Monday, June 17, 2024

RIP Great Comic Actor Dabney Coleman, 92, Rose to Fame with “Mary Hartman,” “9 to 5,” “Tootsie”


I am lucky to say I chatted with actor Dabney Coleman a few times back in the day, in Elaine’s. Elaine Kaufman loved him, too. He was dapper and erudite and a lot of fun. Coleman died today at age 92.

Dabney Coleman is probably best known as the terrible boss from the movie, “9 to 5.” He had about 15 years of journeyman service on TV, on every single show, until he finally hit it big on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in 1976. He played Merle Jeter, the con man husband of Wanda Jeter (the also great Marion Mercer). He was mean but very acerbic. Eventually Merle became mayor of Fernwood until a TV set fell in his bath and electrocuted him. The nation mourned.

Coleman’s turn in “9 to 5” was so good that Jane Fonda had him cast in her next movie, “On Golden Pond.” Coleman was on a roll. He was in Garry Marshall’s comedy “Young Doctors in Love,” as well as “Tootsie” — he was the maniacal star of the fictitious soap — and “War Games.” When he was in the groove, Coleman was able to play greedy and self-motivated with sly humor. He was the kind of actor who, when he appeared on screen, you wanted to clap. And he was always a character, never playing himself.

He had not one but two cult TV shows in the 80s: “Buffalo Bill” and “Slap Maxwell.” They may have been too much for regular audiences, but they were memorable series. If HBO or Netflix had been around then, those series would have run for years.

As late as 2019, Coleman played Kevin Costner’s father in “Yellowstone.” He had five Emmy nomminations and 1 win. According to the imdb, he had two divorces, with four children from the first marriage.

Still, with dozens and dozens of credits, Dabney Coleman will always be clueless, egotistical, male chauvinist pig, and philanderer Franklin J. Hart in “9 to 5,” a movie more relevant today, 40 years later, than ever.

Rest in peace Dabney.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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