.
In 2011, Linden released his debut album, a collection of standards dubbed It’s Never Too Late. More recently, in autumn 2016, he starred in a new production of The Fantasticks at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.
Linden was married to dancer Frances Martin for more than five decades before her death in 2010. The couple had four children.
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