Obituary : Herb Edelman

Anthony Hayward
Monday 29 July 1996 00:02

As the divorced husband trying to win back Bea Arthur (Dorothy) in the popular American comedy series The Golden Girls, bald actor Herb Edelman was seen in more than 60 countries, crowning a career in which he was also watched by audiences world-wide as a regular in the hit programmes 9 to 5 and St Elsewhere, and films such as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and The Front Page.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933, Edelman attended Brooklyn College and Cornell University, served in the US Army, then worked as a cab driver while waiting for work to come along as an actor.

He played Walt Dreary in a tour of The Threepenny Opera (1961), before making his Broadway debut in Lorenzo (1963) and gaining his biggest break there in the role of the telephone repairman in Neil Simon's comedy Barefoot in the Park (Biltmore Theater, 1963). He reprised the part of Harry Pepper in the director Gene Saks's 1967 film version, featuring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

By then, Edelman had already starred as Uncle Harry in the American television series Occasional Wife (1966-67), and he followed it with another series, The Good Guys (1968-70), in which he played Bert Gramus, who with a childhood friend ran a diner called Bert's Place.

Edelman guest-starred in more than 50 television programmes including Cagney & Lacey (1985), Hardcastle and McCormick (1985), Highway to Heaven (1985), Murder, She Wrote (1986,1987) The Love Boat (1986) and Beauty and the Beast (1988), but he was best known to American viewers for his starring roles in Big John, Little John (1976, as Big John Martin), Ladies' Man (1980-81, as Reggie) and Strike Force (1981-82, as Deputy Commissioner Herbert Klein).

International audiences saw him as Harry Nussbaum in 9 to 5 (1982-83), a spin-off from the Dolly Parton feature film of the same name, and Richard Clarendon in St Elsewhere (1982-88), the hospital drama set in Boston. It was one of the first of a new brand of American series screened by the newly opened Channel 4 in Britain and made, like the police series Hill Street Blues, by Mary Tyler Moore's production company, MTM Television.

In 1985, Edelman began his occasional appearances as Stanley Zbornak in The Golden Girls (1985-92), which was ground-breaking in featuring four female housemates in their "golden years". His character had been divorced by Dorothy (Bea Arthur) when he left her for an air hostess after 38 years of marriage, but Stanley was forever trying to win her back. However, he finally had to accept that his ex-wife no longer wanted him when she married Blanche's uncle, Lucas (played by Airplane! and Naked Gun film star Leslie Nielsen), in the final series.

The programme, set in Miami, devised by Soap creator Susan Harris and winner of 10 Emmy awards and three Golden Globes in America, was noted for its wit and willingness to tackle taboo subjects, such as compulsive gambling, incontinence and abortion. It finished in 1992 after Bea Arthur's decision to leave, although the other female stars went on to appear in a less successful sequel, The Golden Palace.

Edelman's final television appearance was playing a guest role in Burke's Law (1995).

Throughout his career, Herb Edelman appeared in films, including In Like Flint (1967), The Odd Couple (1967), The War Between Men and Women (1972), with Jack Lemmon, The Way We Were (1973), The Front Page (1974), California Suite (1978, adapted from Neil Simon's Broadway hit) and Smorgasbord (retitled Cracking Up, 1983, playing Jerry Lewis's psychiatrist). A keen painter and sculptor, he was also a gifted linguist, fluent in Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Hebrew, German and Russian.

Anthony Hayward

Herbert Edelman, actor: born Brooklyn, New York 5 November 1933; married 1964 Louise Cohen (deceased; two daughters); died Woodland Hills, California 21 July 1996.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in