George Segal, R.I.P.


George Segal, Durable Veteran of Drama and TV Comedy, Is Dead at 87
Best remembered for his role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but later memorable for his comedic work

The New York Times
By Bruce Weber
March 23, 2021, 10:24 p.m. ET

George Segal, whose long career began in serious drama but who became one of America’s most reliable and familiar comic actors, first in the movies and later on television, died on Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California. He was 87. The cause was complications following bypass surgery, according to his wife, Sonia Segal, who announced his death.

Sandy-haired, conventionally if imperfectly handsome, with a grin that could be charming or smug and a brow that could knit with sincerity or a lack of it, Mr. Segal walked a line between leading man and supporting actor. To younger people, he was best known for his work in comedy ensembles on prime-time network shows, playing the publisher of a fashion magazine on a titillation-fest "Just Shoot Me!” and a frolicsome grandfather on a raucous family show set in the 1980s “The Goldbergs".

But decades earlier, when he was a rising young actor, a handful of dramatic roles placed him on the verge of being an A-list star. In 1965 he starred as a conniving American corporal in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in King Rat a grim survival drama based on a novel by James Clavell, leading a cast that included James Fox, Patrick O’Neal, Denholm Elliott and Tom Courtenay. The same year he played an idealistic painter whose agonizing and probably doomed love affair with a beautiful bourgeois young woman (Elizabeth Ashley) was one of several plotlines in Stanley Kramer’s adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s novel Ship of Fools, which places a buffet of class and ethnic conflicts aboard a German passenger ship on a trans-Atlantic crossing in the 1930s.

“He looks real,” Mr. Kramer told Life Magazine about Mr. Segal in 1965, “and he has what John Garfield had. He can draw appeal from an unsympathetic role.”

From 1966 to 1968, Mr. Segal starred in three dramas adapted for television. In “The Desperate Hours” he played Glenn Griffin, an escaped convict who holds a family hostage, a role made famous by Paul Newman on Broadway and Humphrey Bogart in the movies. In John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men" he was George, the itinerant farmworker who looks out for his friend Lenny (Nicol Williamson), a childlike behemoth. And he was Biff Loman, the elder son of Willy Loman (Lee J. Cobb, repeating his Broadway role), in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece of a warped and failed American dream, “Death of a Salesman".

“In the part of Biff, the son who rebels against the hollow dreams of his father,” The New York Times television critic Jack Gould wrote, “George Segal gave a performance of superbly controlled intensity, always modulating the outbursts of rage so that they did not overshadow the young man’s touching anguish.”

In his best-remembered and best-rewarded dramatic role, Mr. Segal played Nick, the young husband in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), adapted from Edward Albee’s grueling depiction of marital combat. The film, directed by Mike Nichols, famously starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as an embittered, longtime campus couple harboring a mutual delusion and, over the course of a long, boozy night in which they entertain a newly arrived biology professor (Mr. Segal) and his wife (Sandy Dennis), engaged in a scabrous war of words. All four actors were nominated for Oscars, Mr. Segal for the only time. (The women won).

Beginning in the late 1960s, however, Mr. Segal’s gift for comedy, especially social satire, redirected the path of his career. He spent most of the decade as a leading man in contemporary roles, generally in films aiming at both humor and poignancy in their observations of romance, marriage, friendship, class and the meaningful life. In Bye Bye Braverman (1968), directed by Sidney Lumet, he played a public relations man in the throes of contemplating mortality, one of four Jewish intellectuals, attending a funeral after the unexpected death of their mutual friend. In No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), an arch thriller, he played a detective being pestered by his mother (Eileen Heckart) to get married as he tracks a mother-obsessed serial killer (Rod Steiger). And in Loving (1970), one of his many films in which adultery was a theme, he played a freelance illustrator in career and marital crisis.

In the 1970s Mr. Segal was among Hollywood’s busiest and most recognizable actors, appearing in films whose comedy and outlook, sometimes strikingly out of whack with today’s sensibility, were characteristic of the decade.

He starred with Ruth Gordon in Where’s Poppa? (1970), Carl Reiner’s outlandish and farcical comedy about a man determined to rid himself of his mother; opposite Barbra Streisand as a nebbishy writer involved with a prostitute in The Owl and the Pussycat (1970); and with Robert Redford in a manic crime caper The Hot Rock (1972).

In Paul Mazursky’s Blume In Love (1973), Mr. Segal played the title character, a divorce lawyer whose wife (Susan Anspach) catches him in bed with his secretary, divorces him and takes up with a renegade musician (Kris Kristofferson). The film rather sympathetically traces Blume’s desperate effort to win his wife back, which he manages to do only after getting drunk, raping her, and getting her pregnant (the film treats this as a transgression suitably redressed by a punch in the nose).

The same year he appeared in A Touch of Class as a married American businessman in London who blithely takes up with a willing divorcée (Glenda Jackson) — the character is way too willing, by today’s lights, to earn the sympathy and admiration the film intends — an affair that begins in high comedy and ends in sadness after the two fall in love and discover that infidelity is terrifically hard to schedule.

And in Fun With Dick and Jane (1979), he and Jane Fonda starred as a pair of odd antiheroes, an affluent married couple whose debt-dependent life together is threatened when he loses his job as an aerospace engineer and they turn to crime to support the budget to which they had grown accustomed. The film, which received generally good reviews, is anachronistic in its good cheer regarding characters within what we now call the 1 percent, though some reviewers recognized the problem at the time. “Buried not very deeply within the film there is a small flaw,” Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times. “We are asked to like and to sympathize with Dick and Jane, played by Mr. Segal and Miss Fonda with a fine, earnest kind of intensity I associate with good screwball comedy of the past, and we do like them enormously, even though the characters are completely dedicated to maintain all-wrong values.”

Dick and Jane nonetheless underscored Mr. Segal’s strength as a comic actor; he was at his best in give-and-take roles, as a co-star, creating a dynamic partnership with another performer. To wit, perhaps Mr. Segal’s most enduring role from that time was in California Split (1974), Robert Altman’s wry, sometimes uproarious and yet naggingly melancholic portrait of a pair of compulsive, and essentially low-rent, gamblers (Elliott Gould was Mr. Segal’s compatriot and co-star) trolling for the big score at racetracks, casinos and poker parlors. “Their names are Bill and Charlie, and they’re played by George Segal and Elliott Gould with a combination of unaffected naturalism and sheer raw nervous exhaustion,” the critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review. “We don’t need to know anything about gambling to understand the odyssey they undertake to the tracks, to the private poker parties, to the bars, to Vegas, to the edge of defeat, and to the scene of victory. Their compulsion is so strong that it carries us along.”

George Segal Jr. was born in New York City on Feb. 13, 1934, and grew up in Great Neck, on Long Island. His father was a malt and hops dealer; his mother was the former Fanny Bodkin. Young George was a musician — he played trombone as a boy and was proficient enough on the banjo to play in jazz bands in college and afterward — and he performed magic tricks at children’s parties. “I was a hopeless magician, so I jazzed up the act,” he told Life Magazine. “I’d open up with a few fast tricks, then two friends would come on and we’d start throwing shaving-cream pies at each other. The kids would always end up throwing cake at each other and everybody would have a wild time. Of course it was always a one-shot deal and we were never invited back.”

He attended boarding school in Pennsylvania, moved on to Haverford College and eventually graduated from Columbia. He worked in various unpaid jobs (ticket-taker, usher, orange soda vendor) at Circle in the Square, an Off Broadway theater. He eventually appeared there, in 1956, in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and married his first wife, Marion Sobel onstage on a Monday night when the theater was dark. Shortly thereafter he was drafted into the Army.

After being discharged he followed the aspiring actor’s path, earning roles Off-Broadway and gradually prying open the door to the movies and television. He was working with an improvisational troupe called the Premise when he was cast in his first film role, as a young doctor in a 1961 film called The Young Doctors, which starred Ben Gazzara and Fredric March. He had a small role in the World War II film The Longest Day and in 1964 he appeared as a swaggery ladies’ man with Brian Bedford in an Off-Broadway production of The Knack, a comedy by Ann Jellicoe, directed by Mike Nichols, who had once turned Mr. Segal down for a part but would subsequently cast him in Virginia Woolf. “When he came in to try out for me a few years ago,” Nichols said in 1965, “I saw a kind of arrogance I didn’t want. But I learned he’s not the tough guy he seems to be. What you get with George is masculinity and sensitivity, plus a brain. His conflicting quality — half rough and half gentle and the mind to control it — gives an element of surprise to whatever he does.”

Mr. Segal, whose imperfect nose and Jewish surname made him an unlikely movie star in the 1960s, resisted suggestions that he fix both. “Listen, I don’t think there’s anything better than Cary Grant, the Cary Grant of Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story,” he said in a New York Times interview in 1971. “And I think one of the best actors today is Robert Redford, and you don’t get much handsomer than that. But I guess I do like the fact that there isn’t so much artifice today.

“I was happy that Cary Grant was Cary Grant rather than Archie Leach” — Grant’s birth name — “but I didn’t change my name because I don’t think George Segal is an unwieldy name. It’s a Jewish name, but not unwieldy. Nor do I think my nose is unwieldy. I think a nose job is unwieldy. I can always spot ‘em. Having a nose job says more about a person than not having one. You always wonder what that person would be like without a nose job.”

Mr. Segal’s first marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Linda Rogoff, ended with her death in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Sonia. Details on other survivors were not immediately available.

Mr. Segal’s stature as a star diminished in the 1980s, and his career flagged. He appeared in several television movies and returned to Broadway in 1985 for the first time in 22 years, appearing in a role played by Jackie Gleason in the movies — the manager of an aging boxer in Rod Serling’s drama, Requiem for a Heavyweight — but that production closed after just a few performances.

Since then, in addition to his successful television series, Mr. Segal has appeared in small character roles in several films, including The Cable Guy (1996), a dark comedy with Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick; The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), a romantic melodrama directed by and starring Barbra Streisand; Flirting With Disaster, a comedy about a young man searching for his birth parents, with Ben Stiller, Téa Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda and Mary Tyler Moore; and Love and Other Drugs (2010), about a volatile love affair between a drug company representative (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a woman with Parkinson’s disease (Anne Hathaway).

He has also appeared in recurring roles on television series including “Entourage” and “Tracey Takes On …” with Tracey Ullman.

“I’m like a cork in the water, aren’t I?” Mr. Segal observed about himself in a 1998 New York Times interview. “I keep bobbing up in all sorts of places, although I never know in advance where or when.”

"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

The truth is out there
Sad news to wake up to - requiescat in pace George!

Thoughts are with his nephew Steven at this sad time.
NomsPre-1930 Countdown

Mumble is awful!

Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
Somebody was faster than you with a R.I.P. thread, @mark f? Wow, you gotta up your game!
In the strictest sense lesbians can't have sex at all period.

Oh what a shame! Such a lovable comic actor.

This is so sad...loved him in who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Touch of Class, Blume in Love, Fun with Dick and Jane, and Flirting with Disaster, among other things, an underrated actor who never got the recognition he deserved. Does anyone now what they're going to do about Grandpa on The Goldbergs? I hope they'll have Grandpa die on the show instead of recasting the role, which would be all kinds of wrong. RIP

This is a little bit I wrote about him and how big a star he was for a time in another thread thirteen years ago...

George Segal

Segal had some real success in the second half of the '60s, with starring roles in the POW flick King Rat (1965 - Bryan Forbes), the excellent spy flick The Quiller Memorandum (1966), tracking Rod Steiger's serial killer in No Way to Treat a Lady (1968 - Jack Smight), and of course memorably co-starring along side Burton, Taylor, and Sandy Dennis in Mike Nichols' knockout Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), earning a Best Supporting Actor nod. But it was in the 1970s that he became an outright movie star for a while.

George is wonderful in the dramedy Loving (1970 - Irvin Kershner), adeptly plays Romantic Comedy with Babara Streisand in The Owl & the Pussycat (1970 - Herbert Ross) and shows his full comedic brilliance in Carl Reiner's dark farce Where's Poppa? (1970) where he tries to give his annoying mother Ruth Gordon a heart attack. And that was just 1970! He followed with a gritty turn as an addict in Born to Win (1971), had fun with Bob Redford in the caper flick The Hot Rock (1972 - Peter Yates), could have been Oscar nominated for his work in Mazursky's Blume in Love (1973) and/or Melvin Frank's A Touch of Class (1973) - his co-star in the latter, Glenda Jackson, was nominated and won that year.

Of course he intersects with Elliott Gould in Altman's California Split (1974), but he also tried Sci-Fi in The Terminal Man (1974), parody in The Black Bird (1975), a con comedy Western with Goldie Hawn The Dutchess & the Dirtwater Fox (1976) and thrillers in Russian Roulette (1975) and Rollercoaster (1977). But I think clearly his greatest strength was in comedy, and in the second half of the decade he finished off with a couple good ones in Fun with Dick & Jane (1977) with Jane Fonda and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) with Jacqui Bisset and Robert Morley. But while most did respectably at the boxoffice and during this period Segal was a regular on the talkshow circuit with a very charming manner and his banjo, his star seemed to be waning.

In the '80s the comedies all fell flat and his phone simply stopped ringing. He tried to turn his love of the banjo and Dixieland jazz into a sitcom called "Take Five" (1987), but it was cancelled after only two episodes! He fared a little better (how could he have done worse?) the next year playing an intrepid insurance investigator solving crimes in "Murphy's Law", but it was cancelled after half a season on the air. He shows up as the cad who impregnated Kirstie Ally in Look Who's Talking (1989), but into the '90s he was apparently persona non grata to casting agents. In the middle of the decade he got a couple good shots, as in a terrific cameo in Gus Van Sant's To Die For (1995) and as Ben Stiller's adopted father in David O. Russell's modern farce Flirting with Disaster (1996). This led finally to a measure of success as a supporting player in the sitcom "Just Shoot Me", starring Laura San Giacomo and David Spade, which ran for six full seasons (1997-2003). But from about 1966 to 1976, the guy was a bonafide movie star.

I'm a big fan of his films Fun With Dick & Jane and Carbon Copy. I've watched them both numerous times growing up. A comedic legend.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!” ~ Rocky Balboa

He was great in everything he did. I loved him in Fun with Dick and Jane, The Hot Rock, and both TV series, "Just Shoot Me" and "The Goldbergs". I hope they do a nice tribute to him on "The Goldbergs".

If I answer a game thread correctly, just skip my turn and continue with the game.

Fredric March & George in The Young Doctors (1961)

George in The Longest Day (1962)

George Hamilton and George in Act One (1963)

George in The New Interns (1964)

George in Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964)

George in King Rat (1965)

George and Elizabeth Ashley in Ship of Fools (1965)

George, Lee J. Cobb, and James Farentino in "Death of a Salesman" (1966)

George and Aldo Sambrell in Lost Command (1966)

George in Bye Bye Braverman (1966)

R.I.P. I've only seen him in Just Shoot Me, which I loved him in. He was such a good foil for David Spade.
Last Great Movie Seen
Mank (Fincher, 2020)

George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

George in The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

George in The St. Valentines Day Massacre (1967)

Lee Remick and George in No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

George and Virna Lisi in The Girl Who Couldn't Say No (1968)

George and Ursala Andress in The Southern Star (1969)

George in The Bridge at Remagen (1969)

George in Loving (1970)

George in The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

Trish Van Devere and George in Where's Poppa? (1970)

George in Born to Win (1971)

Robert Redford and George in The Hot Rock (1972)

George in Blume in Love (1973)

Glenda Jackson and George in A Touch of Class (1973)

George in California Split (1974)

George as The Terminal Man (1974)

George and Stéphane Audran in The Black Bird (1975)

George in Russian Roulette (1975)

George in The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976)

George and Jane Fonda in Fun with Dick & Jane (1977)

George in Rollercoaster (1977)

George in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

George and John Candy in Lost & Found (1979)

Natalie Wood and George in The Last Married Couple in America (1980)

Denzel Washington and George in Carbon Copy (1981)

George in Killing 'em Softly (1982)

Roy Kinner and George in "The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood" (1984)

Maggie Han, George, and Josh Mostel in a publicity still for "Murphy's Law" (1988-1989)

George in All's Fair (1989)

Kirstie Alley, Twink Caplan, George, and Joy Boushel in Look Who's Talking (1989)