Harold J. Stone

Actor admired by Bogart
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Harold Hochstein (Harold J. Stone), actor: born New York 3 March 1913; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Los Angeles 18 November 2005.

When Harold J. Stone acted alongside Humphrey Bogart in the Hollywood legend's last film, The Harder They Fall, it gave a much needed boost to his career. So good was his performance, as a television sports presenter in the 1956 boxing melodrama about a sports writer-turned-publicist who exposes match fixing, that Bogart spread the word about Stone's talent.

One result was that Stone was cast as the police lieutenant in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Wrong Man (1956). But he soon settled into the role of supporting actor, most often seen on the wrong side of the law.

He gained a new generation of fans when he played Sam Steinberg in the television sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-73), about an Irish Catholic schoolteacher (Meredith Baxter) falling in love with a Jewish cab driver and aspiring writer (David Birney). Bernie's father, Sam, and his wife, Sophie (Bibi Osterwald), were as concerned about the cross-cultural relationship as were Bridget's parents, Walter (David Doyle) and Amy (Audra Lindley). But Sam and Sophie, who worked all hours in their New York business, Steinberg's Delicatessen, allowed the infatuated couple to live in the flat above it after they eventually tied the knot.

Unfortunately for Stone, although the programme was popular, it was cancelled after only one series. Yielding to pressure from Jewish and Catholic groups who campaigned against the religious divisions it portrayed, the writers began to find their potential for comedy subjects limited.

Harold Hochstein was born in New York City in 1913, a third-generation Jewish actor who made his stage début alongside his father at the age of six in the Yiddish-language play White Slaves but on the opening night forgot his one word, "Mama!". He graduated from New York University and studied Medicine at the University of Buffalo but dropped out and turned to acting, first on radio in New York, adopting the professional name of Harold J. Stone.

The actor made his Broadway stage début as Mr Zubriski in The World We Make (Guild Theatre, 1939-40) and his first film appearance, uncredited, alongside Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in the film noir The Blue Dahlia (1946). On television, he was seen regularly as the handyman in The Hartmans (1949) and Jake Goldberg in The Goldbergs (1952).

In the cinema, Stone played the father giving Paul Newman a bloody nose while teaching him to box in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) but, apart from supporting roles in films such as Spartacus (1960) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), most of his screen career was spent in television. He took more than 150 parts in popular series such as Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, Hawaii Five-O and Kojak.

On several occasions, he landed leading roles. He acted the investigator John Kennedy in the crime drama The Grand Jury (1958-60) and Hamilton Greeley, the publisher of a writer and cartoonist, in the sitcom My World and Welcome To It (1969-70, based on the writings and drawings of James Thurber).

Another admirer, the comedy actor-director Jerry Lewis, cast Stone in three films, The Big Mouth (1967), Which Way To the Front? (released in Britain as Ja! Ja! Mein General, But Which Way To the Front?, 1970) and Hardly Working (1980). "I learned an awful lot from Harold," said Lewis. "We became great friends."

Anthony Hayward