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.