By Charles Passy
At age 91, Hal Linden is still very much an actor looking for the next great role.
How else to explain the fact that Linden, who became a household name when he played the title character in the hit ABC sitcom “Barney Miller” during its 1975-82 run, is grabbing key opportunities as they come his way. He currently stars with Bernie Koppel, one of the stars of “The Love Boat” from the same era, in “Two Jews Talking,” a comedy currently running on off-Broadway in New York.
Of course, Linden’s career goes well beyond “Barney Miller.” He’s been a regular on Broadway through the years and won the Tony Award for his performance in the musical “The Rothschilds” in the early ‘70s. He’s also appeared in several movies, from “Bells Are Ringing” (1970) to “Out to Sea” (1997).
And while Linden is best known as an actor, he started his career as a musician. He played clarinet and saxophone and attended New York’s High School of Music and Art (now part of LaGuardia High School, otherwise known as the “Fame” school). He formed his own band at the age of 15 — and as he says, “From that point on, I was a professional musician.”
MarketWatch caught up recently with Linden to ask about his life and work as well as to hear his money-related views. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation:
MarketWatch: You’re at an age when most folks, if they’re lucky to still be around, are taking it easy. What drives you to continue working?
Linden: Well, first of all, I fell in love with the process of acting. The most asked question (I get) in most interviews is, “Which do you prefer — the screen, television or stage.” And I used to say, “All of the above.”
And then I realized about 25 years ago, that’s not really true. What I really like most is rehearsal because that’s where the process kicks in. The creation of the character, the creation of everything. Otherwise, it’s just execution…Not nearly as fulfilling as starting with words on a piece of paper and ending up with a human being. That process is I guess what has energized me all my life, and it still does.
MarketWatch: Talk about “Two Jews Talking.” How did this project come to be?
Linden: It’s the creative work of Ed Weinberger, who is a very well-known television comedy writer. And actually, the truth is I believe he wrote it for Ed Asner, and when Ed Asner died, I got a telephone call. So I’m Ed Asner’s understudy, which I’ll take any day.
MarketWatch: What would you say the play is about? It’s obviously a comedy about two older Jewish men talking, but it also has bits of wisdom that are imparted.
Linden: Yes, there are larger issues that are talked about. The major theme is skepticism versus belief — being able to believe in something as opposed to being very skeptical about it. I wouldn’t say cynical, I’ll say skeptical.
The other theme has to do with friendship, the ability of two people to speak to each other and end up caring what happens to the other person. If you communicate with somebody honestly, you’ll have somebody on your side.
That’s kind of what it’s about, peppered with as many funny lines as possible.
MarketWatch: Being a senior statesman of sorts, tell me something you know at age 91 that you didn’t know as a younger person.
Linden: I have just had a hip replacement. And from the moment I left the hospital I had one child — either daughter or son, or son-in-law — with me every minute. I never asked. They just showed up. So, what do I know now? I got great kids.
MarketWatch: You just had a hip replacement?!