Catching Up With Tony Winner Hal Linden -- Appearing At The McCallum Theatre March 29
The McCallum Theatre presents an evening of comedy and music with David Brenner and Hal Linden on March 29 at 8:00 pm. Hal Linden is the Tony Award winning and multiple Golden Globe and Emmy nominated star whose decades-long career has spanned all theatrical genres, from stage to film to television. He began his show business career as a clarinet player and later toured as a singer with Sammy Kaye, Bobby Sherwood and Boyd Raeburn bands which eventually led him to an acting career. His Broadway debut was opposite Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing and he later went on to a critically acclaimed performance in the revival of Anything Goes and his Tony-winning star turn in The Rothchilds. I had the opportunity to catch up with this dynamic entertainer and lovely man for a few minutes – here are some highlights from our conversation:
DG: I read that you attended The Manhattan High School of Music and Art. How did a strong arts education affect your life, in addition to your career?
HL: The High School of Music and Art was the single most cogent learning experience I had. Certainly, more than my college training. High school was the most formative of my years. And we did a full high school program plus arts – it wasn't just a part of it. I was there for nine periods. We did not only training in music, theory, orchestra – it was a full immersion in the arts. And how did it affect me? It never occurred to me to do anything but.
DG: Did you know at that time that you wanted to be an actor?
HL: No. No. That was the interesting part. I went through high school and college and never set foot on the stage. I never had the slightest interest. The truth – I lived in New York, I never even went to the theatre. It wasn't until I was in the Army – I had many years of experience as a musician -- I played with a lot of the big bands, I sang with the bands and so I had a lot of performing experience behind me. When I went in the Army I ended up kind of fooling around with special services group that did soldier shows. And they had sketches and they'd say "play this part" or, "would you mind playing this part"? And I found I was better than they were. (He laughs) And I said "hmmm, this is an interesting business". And then coincidentally, the big band era ended and rock and roll came in. And it was so horrendous musically to my ear that I said maybe I'll try this acting thing for a while. It was really kind of a secondary choice that I fell back on since music wasn't going to work out for me. So I accidentally slid into theatre. I always have to apologize to students, by the way. Every time I speak to students, they knew at age twelve they wanted to be in the theatre – their whole lives were centered around the show in high school and the show in college. And here I am – I sort of slid in the back door and had a career.
DG: Who were your career mentors or role models?
HL: Teachers. Teachers. Role models? I worked very young … One of my first jobs on Broadway was with Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing. Judy was … I don't know about a role model … but she certainly was an example to me of stage presence, accommodating your fellow actors, things like that. Rather than go out and "I'm going to go out and do what I do and to hell with everybody else", she was so aware of what the scene was about and who should get the attention in the scene. That kind of --- what do you call it .-- stage discipline I guess. As to what's important and what the focus is supposed to be. It's not you, it's the play. I learned that very early on from Judy.
DG: You have had such a rich and varied career – theatre, musical theatre, film, television, cabaret --- where do you feel most at home?
HL: (He laughs) All of the above. All of the above. I love doing theatre work. I still love doing television of course, and films. And, certainly cabaret. Cabaret is certainly the most liberating. You don't have a script. You don't have a director. You don't have a writer. You don't have any other actors to accommodate. You're really on your own. It's just communication between you and the audience.
DG: Tell me about your cabaret show that you will perform at The McCallum. What can we expect to see on Thursday night?
HL: I don't know what they expect to see, that's the interesting thing. It isn't as though I have hit records they are coming to hear. I assume they know me from Barney Miller or the stage. We start from there and I tell my story, musically played out. I have a history in the theatre and with big bands. That's all represented in the show. I think you'll enjoy it. It's like a little play. It's got a beginning, a middle and an end. I guess that's my theatrical background. I couldn't just do a series of songs . It wouldn't mean anything.
DG: Besides acting, what are you most passionate about?
HL: Hmmm. A whole bunch of things. I'm an ardent golfer. I'm the national spokesman that I do a lot of public speaking for – that's The Jewish National Fund. I'm going to Israel leading a group. What else? My family. I've got four terrific kids. Four grandchildren.
DG: Is there a particular role or character you have always wanted to play that has somehow eluded you?
HL: Well. A lot of them eluded me, After all those Broadway shows I did – something like over twenty productions in New York, on Broadway and off – in all that time, I never stopped the show. I never had that showstopper. There were parts that I was destined to do that I never did. The Music Man, The King … I guess, Tevye. I'm a little too old to play the Music Man now. I could probably play the King. The King is not a definitive age. No,no,no. He's got young children. And even Tevye has daughters of a marriageable age. So, I'm a little too old for Tevye. So, it's hard to find major roles for someone my age.
DG: What advice would you give aspiring young actors?
HL: Advice, Alright, I'll give you my speech to acting students who always ask me should I stay in school or should I go to Hollywood or to New York, you know. And here's my advice. A good actor is someone who can execute a choice. That is, decide between you and the director what the choice is and if you're a good actor you can execute it. A fine actor is defined by the quality of his choice. Therefore, for instance if you're doing a period piece, someone who is well versed in the history of the era, the social interactions of the era – or if you're doing a contemporary piece, someone who is well versed in the cultural aspects of the play or the political aspects of the play – has a better shot at making a wiser choice. Or, a more interesting choice, certainly. And that means be well versed I the world you live in. The more you know the more cogent your choice will be. So, I recommend actors that want to work on their trade stay in school and try to learn as much as they can about the world that they're going to act in as they can.
DG: What's next for you? Any projects in the works you can share?
HL: This summer I'm doing Scotsboro Boys at ACT in San Francisco.
DG: When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered? What would you want written on your tombstone?
HL: Ahh … I don't know. I'm not gonna be there to read it. I really don't care, if you really want to know. And I'm not gonna have a tombstone anyway. But, I would … you know every so often I'll run into someone and they'll say "thank you for all the years of enjoyment --- I saw you in…" and they'll mention Barney Miller or The Rothchilds or something … or even Bells Are Ringing. What really gets me is when they tell me that they loved me in a play I did that only lasted a week. Because I put the same amount of work into that play. The same amount of sweat went into it. The same pain. The same joy. So, if somebody enjoyed it – terrific. You don't have to write it on my tombstone, that's okay. As long as there are people around who remember what I did and appreciate it, that's all.
The McCallum Theatre presents David Brenner & Hal Linden on Thursday, March 29, at 8:00pm. Tickets are priced at $85, $75, $55 and $35 and are available by calling the McCallum Theatre Box Office at (760) 340-2787 or online at www.mccallumtheatre.com.