Sunday, April 12, 2015

Richard Dysart R.I.P.

Richard Dysart, who played Leland McKEnzie on L.A. Law and appeared in films from The Hospital (1971) to Wall Street (1987), died on April 5 2015 at the age of 86. The cause was cancer.

Richard Dysart was born on March 29 1929 outside Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in Skowhegan and Augusta, Maine. It was while he was ill as a child that he became fascinated by radio shows. He attended Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts before serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. Following his stint in the military he returned to Emerson College where he earned a a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in speech communication. While at Emerson College he performed in various plays. He moved to New York City in the late Fifties and worked in the box office at the Off Broadway Circle in the Square Theatre. Eventually he found himself on stage at the Circle in the Square, appearing in such plays as Our Town. He worked for a time for William Ball,  founder of the American Conservatory Theatre.

Richard Dysart made his television debut in 1953 in an episode of You Are There, playing Benedict Arnold. In the Sixties he guest starred on such television shows as East Side/West Side, Mr. Broadway, The Nurses, and The Defenders. He made his film debut in an uncredited role in Love with the Proper Stranger in 1963. In the Sixties he appeared in the films Petulia (1968) and The Lost Man (1969). Mr. Dysart made his debut on Broadway in 1965 in All in Good Time.  He appeared on Broadway three more times, in the productions The Little Foxes (1967-1968), A Place Without Doors (1970-1971), and That Championship Season (1972-1974).

In the Seventies Richard Dysart played Judge David Davis in the mini-series Lincoln. He guest starred on such TV shows as All in the Family, BarettaMaude, Cannon, Columbo, and Lou Grant. He appeared in the TV movies The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, It Happened One Christmas (the notorious television remake of It's a Wonderful Life), and The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd. He appeared in such films as The Sporting Club (1971), The Hospital (1971), The Terminal Man (1974), The Hindenburg (1975), An Enemy of the People (1978), Prophecy (1979), Meteor (1979), and Being There (1979).

It in 1986 that Richard Dysart began playing the role of Leland McKenzie on L.A. Law. He remained with the show for the entirety of its run. For the role he was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and won the award in 1992. Mr. Dysart reprised the role of Leland McKenzie in the television reunion movie L.A. Law: The Movie in 2002, which was also his last appearance on screen. He appeared in such TV movies as Churchill and the Generals, Bitter Harvest, Norma Rae, and Day One. He appeared as Harry S. Truman in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He appeared in the films John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Mask (1985), Pale Rider (1985), Warning Sign (1985), Wall Street (1987), and Back to the Future Part III (1990). He provided the voice of Uncle Pom in Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky (1986).

Following L.A. Law Richard Dysart was the voice of Dr. Bartholomew on Batman: the Animated Series and the voice of Cogliostro on the animated series Spawn. He appeared as the Captain in the TV series My Secret Summer. He appeared in the TV movie Truman and the feature films Panther (1995) and Hard Rain (1998).

Leland McKenzie, the stern and somewhat ruthless senior partner of the law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak was just one of many authority figures that Richard Dysart played over the years. Throughout his career he played a number of doctors, lawyers, judges, and executives. That having been said, there was a good deal of variety in those sort of roles he played. He played both Harry Truman and J. Edgar Hoover twice, two men who could not be more different from each other. During his career he also played such diverse historical figures as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Louis B. Mayer.

Even among the many doctors he played there was a good deal of variety. He was the kindly  Dr. Robert Allenby in Being There and the rather less kindly Dr. Ellis in The Terminal Man. While many of Richard Dysart's role were very serious, he was capable of comedy. He played the sympathetic barbwire salesman in Back to the Future III. He was also quite capable of playing villains, playing ruthless mining company owner Coy LaHood in Pale Rider. While he generally played authority figures, Richard Dysart still played a wide variety of characters throughout his career, and did all of them very well.

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