"Steven Keaton," "Mike Brady," and "Dr. Cliff Huxtable" are just some of the most famous TV dads. Paul Dooley has played "dad" to some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Molly Ringwald, Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Julia Roberts. He's made a career out of playing the father role and now, he's written a show all about being Hollywood's most famous Dad!
Movie Dad, brings Paul's reflections on a 60 plus-year career to the Theatre West stage in Los Angeles. Paul shares his lifelong love of comedy and Buster Keaton in this intimate evening that chronicles his journey from a small West Virginia town with interweaving elements of vaudeville, silent film, clowning and stand-up. Paul also offers audiences an insider’s look at what it was like to be part of Robert Altman’s legendary stock company.
Movie Dad will play Theatre West (3333 Cahuenga Blvd West, Los Angeles CA) through July 23. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Believe it or not, the first person to inspire me to become a performer was the silent movie star Buster Keaton. Many people think of him as someone who falls down, does a lot of physical comedy—but the truth is, he’s a wonderful actor and I still love him. This is all in my show, including the interesting story of how I finally met him.
2. Your big break came, after 25 years in the business when you starred in Breaking Away and you became an overnight success. What was it like to all of sudden be the toast of the town after working for so long in it? I read five pages of the BREAKING AWAY screenplay, I thought the writing was fabulous, and I knew instantly that the character was just like my own Dad. So I played it just like him. And have played Dads like him ever since. Receiving recognition for a role that meant so much to me personally was incredibly fulfilling.
3. You are well known for playing the "Dad" role to some of the biggest names in Hollywood including Molly Ringwald, Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Julia Roberts. As you started to get cast in these kinds of roles, did it ever bother you that these are the roles you were getting or were you just so happy to be making it, you felt, if this is how I'm meant to do it, I'll take it? Playing Dads is never a problem for me. I am a Dad—I have children of my own. Playing a Dad comes naturally to me.
4. You've played so many dad roles that now you created a one-man show about it called Movie Dad which will be in LA this July. What made you decide to write a show about your time as one of Hollywood's most famous "Dads"? Many people over the years have said to me: Why don’t you write a book? I always said—if I wrote a book, and folks read it and laughed, I’d never hear the laughter. So I decided to put my story on stage.
5. In putting this show together, what did you learn about yourself and your journey in Hollywood? I learned I was way too old to memorize 90 pages of a show.
6. While writing Movie Dad, what part made you laugh out loud with good memories and what part got you all choked up because it was just such a rough time for you? Many parts of the show brought back fond memories of funny things that happened to me and to family and friends of mine—there are also dramatic moments that were tough to relive—but you have to come see the show to know more—
7. Prior to making it in Hollywood, you had a wide variety of jobs from working as a clown, entertaining kids at birthday parties with magic, juggling, and cartooning skills. During this time, did you ever consider giving up your dream of acting or did these gigs give you the drive to keep going? I only thought about quitting every single day. But as time went on, each new job encouraged me to keep trying. Also I didn’t have any other talent!
8. In addition to film, you have had quite a stage career from understudying the original "Felix" in Broadway's The Odd Couple, opposite Walter Mattau and The Three Penny Opera alongside Charlotte Rae (The Facts of Life) and Bea Arthur (Maude, The Golden Girls). Can you tell us one story about your time in each of these shows? I understudied Art Carney who was the original "Felix." Eventually I took over the role and played it opposite Walter Matthau. It was incredible to watch Neil Simon the writer and Mike Nichols the director craft this play together. Once during a performance Art Carney accidentally dropped a tray full of food and drinks onto the floor. Immediately all the actors jumped up to help pick it all up. Carney ad-libbed: "Leave it. The cat will get it." The biggest thrill doing THREE PENNY OPERA was listening to the great Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill’s widow, sing "The Black Freighter." It was mesmerizing.
9. You were also the co-creator & head writer for the Emmy award winning PBS children's show The Electric Company (one of my favorites!). What made you want to create an entertaining/educational show specifically for children? If you can even choose one, what was your favorite segment to write? I personally loved Spidey Super Stories. The people at the Children’s Television Workshop actually chose me. I was recommended by Carl Reiner. My favorite characters that I created for the Electric Company were: Easy Reader (played by Morgan Freeman) Julia Grownup, Child Chef, and the word detective Fargo North—Decoder.
10. You are married to Winnie Holzman, who created the series My So Called Life and wrote the book to Broadway's Wicked. With both of you being so successful, how do you balance work and marriage as well as fatherhood? We’ve been incredibly lucky—when one of us was busy, the other was often free. And Vice versa. So with our daughter Savannah, there was usually one of us who able to spend time with her. Either way, my relationship with Winnie has worked out perfectly!
11. In looking back over your career, what are you most proud of? What are you most ashamed of? What do you wish you did differently, if anything? Every triumph, and every failure—has contributed to the whole and I learned from all of it. So I would do it all again.
12. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Becoming kinder to everyone. Being generous and understanding. And making every joke I think of just one percent funnier.
1977 was a big year for actor Paul Dooley. That’s when he was "discovered," and after twenty-five years in show business, became an "overnight success."
It all happened when legendary film director Robert Altman caught him on stage in the Jules Feiffer comedy Hold Me. Altman, who had achieved fame with Mash and Nashville, signed Dooley on the spot to play Carol Burnett’s husband, and the father of the bride, in his upcoming film, A Wedding. After another starring role in Altman’s A Perfect Couple, Paul landed the part that would change his life forever, in the unforgettable coming-of-age classic Breaking Away.
His hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering Dad earned him critical acclaim, and set the stage for another triumph, in the beloved John Hughes comedy, Sixteen Candles. As Molly Ringwald’s distracted yet sympathetic father, Paul endeared himself to an entire generation of young people.
Since then, he’s played the father of some of our finest actresses, including Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Julia Roberts (Runaway Bride). In addition to being Hollywood’s favorite Dad, Paul has become one of the busiest actors working today; creating one memorable character after another in such films as Popeye, with Robin Williams, where he appeared as the hamburger-loving "Wimpy," a part Dooley says, that he played with relish. Other films include Paternity, with Burt Reynolds, Kiss Me Goodbye, opposite Sally Field and Jeff Bridges, Happy Texas, with William H. Macy, Insomnia, with Al Pacino, and Waiting For Guffman and A Mighty Wind, both with Christopher Guest.
Paul has received two Emmy nominations for his work on the small screen: as the out-of-the-closet father on HBO’s Dream On and a memorable feisty judge on The Practice. He starred in his own TV sitcom, Coming of Age (CBS), which kicked off a series of recurring roles on other TV shows, including ER, Grace Under Fire, My So-Called Life, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Once and Again and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Despite appearances, it didn’t happen overnight. Upon graduation from West Virginia University, Paul headed for New York City in a broken-down 1948 Dodge, with just fifty dollars in his pocket, and nothing to lose. To pay the rent, he worked as a clown, entertaining kids at birthday parties with his magic, juggling, and cartooning skills. Luckily, one of his college chums was none other than Don Knotts. Already a working actor, Knotts convinced the producers of a new children’s TV show that Paul would be perfect as a comic cowboy.
Next came the New York premiere of Kurt Weill’s masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, a job procured for him by another friend, John Astin, who was appearing in it, along with Charlotte Rae and Beatrice Arthur.
Paul's love of comedy led him to develop an act as a stand-up comic, and after several years of playing nightclubs, he landed on The Tonight Show. From there he joined Second City, the famous improvisational troupe, where his fellow actors included: Alan Arkin, Alan Alda…and several other Alans. Improvising became Paul’s passion: "I love the freedom of it. I can be doing a Shakespeare parody one minute and playing a five year old kid the next. I make my living doing movies and television, but improve I do for my soul."
While at Second City, he met director Mike Nichols, who was about to being the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple to California. Paul was cast as one of the poker playing buddies, and received kudos when he replaced Art Carney as "Felix," playing opposite Walter Matthau.
The Second City actors were suddenly in great demand on Madison Avenue, their improvisational wit beginning to change the face of commercials. Teaming up with fellow writer-performers Andrew Duncan and Lynne Lipton, he formed a company: All Over Creation, and over the next ten years, Paul appeared in over five hundred TV commercials, and nearly a thousand radio spots.
Eventually deciding to use his comedic talents "for good, instead of evil," Paul became the co-creator and head writer of The Electric Company, the Emmy award-winning children’s program on PBS. Throughout all this, Paul continued to perform onstage in New York, including his much lauded portrayal of Casey Stengel, in a one-man show about the life of the eccentric baseball coach.
Paul shares his home in Los Angeles, as well as his computer, with his wife, Winnie Holzman, also a writer: "My wife is very talented. She created a wonderful television series, the highly acclaimed, My So-Called Life, and the Broadway musical Wicked." In 2013, they co-wrote and produced Assisted Living, a touching and funny play that premiered in Los Angeles.
Last year, Paul created and starred in a one-man show, Upright and Personal, about his 60 years in show business. It ran for several months at Theatre West in Los Angeles and was such a success that he decided to bring it back for a second year this July.
Paul has four children: Robin, Adam, Peter, and Savannah; and is the proud grandfather of three. "Looks like this father thing is working out," he says with a smile.