Hal Linden: Still Kickin’ It at 85


Hal Linden

Who didn’t have a crush on Hal Linden? With that better-than-Selleck mustache, resonant voice and a twinkle in his eye, he brought class and Broadway cred to the small screen. As the titular police captain in “Barney Miller”, he was Emmy nominated and graced the cover of many magazines.

Most recently, Hal has returned to his second love – the stage (his first love was music). He played Henry, a “thespian” who has seen better days but can still deliver a line or two in “The Fantasticks” at the Pasadena Playhouse.

When I worked at Rogers & Cowan back in the 80s, Hal was a client and I always remembered him as a truly nice man. I was glad to find out that he hasn’t changed a bit.

I was recently able to chat with him about his storied career and got his take on the state of theatre today, his philosophy of life and upcoming play possibilities.

After a 70-plus year career in music and theatre, what do you think of the new directions that Broadway is taking these days, with different themes and language in shows like “Hamilton” and “Fun Home”?
There are changes in the genre but the rules of theatre haven’t changed. Maybe the language has changed, but the rules haven’t. The same things touch people, make them laugh, make them enjoy. We haven’t changed as human beings that much. So I don’t know that it has really changed; the shows are different but the process is the same.

Have you seen “Hamilton”?
Yes, but I must admit I had some difficulty with the show because the language used is not the language I was brought up with in theatre. The legendary director George Abbott believed you must tell the story as simply and clearly as possible so people can get it the first time through. I definitely recommend anyone going to “Hamilton” to listen to the cast album a few times before seeing the show. It’s difficult to appreciate the language when you’re not used to it.

Sondheim said “lyrics are not poems” – poems you read over and over, discern the meaning. But lyrics have to be immediately understandable at the moment you are hearing it. It has to be perfectly clear or you lose your audience. We may be experimenting in different areas, playing with casting, but it’s still theatre, you still have to play the action and objective and the audience has to understand or you’re not communicating with them.


The cast of “Barney Miller” – Jack Soo, Gregory Sierra, Abe Vigoda, Max Gail, Ron Glass and Hal Linden (not pictured Steve Landesberg)

“Barney Miller” which aired from 1975 to 1982, really pioneered diversity casting featuring Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Asian, and female characters. Other than Norman Lear and Danny Simon shows, most sitcoms were pretty homogeneous. Why do you think it worked so well?
I think because the writing was solid, not “trendy”, and always very relatable. I recently put together a clip reel for a concert appearance I was doing, and I had to sit down and watch over 100 hours of “Barney Miller” episodes. I was amazed at how substantial they were, and that they still hold up almost forty years later.


Hal Linden as Henry (with Amir Talai) in “The Fantasticks” at Pasadena Playhouse. Photo by Jim Cox

But casting diversity is nothing new. The show I’m in now, “The Fantasticks”, was always very Pirandello-esque, with heightened emotions, never your kitchen sink reality, and that was back in the early 1960s. This production is probably the most diverse cast in its 50-year history. Yet, the key points are not lost…it’s visually shocking for the first minute or two, when you see a Black father with an Asian daughter, but the instant you become involved in their stories, that disappears. It only increases the point of the play which shows that all these things are universal and touch everybody whether they look like you or not.


Linden in his Tony Award-winning performance as Meyer Rothschild in “The Rothschilds”

Are there still parts being written out there that you can play?
There are plays about older people but they are few and far between, most of the things happen to people in their prime and that’s where the adventure occurs. But unless you write a play specifically about old people, there are going to be very few parts left and that’s the truth of it.

Is there any role you wish you’d been able to do?
As far as musicals, what parts could I play now, seriously? I’m too old for all of them – but there are classic roles I never played, like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, the King in The King & I, or Harold Hill in “The Music Man. These are roles I could have done, but at the time I either wasn’t available or something else, and I didn’t get the chance. I never played El Gallo, that’s a role I should have played 50 years ago. I would have loved to play that part. But I’m beyond those roles now, so there’s no point in thinking about them.

Any director you would have loved to work with?
In films, there were many directors I would love to have worked with – Scorsese, Lumet, Kazan. I made films that were nicely directed, but never one with a “great director”. I really wanted to work with really terrific film directors, that’s one part of my career I missed. But hey, it’s not over yet, right?

However, on stage I was blessed to work with many legendary directors such as Harold Clurman, Bob Fosse, Jules Dassin and George Abbott, which was a phenomenal opportunity.

Abbott was one of the great stage directors. He lived to be 107 years old.
Yes! I learned so much working with Mr. Abbott. I started working with him when he was 85 and he was still directing in his 90s. I became one of the George Abbott players, although I had to turn down some of his shows as I was doing something else; Then I got cast as Barney and I was not available. But I could have made a career working for Abbott, he was a big fan of mine, loved my work. Just look at the parts I played for him. I did one show “Three Men on a Horse” with Sam Levene. Mr. Abbott told me to pick the part I wanted to play. I picked a character who should have been played by an older character like Maxie Rosenbloom, yet I was only 38 at the time. After that, the next part I did for him was the John Raitt role in Pajama Game. Mr. Abbott would have let me play anything I wanted! He was a joy to work with.

With all your experience, first in music then in theatre, do you see yourself as a mentor?
Not really, because I was never classically trained in this business, I got into it by accident. I was a brash personality as a young man, I was a band singer, then had my own band for a while, and that’s how I slid into the business. I didn’t start studying any kind of formal technique until I was on Broadway. So a lot of what I do I learned over the years and that’s hard to codify. I don’t have discipline to sit down and write a syllabus on how to act. I help my fellow actors whenever I see something, maybe I’ll ask a question that might stir them in the proper direction of thought, but it’s not my function to do that, so I don’t do it unless they are really friends.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The truth of the matter is, at this point I don’t recall! I’ll tell you the advice I give to those who ask: take everything in life seriously except yourself. When you start taking yourself seriously, then you’re in trouble. Learn to laugh at yourself, because we are flawed human beings who do and say stupid things. Just say hey, that’s me and go with it.

Did you follow it?
Yes! I have a great story about my late wife Frances to illustrate that point. Back in the late 1970s, I was named one of the Ten Most Watchable Men in America by a group called Manwatchers Inc. They presented me with the award that looks like a bowling trophy which greatly amused my wife. After it sat around ignored for a few weeks, Frances announced she had found the perfect permanent spot to display it – in the bathroom! From then on, we took that trophy everyplace, putting it on the commode to remind me “Don’t take yourself so seriously!”


Frances and Hal. She was a Broadway dancer when they met. The two were married 52 years until her passing in 2010.

So what’s next for you? Can we look forward to more local stage appearances?
I am in talks to do a show at the Old Globe in San Diego, a wonderful theatre. As soon as I am able to discuss it, I’ll have more details to share.

Linden continues to do various concert appearances across the country; you can also hear his still-silky voice on his CD It’s Never Too Late, a diverse collection of Broadway and film tunes, classic pop songs, as well as jazz standards and favorites from the American Songbook.

My (New) Brilliant Career

Ok, it’s not completely new as I have been writing for a long time, but due to a happy circumstance of birth, I am now part of the father/daughter team of theatre and film critics on “Lyons’ Views, News and Reviews”.

Here’s a link to my first official review on the site, thanks to Pasadena Playhouse for letting me cover the first show of their 2016/2017 season!


Ashley Park, Alyse Rockett and Conor Guzman star in “The Fantasticks” Photo by Jim Cox 




Robert Kovacik – NBC4’s Award Winning Newsman is an Animal’s Best Friend


Newsman Robert Kovacik shows some love to an adoptable puppy at the 2016 BFLA-NKLA Super Adoption Event, June 4-5, 2016

It’s not big news that I am a HUGE animal lover. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m obsessed.

After a chance encounter with NBC4 news anchor/reporter Robert Kovacik at the Best Friends LA-NKLA “Super Adoption Weekend” two years ago, I felt I had found a true friend. We hit it off and have stayed in touch since then, so when I saw he was once again emceeing the main stage at this year’s adoption event, I reconnected with him.

Around the same time Lori Golden, the hardworking, long-suffering Editor of the PET PRESS asked me if I could do a cover story on Robert. Kismet!

Despite his hectic schedule (I honestly don’t know how the man works so hard and looks so good), we managed to squeeze in an interview last Friday at a local cafe and good thing we did. Two days later, the tragic massacre of 50 people at Pulse Dance Club in Orlando happened and Robert was once again jetting off to cover the story as only he can.

The PET PRESS cover story is featured in the June-July issue of this free publication which you can find at a variety of locations in the San Fernando Valley including pet stores, vets offices, and individual businesses.

The magazine has been a labor of love for Lori who struggled to keep on her publishing schedule a couple of years back when she was very ill and hospitalized. I asked if there was anything I could do to help her out and she replied, “Well, actually…”

I ended up doing two previous cover stories for her, one on the lovely Lu Parker, KTLA News anchor and our very own Hollywood hunk “P22 the Puma” who ended up in the crawlspace of a home in Los Feliz and captured the attention of the city.

Now, with this latest cover, I feel I am very blessed to live in a community with people like Lori, Lu, Robert and all my fellow volunteers at Best Friends LA and Heaven on Earth, a great cat rescue organization endowed by the fabulous Seth McFarlane in honor of his late mother Perry.

We are moving closer every year to making Los Angeles a No Kill city. It’s people like us that are making it so!

So check out my latest cover story and do yourself a favor and adopt an animal. It will change your life!


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PACIS – Physician Associates

While working at Scott Public Relations, I was fortunate enough to encounter the coolest doctor/IT geek in the world – Gary Wietecha. An OB-GYN who decided to go to the dark side and become an Information Systems guru, Gary and I clicked immediately at our first meeting. We discovered we were both Buddhists and as we worked on these brochures, we bonded even more.

After I left Scott PR, I was delighted to discover the brochures we slaved over won an award from the League of American Communication Professionals (LACP) for the brochure “Get Started…Get Moving…Get PACIS” which was collateral designed to persuade physicians to switch from paper files to electronic records. Sexy, huh?

It impressed the judges of the 2007 Competition enough to award us a Silver Magellan!

BTW, Gary is now a Certified Hypnotherapist, Reiki Master and  Coach in Lansdale, Pennsylvania…

Random Thoughts on Life: Dragon Tilting

Tilting at Dragons

What happens when the thing that causes you the most pain is also what keeps you alive?

I think that my sensitive nature, which causes me such pain, could be the very thing that keeps me from going insane, giving me an outlet for all the emotions I am unable to express or transform.

It’s becoming more of an issue as I am trying to reconcile my need to advocate for animals with the fact that watching anything that shows animals in pain – being tortured, killed, abused – leaves me nauseated and sobbing. Not a great attribute if your job it is to make those abuses public via the media, both social and traditional.

I recently applied for a job with PETA and did fine until I got to the part where they wanted me to create some campaigns around some of their current exposes, including abuse of horses, dog food festivals and farming abuses of chickens and cows. My heart raced and I couldn’t breathe, I felt like it was me that was being attacked not the animals.

This depth of empathy is hard to handle on a daily basis. I couldn’t imagine doing a job where I had to watch these images every day and then be expected to pull myself together and start calling a generally unresponsive media.

So, as I often do, I argue with myself; should I seek help to change this part of me? Do I want to rid myself of my sensitivity which, in many ways, is an essential part of my being? My Bodhisattva nature, which drew me to Buddhism, is a natural state for me. But is there a way I can learn to harness it or transform it into a positive action?

I keep thinking of my favorite scene in “Broadcast News” where Holly Hunter’s type-A news producer goes into a booth and just sobs for about a minute. Then she pulls herself together, blows her nose and goes back to being hell on wheels. She needs the release, but then moves on instead of staying in that dark, wet place.

I want to live my life with joy and hope, not fear and sadness. I know that both joy/hope and fear/sadness are inevitable threads in our emotional tapestry; my faith teaches that to try to eliminate any of the human conditions is a recipe for disaster and pointless. Life is what it is. When we struggle to eliminate some hated trait, we are at odds with ourselves. Maybe the energy it takes to constantly fight with our spirit is what drags us down, cancels out our positive actions.

No wonder I can’t sleep at night and wake up exhausted. I’m tilting at dragons in my dreams…


Now Read This! – My Book Recommendation for You

It All Begins with ‘I’: The “New Rules of Thinking” and the Simple Secrets to Living a Rich, Joyous, and Fulfilled Life by the multi-hyphenate (successful actor-writer-singer-songwriter-director-casting agent-acting coach-entrepreneur) Stuart K Robinson, is a perfect book for anyone who is looking at their life and wondering is this all there is? How can I feel the joy of living and purpose in life again?

I must disclose that I have known Stuart for over 40 years (!) and am delighted that his talent and hopeful philosophy is now being discovered by the world.

He speaks with warmth, humor and common sense, and is the first to admit that he is not saying anything we don’t already intrinsically know. He just gently nudges that part of us that knows we can, and must, do better.

In short, readable chapters, he highlights basic rules for daily living that can put us back on track. Here are some of the rules: “#3: I Will Always Do the Highest Thing,” “#6: I Will Fire the Announcer,” “#9: I Will Practice Empathy,” and “#13: I Will Stop Asking a Question Once It is Answered.”

I was lucky enough to see him at a book signing and got a chance to hear him share his own amazing journey out of poverty in the depressed northeast to an almost ideal life in Los Angeles. For a kid who barely spoke, he has a lot to say and it’s all inspiring. I never knew a lot about his past, but his present includes a loving and talented wife Maureen, who is a performer in her own right, two beautiful daughters, Nicolette Robinson Odom and Ally Robinson, who are pursuing their own path to fame, and a large and supportive extended family consisting of his blood relatives and dozens of life-long friends of which I am privileged to be a part.

Published by Tallfellow Press, the book is available now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do yourself a favor and buy it. Savor each insight, copy down his tips on a Post-It, stick on your bathroom mirror as a reminder and then go live your best, highest life!

Let me know what you think; and if you like the book, please feel free to write a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

My Latest Cover Story – Pet Press July 2015

Got the opportunity to do a mitzvah for a woman who self-publishes a magazine for pets called The Pet Press. She was hospitalized for a few weeks and was unable to get her May issue out and was struggling with the June issue as well. So I volunteered to help her out in any way and she assigned me the cover story about the local animal superstar – the mountain lion known as P-22.

It was great to do all the research and talk to the amazing people behind the efforts to protect local wildlife and create a shared space for all.

Please take a read of the article and, if you are so inclined, donate to or promote the initiative to build a wildlife crossing bridge over the 101 Freeway to facilitate the safe passage of animals to their home range. Check out #SaveLACougars.

If you are a puma lover, please check out the National Park Service site at http://www.nps.gov.

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