Paul Dooley is the “Movie Dad.” A Wry Look at a 60-Year Career That Is Mostly Funay and Always Touching.
You know Paul Dooley, He’s played the beloved “movie-dad” of Molly Ringwald, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Helen Hunt, Hilary Swank and many others. He brings his reflections on a 60-plus career to the Theatre West stage this July as part of their PORTRAITS OF HUMANITY – A Series Of Solo Shows. Paul shares his lifelong love of comedy and Buster Keaton in this intimate evening that chronicles his journey from a small West Virginia town with interweaving elements of vaudeville, silent film, clowning and stand-up. Paul also offers audiences an insider’s look at what it was like to be part of Robert Altman’s legendary stock company. “Dooley Does Dylan”: https://tinyurl.com/l9uy2jd
Dates of Show: July 7 – 23
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 2PM
What made you decide to create the show “Movie Dad?”
I’m most well known for playing fathers in films. I’ve been the dad to Julia Roberts, Molly Ringwald, Mia Farrow and Toni Collette. The show is about many things— my early days, my ups and downs, the actors I looked up to, and I talk about the writing I’ve done.
Do you have three favorite movies/TV shows and why?
The Godfather, Young Frankenstein, and one of my own… Breaking Away.
Do you have a favorite story you’d like to share with NoHo readers?
I was more or less broke for nine years in New York. I worked a little in show business every year, but never enough to save any money. Then I made my first commercial and I made some very good money. That was 1961. I haven’t been broke since.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors?
Just hang in there, stay with it. I never made a movie until I was 49 years old.
The year 1977 was a big year for actor Paul Dooley. That’s when he was ‘discovered,’ and after twenty-five years in show business, became an ‘overnight success.’ It all happened when legendary film director Robert Altman caught him on stage in the Jules Feiffer comedy Hold Me. Altman, who had achieved fame with Mash and Nashville, signed Dooley on the spot to play Carol Burnett’s husband, and the father of the bride, in his upcoming film, A Wedding.
After another starring role in Altman’s A Perfect Couple, Paul landed the part that would change his life forever, in the unforgettable coming-of-age classic Breaking Away. His hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering Dad earned him critical acclaim, and set the stage for another triumph, in the beloved John Hughes comedy, Sixteen Candles. As Molly Ringwald’s distracted yet sympathetic father, Dooley endeared himself to an entire generation of young people.
Since then, he’s played the father of some of our finest actresses, including Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Julia Roberts (Runaway Bride). In addition to being Hollywood’s favorite Dad, Dooley has become one of the busiest actors working today; creating one memorable character after another in such films as Popeye, with Robin Williams, where he appeared as the hamburger-loving ‘Wimpy,’ a part Dooley says, that he played with relish. Other films include Paternity, with Burt Reynolds, Kiss Me Goodbye, opposite Sally Field and Jeff Bridges, Happy Texas, with William H. Macy, Insomnia, with Al Pacino, and Waiting For Guffman and A Mighty Wind, both with Christopher Guest.
Dooley has received two Emmy nominations for his work on the small screen: as the outof-the-closet father on HBO’s Dream On and a memorable feisty judge on The Practice.
He starred in his own TV sitcom, Coming of Age (CBS), which kicked off a series of recurring roles on other TV shows, including ER, Grace Under Fire, My So-Called Life, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Once and Again and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Despite appearances, it didn’t happen overnight. Upon graduation from West Virginia University, Paul headed for New York City in a broken-down 1948 Dodge, with just fifty dollars in his pocket, and nothing to lose. To pay the rent, he worked as a clown, entertaining kids at birthday parties with his magic, juggling, and cartooning skills. Luckily, one of his college chums was none other than Don Knotts. Already a working actor, Knotts convinced the producers of a new children’s TV show that Paul would be perfect as a comic cowboy.
Next came the New York premiere of Kurt Weill’s masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, a job procured for him by another friend, John Astin, who was appearing in it, along with Charlotte Rae and Beatrice Arthur.
Dooley’s love of comedy led him to develop an act as a stand-up comic, and after several years of playing nightclubs, he landed on The Tonight Show. From there he joined Second City, the famous improvisational troupe, where his fellow actors included: Alan Arkin, Alan Alda…and several other Alans. Improvising became Paul’s passion: “I love the freedom of it. I can be doing a Shakespeare parody one minute and playing a five year old kid the next. I make my living doing movies and television, but improve I do for my soul.”
While at Second City, he met director Mike Nichols, who was about to being the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple. Dooley was cast as one of the poker playing buddies, and received kudos when he replaced Art Carney as ‘Felix,’ playing opposite Walter Matthau.
The Second City actors were suddenly in great demand on Madison Avenue, their improvisational wit beginning to change the face of commercials. Teaming up with fellow writer-performers Andrew Duncan and Lynne Lipton, he formed a company: All Over Creation, and over the next ten years, Dooley appeared in over five hundred TV commercials, and nearly a thousand radio spots.
Eventually deciding to use his comedic talents ‘for good, instead of evil,’ Paul became the co-creator and head writer of The Electric Company, the Emmy award-winning children’s program on PBS. Throughout all this, Dooley continued to perform onstage in New York, including his much lauded portrayal of Casey Stengel, in a one-man show about the life of the eccentric baseball coach.
Paul shares his home in Los Angeles, as well as his computer, with his wife, Winnie Holzman, also a writer: “My wife is very talented. She created a wonderful television series, the highly acclaimed, My So-Called Life, and the Broadway musical Wicked.” In 2013, they co-wrote and produced Assisted Living, a touching and funny play that premiered in Los Angeles.
Last year, Paul created and starred in a one-man show, Upright and Personal, about his 60 years in show business. It ran for several months at Theatre West in Los Angeles and was such a success that he decided to bring it back for a second year this July. Dooley has four children: Robin, Adam, Peter, and Savannah; and is the proud grandfather of three. “Looks like this father thing is working out,” he says with a smile.
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