James Lipton

Active - 1985 - 2011  |   Born - Sep 19, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, United States  |   Died - Mar 2, 2020   |   Genres - Film, TV & Radio, Comedy

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Biography by Nathan Southern

Best known as the urbane and cultured host of the Bravo network's piƩce-de-resistance, Inside the Actors Studio (where his manner prompted one publication to refer to him as a "polymath linguist"), James Lipton also served as the dean emeritus of the Actor's Studio Drama School at Manhattan's New School University while headlining that iconic television program. The son of a graphic artist-cum-writer father and a teacher mother, Lipton was born in Detroit in 1926 and began a career stint in the early '40s on radio highlighted by an ongoing performance on the drama The Lone Ranger. He spent the postwar years in Paris, and briefly worked as a mec, or an arranger of client services for French prostitutes. In subsequent years, Lipton returned to the United States, married actress Nina Foch (whom he subsequently divorced), and embarked on twin careers as a writer and actor in the soap opera venue. He scripted episodes of programs including Guiding Light and Another World and ushered in a longstanding portrayal of a physician on Light.

In the late '60s, Lipton moved into musical theater, authoring the book and lyrics to the 1967 musical Sherry!, with a score by longtime friend and associate Laurence Rosenthal. As adapted from the Kaufman/Hart play The Man Who Came to Dinner, it received mostly negative critical reviews, though a new studio cast recording emerged almost 40 years later to renewed acclaim. Lipton spent subsequent years as a novelist, television producer, and screenwriter (Copacabana, 1985), though as indicated, his broadest acclaim emerged in the 1990s, from two related feats. In 1994, he designed and implemented a three-year, degree-granting actors' training program christened the Actors' Studio Drama School, which actually represented a union of the venerable Actors Studio and Manhattan's New School University; a secondary accomplishment, Inside the Actors Studio television program, constituted an extension of that. It featured Lipton interviewing celebrities about the trajectories and accomplishments of their careers. Over the years, hundreds of guests lined up to participate, including the likes of Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, and Burt Reynolds. In the mid-2000s, Lipton published an autobiography, Inside Inside, in which he nostalgically and lyrically recounted the adventures of his life.

Given his role on that program, Lipton frequently found himself subjected to parody; not only did he refuse to decry such acts, but he openly embraced them with a brazenly self-mocking sense of humor. Among other events, Will Ferrell frequently impersonated Lipton on Saturday Night Live -- and turned up on Inside the Actors Studio to do his impersonation, causing Lipton to double over with laughter. Lipton also made frequent guest appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, including a memorably riotous sequence opposite the Incredible Hulk, wherein he jokingly described himself as "not merely an actor, but a phenomenon -- a supernova that cannot be contained."

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  • Originally planned to be a lawyer; took up acting as a side job to pay the bills.
  • Spent more than 10 years studying theatrical arts, modern dance and ballet with masters such as Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and Robert Lewis.
  • Made his Broadway debut in 1951 in Lillian Hellman's The Autumn Garden, directed by his acting teacher Harold Clurman.
  • Spent 10 years on Guiding Light in the 1950s as Dr. Dick Grant.  
  • Wrote the book and lyrics for two Broadway musicals: Nowhere to Go but Up and Sherry! A cast album for Sherry! was created in 2005, starring Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Tommy Tune and Mike Myers.
  • Executive produced 12 Bob Hope birthday specials and former president Jimmy Carter's inaugural gala.
  • Is best known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio, where performers and directors discuss their lives, inspirations and craft before an audience of students from New York's Actors Studio.
  • Is a licensed pilot, a horseman and a Chevalier of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.