Paul Dooley

Active - 1970 - 2021  |   Born - Feb 22, 1928 in Parkersburg, West Virginia, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Paul Dooley is fondly remembered by fans of '80s cinema as the forgetful but well-intending father of a disgruntled Molly Ringwald in the John Hughes teen classic Sixteen Candles (1984). The longtime character actor's droopy, distinctive features and endearing onscreen warmth have kept him a familiar figure in both film and television. A Parkersurg, WV, native who originally aspired to become a cartoonist, Dooley drew comic strips for a local newspaper before entering the navy. Upon discharge, the future actor entered college, where he discovered his passion for the stage. A move to New York found the aspiring actor landing frequent stage work, and after discovering a previously untapped ability for comedy, Dooley tried his hand at standup for about five years. Always looking to expand his skills, he made his film debut in the 1970 comedy The Out-of-Towners. From 1971 to 1972, Dooley was also head writer for the popular children's television series The Electric Company.

After showing promise in such late-'70s efforts as Slap Shot (1977) and A Wedding (1978), Dooley made a big impression with his supporting role as the lead character's worrisome father in Breaking Away (1979). Though he was overlooked at Oscar time, he was nominated for a New York Film Critics Circle award and won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor. He kicked off the most successful decade of his film career with a performance as Wimpy in the much-maligned Robert Altman musical comedy Popeye (1980). Besides his memorable turn in Sixteen Candles, Dooley also delivered hilarious performances in the 1980s films Strange Brew (1983) and John Cassavetes' Big Trouble (1985). Fans of the extraterrestrial comedy series ALF will also remember him as the curiously named Whizzer Deaver.

Though his feature roles through the 1990s largely consisted of such B-grade fare as My Boyfriend's Back (1993) and Error in Judgment (1998), Dooley managed to stay on top thanks to parts in such popular television series as Mad About You, Dream On, Grace Under Fire, and The Practice. He also took on occasional roles in more notable films, including Waiting for Guffman (1996), Clockwatchers (1997), Happy, Texas (1999), and Runaway Bride (also 1999), which served to remind movie buffs just how funny the talented comic actor could be when given the opportunity. Dooley's performances in such later efforts as Insomnia (2002) hinted at a darker side rarely explored by the usually jovial actor. In 2003, after re-teaming with Waiting for Guffman cohort Christopher Guest to blow A Mighty Wind, he took a supporting role in former MTV beauty queen Jenny McCarthy's comedy Dirty Love.

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  • Aspired to be a clown or a magician as a young man.
  • Joined the Navy after college, toward the end of World War II, because many of his friends were getting drafted into the Army and he wanted to put his fate into his own hands.
  • Moved to New York City after the Navy and started to make a name for himself in the world of comedy—shortly thereafter, he was named head writer for the popular children's show and Sesame Street spin-off for older children, The Electric Company.
  • Came up with his stage name while pursuing his comedy career; "Dooley" was chosen because he thought that Irish names ending in the letter "y" had a funny ring to them.
  • Often plays roles in movies of fathers that have a heart of gold but have a difficult time expressing themselves, and he channels his own father for these parts.