The youngest son of an American Motors auto worker, Daniel J. Travanti excelled in high school on both the football and debate teams. While attending the University of Wisconsin, Travanti developed an interest in drama; so eager was he to jump-start his career that he begged the faculty to allow him to graduate in three years. He remained the archetypal overachiever at the Yale School of Drama; by the time he was 25, he was co-starring with Colleen Dewhurst in a road company version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Moving to Los Angeles in 1966, the actor appeared on scores of TV shows, playing misfit high schoolers and braying bad guys (he billed himself under his actual last name of Travanty until the early '70s). To counter career frustrations, Travanti grew increasingly dependent upon liquor, an addiction that had plagued him on a lesser scale since his college days. Only when his boozing began adversely affecting his on-stage performances (at one point he was replaced by his understudy in full view of the audience) did he seek professional help. After a six-month stint on the ABC daytimer General Hospital, Travanti was cast as Captain Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues, a job he held down from 1981 through 1987. During this period, he also showed up in a number of well-received TV movies and specials, including the title role in a 1985 made-for-cable biography of Edward R. Murrow. Daniel J. Travanti was back behind the badge as a Chicago police lieutenant in the brief 1993 TV series Missing Persons.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Played football, was on the debate team and acted in plays while in high school.
- Won a Wisconsin speech contest in dramatic declamation and lost in the national finals by one vote.
- Turned down scholarship offers from Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth; attended the University of Wisconsin, where he appeared in all of the school's theater productions and graduated in three years.
- An admitted overachiever, he appeared in four major productions during his one year at the Yale School of Drama and dropped out due to burnout.
- In 1965, appeared with Colleen Dewhurst in a traveling production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
- Participated in NBC's mid-1980s "Don't Be a Dope" antidrug campaign.
- Big break (and later two Emmys) came when he was cast as Capt. Frank Furillo on Hill Street Blues in 1981.