Peter Boyle

Actor known for hard-bitten film roles who found TV stardom in 'Everybody Loves Raymond'
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The Independent Online

Peter Boyle, actor: born Norristown, Pennsylvania 18 October 1933; married 1977 Loraine Alterman (two daughters); died New York 12 December 2006.

Peter Boyle was a burly and bald former monk who turned actor and gave fine performances as tough characters in such movies as Joe (1970) and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), but he will also be recalled fondly for his superbly etched "monster" in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974), giving the man-made character depth and sympathy and, in one of the sublime moments of Seventies cinema, joining Doctor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in a white-tie-and-tails rendition of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz", tapping with heavy-footed precision and wailing the title line of the lyrics. Recently he starred for 10 years as the grumpy husband and father in the television comedy Everybody Loves Raymond.

Born in Pennsylvania, of Irish descent, in 1933, he was the son of the cartoonist and entertainer Pete Boyle. He graduated from La Salle College in Philadelphia prior to becoming a monk with the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic order. "I had an identity crisis, as a lot of teenagers do," he recalled, "and instead of joining the Army, instead of entering into an unfortunate marriage, instead of running away and joining the circus, I joined the Christian Brothers." He described life with the order as "like living in a medieval monastery" and later confessed,

The idea of being celibate for life - I couldn't live up to it . . . I was 20 years old, which is a very hard time in anybody's life. Anybody who makes it through 20 and 21 is really tough.

After three years with the order, he abandoned thoughts of a religious life, and went to New York to seek work as an actor. He studied with Uta Hagen while taking jobs as waiter, post-office worker and office temp. After some roles in off-Broadway plays, he won the part of one of the poker players in a touring production of Neil Simon's comedy The Odd Couple. When the show reached Chicago, he joined the prestigious troupe at the city's landmark Second City theatre that launched the careers of John Belushi, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray.

This led to television appearances and Boyle's screen début in The Virgin President (1968), an independently made and little-seen political satire in which he played a general involved in a scheme to drop a bomb on New York and blame it on Communists. The following year he was in Medium Cool, for which the director-writer-photographer Haskell Wexler incorporated actual footage of his actors at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago and subsequent riots. A committed political activist who recalled, "When I was growing up, Roosevelt was, in our family, God," Boyle took part in many protests against the Vietnam War, becoming close friends with his fellow activist Jane Fonda.

Boyle then starred in Joe, the film that brought him acclaim and recognition. John D. Avildson's film is one of those that perfectly captured the atmosphere of the time it was made, and it became a "sleeper" hit. Boyle was superb as the right-wing, fervently patriotic but bigoted construction worker who becomes involved with hippies (a group high on his hate list), one of whom is dating an executive's daughter. Joe is exhilarated when the executive confesses that he has killed the young hippie, and the two men tour Greenwich village in search of the daughter (a young Susan Sarandon), at one point taking part in what Joe calls "an org-gy".

Joe propelled Boyle to the front rank of character actors, but after witnessing some audiences cheering the climactic scenes of the film, in which the two bigots slaughter a bunch of hippies, he turned down the leading role in The French Connection because he thought it glamorised violence. Instead, he acted with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in another anti-establishment piece, Steelyard Blues (1972), then played the manipulative campaign manager who gradually erodes the principles and ideals of a would-be President (Robert Redford) in Michael Ritchie's fine study of political compromise, The Candidate (1972).

In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Boyle had one of his most memorable roles as a duplicitous underworld thug whose determination to survive makes him both hit-man and informant. When the ageing gangster Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is suspected of informing, Boyle is assigned to kill him. In the chilling climax Boyle, offering false friendship, takes Coyle to a hockey match after which the two men get drunk together before Boyle coolly carries out the hit, even though he himself is guilty of the betrayal for which Coyle has been condemned.

Though all his early performances were superb, they had typecast him as tough, hard-bitten characters, and it was something of a surprise when Boyle combined comedy and pathos with such conviction in Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks's affectionate pastiche of the Universal horror cycle. With his head secured by a zip rather than bolts, his monster had a touch of humanity that made the happy ending (he gets married) highly satisfying. The film also resulted in a real marriage, for he met his wife, Loraine Alterman, when she visited the set as a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine and Boyle, in full monster make-up, asked her for a date. Alterman was a friend of Yoko Ono, and John Lennon was to become a close friend of Boyle's and best man at his wedding to Alterman in 1977.

After playing a philosophical cabbie who tries to counsel Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Martin Scorsese's controversial Taxi Driver (1976), Boyle won great acclaim for a masterly portrayal of Senator Joseph McCarthy in a 1977 television movie, Tail Gunner Joe. Subsequent films included a fair number of misfires, including F.I.S.T (1978), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), Outland (1981), Johnny Dangerously (1985) and Red Heat (1988).

In 1990 Boyle had a stroke that left him speechless for six months, but he returned to work, and in 1996 he won an Emmy award as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance, as an insurance salesman who can foresee people's deaths, in an episode of The X-Files titled Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose.

Boyle then won the television role of grumpy Frank Barone, whose catchphrase was "Holy crap!" and whom he described as "obnoxious in a nice way, just for laughs", in Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran for 10 years (from 1996 to 2005). He had expressed a disparaging view of television years earlier when he said, "If Ed Sullivan can be a television legend, it tells you something about TV", but he was to say of Everybody Loves Raymond, "It's a very sweet experience having this happen at a time when you basically go back over your life and see every mistake you ever made."

The chemistry between Boyle and Doris Roberts, who played his nagging wife Marie, was particularly felicitous - both were initially from the theatre, and they revelled in their testy on-screen relationship. In one episode, Roberts berates Boyle for selling one half of their twin grave plots for some ready cash. "Till death us do part, Marie," he tells her. "After that, you're on your own."

In 1999 he had a heart attack on the set, but quickly recovered and returned to the show. At the time of his death, he had completed a role in the film Shadows of Atticus.

Ray Romano, who played Raymond in Everybody Loves Raymond, said, "The fact that he could play a conniving curmudgeon on the show, but in reality be such a compassionate and thoughtful person, is a true testament to his talent."

Tom Vallance