Dabney Coleman

Dabney Coleman Headshot

Actor

Birth Name: Dabney Wharton Coleman

Birth Date: January 3, 1932

Death Date: May 16, 2024 - obituary

Birth Place: Austin, Texas

Spouses: Jean Hale

A prolific character actor whose trademark is villainous egotists and endearing curmudgeons, Dabney Coleman was a recognizable film star during the 1980s, though he was ever-present on television throughout the entirety of his five-decade career. Among Coleman's most memorable film roles was the misogynist corporate boss of empowered Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in "9 to 5" (1980), and the egomaniacal soap opera director whose sexist attitude inspired the title "Tootsie" (1982).

On television, the Emmy and Golden Globe winner was among the busiest character players of the 1960s before making his mark on the "brilliant-but-canceled" soap opera spoof "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (syndicated, 1976-77) before acclaimed leading roles on the sitcom "The Slap Maxwell Story" (ABC, 1987-88), and the CBS legal drama "The Guardian" (2001-04). With his sharp comic timing and a Texas drawl that simultaneously suggested folksiness and moral laxity, the mustachioed Coleman carve out a unique career as an instantly recognizable and improbably likable screen actor.

Coleman was born Jan. 3, 1932, in Austin, TX. After a teenage stint at the Military Institute in Lexington, VA, Coleman spent two years in the service before returning to Austin and the University of Texas. He was well into earning a law degree when he changed his course, eventually earning a Drama degree from UT in 1954. In New York City, Coleman joined the up-and-comers studying Method Acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse School. During his brief period in New York, Coleman appeared in regional theater productions and debuted on Broadway in the play "A Call on Kuprin," but eventually the promise of a screen career uprooted him to Los Angeles in 1962. He quickly became a busy working actor, with guest spots on almost literally every detective show, domestic comedy, and anthology series of the day, including recurring character runs on "That Girl" (ABC, 1966-1971) and "The Fugitive" (ABC, 1963-67). From his rising television stature, Coleman landed small roles in the Sydney Pollack features "The Slender Thread" (1965) and "This Property Is Condemned" (1966), based on the Tennessee Williams' play, as well as appeared in the Elvis vehicle "The Trouble with Girls" (1969).

Kicking off the 1970s as one of the busiest guest stars on television, Coleman landed a recurring role as a doctor on the NBC soap opera "Bright Promise" (1969-1972) and held down a dizzying number of TV gigs before solidifying his famous persona in Norman Lear's innovative soap opera spoof, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (syndicated, 1976-77). His character Merle Jeeter, the shady father of a child preacher who eventually becomes mayor of the fictional Ohio town of Fernwood, was reprised on the spin-off, "Forever Fernwood" (syndicated, 1977-78). Meanwhile, Coleman became more in-demand as a feature film character player, with supporting appearances in the disaster classic "Towering Inferno" (1974), "North Dallas Forty" (1979), and "Melvin and Howard" (1980). Coleman had 100 film and television appearances under his belt by the time he garnered his first widespread attention in the blockbuster comedy "9 to 5" (1980), in which he played the "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" exec who receives a comeuppance at the hands of long-suffering employees Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton.

Thus began Coleman's decade in the theatrical spotlight, where he followed up with a leading role as a slick TV evangelist in the satirical "Pray TV" (1980), and supported as an unethical cop in the equally cynical comedy "How to Beat the High Co$t of Living" (1980). In 1981 Coleman re-teamed with former office torturer Jane Fonda to play a romantic couple in the landmark melodrama "On Golden Pond" (1981), before reclaiming his hold on misogynist louts in "Tootsie" (1982). Sydney Pollack's Academy Award nominee for Best Film starred Dustin Hoffman as a struggling actor who aces an audition for a female soap opera character and unwittingly becomes a role model of the modern woman - one who gives hell to her womanizing director (Coleman). From that wildly popular comedy classic, Coleman took a serious turn as a military computer programmer who must avert disaster when a teen hacker (Matthew Broderick) unintentionally ignites an international nuclear weapons incident in "WarGames" (1983).

Coleman portrayed another military man in 1984's "Cloak and Dagger," which unsuccessfully sought to capitalize on the popularity of role-playing games, before starring as an egotistical, insecure talk show host on the critically lauded sitcom, "Buffalo Bill" (NBC, 1983-84). Coleman earned two Emmy nominations for his work but the series failed to take hold with audiences. He was acclaimed again in 1986 for the HBO biopic "Murrow" (HBO, 1986), earning an Ace award nomination for portraying CBS network brass William S. Paley, and the following year took home an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special for the legal drama, "Sworn to Silence" (ABC, 1987). Coleman became a regular primetime player again that year when he was cast as a curmudgeonly sportswriter in the short-lived "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" (ABC, 1987-88), which won raves and Coleman a Golden Globe for his lead. After another "evil boss" role in the forgettable Bobcat Goldthwait vehicle "Hot to Trot" (1988), Coleman gave his most ambitious performance in John Boorman's unfortunately little-seen "Where the Heart Is" (1990), as a formidable New York patriarch and demolition entrepreneur who decides to teach his pampered children the value of money.

Trying his TV hand again, Coleman was cast to star in "Drexell's Class" (Fox, 1991-92), as a fallen corporate exec-turned-cranky, middle school teacher faced with a classroom full of "amusing" tykes. Neither critics nor audiences took to this risible family sitcom, but Coleman stayed in the public eye with steady supporting film roles in comedies "Amos and Andrew" (1993) and "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1993), where he was the ideal choice to recreate scheming banker Mr. Drysdale, and where he again found himself bossing Lily Tomlin. Despite limited commercial success as a TV lead, Coleman went on to star in "Madman of the People" (NBC, 1994-95) as an opinionated magazine columnist who frequently clashes with his publisher-daughter. The series was one of Coleman's strongest ratings-grabbers, but after a number of shuffles around the NBC Thursday night lineup, audiences eventually lost interest in hunting it down. Coleman closed out his third decade on the screen with supporting roles in "You've Got Mail" (1998), the Hallmark Channel romantic comedy "My Date with the President's Daughter" (1998), and a reteaming with Matthew Broderick in "Inspector Gadget" (1999).

Coleman's long-running voice role as Principal Prickly on the Disney animated series "Recess" (Disney Channel, 1997-2003) led to a reprisal in the successful film spin-off "Recess: School's Out" (2001). In 2002, Coleman found more television series success on "The Guardian" (CBS, 2001-04), a dark drama surrounding a family law firm headed by Coleman and his son (Simon Baker) who battles drug problems. On film, Coleman had a memorable role as a land developer in Brad Silberling's "Moonlight Mile" (2002) opposite Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and adopted the "crotchety Grandpa" role in a direct-to-video remake of the family classic "Where the Red Fern Grows" in 2004. Coleman had a small role in the failed Tony Scott thriller "Domino" (2005), but remained firmly on television over the next few years, playing Jenna Elfman's father on the CBS sitcom, "Courting Alex" (2006), in a recurring role on the medical drama "Heartland" (TNT, 2007), and on Martin Scorsese's critically lauded "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO, 2010-15), a historical chronicle about the rise of Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era.

Credits

For the PeopleStream

Guest Star
Donald
Series
2018
69%

Not Such a Bad Guy: Conversations With Dabney Coleman

Actor
Show
2017

Rules Don't Apply

Actor
Raymond Holliday
Movie
2016

Ray DonovanStream

Guest Star
Series
2013
72%

Boardwalk EmpireStream

Actor
Commodore Louis Kaestner
Series
2010
92%

Char-ac-ter

Actor
Movie
2009

Heartland

Guest Star
Show
2007

Hard Four

Actor
Spray Loomis
Movie
2007

Courting Alex

Actor
Bill Rose
Show
2006

Domino

Actor
Drake Bishop
Movie
2005

NCISStream

Guest Star
Army Corporal John Sydney
Series
2003

Where the Red Fern Grows

Actor
Grandpa
Movie
2003

Recess: All Growed Down

Voice
Principal Prickley
Movie
2003

Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade

Voice
Principal Prickly
Movie
2003

Moonlight Mile

Actor
Mike Mulcahey
Movie
2002

The Climb

Actor
Mack
Movie
2002

The GuardianStream

Actor
Burton Fallin
Series
2001

Kiss My Act

Actor
Henry
Movie
2001

Recess: School's Out

Voice
Principal Vance Prickly
Movie
2001

How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale

Actor
John Kennedy
Movie
2000

Law & Order: Special Victims UnitStream

Guest Star
Frank Hager
Series
1999
78%

Casanova Falling

Actor
Johnathan Gallant
Movie
1999

Inspector GadgetStream

Actor
Chief Quimby
Movie
1999
20%

Must Be Santa

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Movie
1999

Stuart LittleStream

Actor
Dr. Beechwood
Movie
1999
67%

My Date with the President's Daughter

Actor
President Richmond
Movie
1998

Target Earth

Actor
Senator Ben Arnold
Movie
1998

Exiled: A Law & Order Movie

Actor
Lieutenant Kevin Stolper
Movie
1998

You've Got MailStream

Actor
Nelson Fox
Movie
1998
70%

Taken

Actor
Ethan Grover
Movie
1998

RecessStream

Actor
Series
1997

Un amour de sorcière

Actor
Joel
Movie
1997

Devil's Food

Actor
Seymour Kecker
Movie
1996

Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child

Voice
Show
1995

In the Line of Duty: Kidnapped

Actor
Arthur Milo
Movie
1995

Madman of the People

Actor
Jack "Madman" Buckner
Show
1994

Directed By

Actor
Show
1994

Liaison clandestine

Actor
Movie
1994

My Love, Your Honor

Actor
Charles Mayron
Movie
1994

CliffordStream

Actor
Gerald Ellis
Movie
1994
18%

Judicial Consent

Actor
Charles Mayron
Movie
1994

Amos & Andrew

Actor
Chief of Police Cecil Tolliver
Movie
1993

The Beverly Hillbillies

Actor
Milburn Drysdale
Movie
1993
24%

There Goes the Neighborhood

Actor
Jeffrey Babitt
Movie
1992

Drexell's Class

Actor
Otis Drexell
Show
1991

Columbo y el Homicidio de la Estrella

Actor
Movie
1991

Nunca Lo Olvides

Actor
Movie
1991

Mil Ojos del Pasado

Actor
Movie
1991

Never Forget

Actor
William Cox
Movie
1991

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star

Actor
Hugh Creighton
Movie
1991

Bichos Nucleares

Actor
Movie
1990

Mátame Porque Me Muero

Actor
Movie
1990

Con la Vida en un Hilo

Actor
Movie
1990

Where the Heart Is

Actor
Stewart McBain
Movie
1990

Short Time

Actor
Burt Simpson
Movie
1990

Los Increíbles Applegate

Actor
Movie
1990

Meet the Applegates

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Aunt Bea
Movie
1990

The Applegates

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Aunt Bea
Movie
1990

Asesínenme, por Favor

Actor
Movie
1990

Hot to Trot

Actor
Walter Sawyer
Movie
1988

Maybe Baby

Actor
Hal
Movie
1988

Tarde o Temprano

Actor
Movie
1988

And Baby Makes Three

Actor
Hal
Movie
1988

Baby M

Actor
Gary Skoloff
Miniseries
1988

Parole de cheval

Actor
Movie
1988

The Slap Maxwell Story

Actor
Slap Maxwell
Series
1987

DragnetStream

Actor
Jerry Caesar
Movie
1987
50%

Juramento Del Silencio

Actor
Movie
1987

Guilty of Innocence: The Lenell Geter Story

Actor
Ed Sigel
Movie
1987

Plaza Suite

Actor
Jesse Kiplinger
Movie
1987

Sworn to Silence

Actor
Martin Costigan
Movie
1987

Fresno

Actor
Tyler Cane
Miniseries
1986

Murrow

Actor
CBS Chairman William Paley
Movie
1986

The Man With One Red ShoeStream

Actor
Cooper
Movie
1985
47%

Espionaje Peligroso

Actor
Movie
1984

Jouer c'est tuer

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Movie
1984

The Muppets Take ManhattanStream

Actor
Martin Price/Murray Plotsky
Movie
1984
85%

Cloak & DaggerStream

Actor
Jack Flack/Hal Osborne
Movie
1984
67%

Buffalo Bill

Actor
Bill Bittinger
Series
1983
84%

Juegos de Misiles

Actor
Movie
1983

WarGamesStream

Actor
Dr. John McKittrick
Movie
1983
94%

Cupidon chez les docteurs

Actor
Movie
1982

Young Doctors in Love

Actor
Dr. Joseph Prang
Movie
1982
35%

TootsieStream

Actor
Ron Carlisle
Movie
1982
91%

Docteurs in Love

Actor
Movie
1982

Callie e Hijo

Actor
Movie
1981

Modern Problems

Actor
Mark Winslow
Movie
1981

On Golden PondStream

Actor
Bill Ray
Movie
1981
91%

Callie and Son

Actor
Randall Bordeaux
Movie
1981

9 to 5Stream

Actor
Franklin M. Hart Jr.
Movie
1980
69%

Pray TV

Actor
Marvin Fleece
Movie
1980

KGOD

Actor
Marvin Fleece
Movie
1980

Melvin and Howard

Actor
Judge Keith Hayes
Movie
1980
92%

Nothing Personal

Actor
Dickerson
Movie
1980

When She Was Bad...

Actor
Jack Wilson
Movie
1979

North Dallas FortyStream

Actor
Emmett Hunter
Movie
1979
84%

How to Beat the High Cost of Living

Actor
Jack Heintzel
Movie
1979

Diff'rent Strokes

Guest Star
Series
1978

Maneaters Are Loose!

Actor
McCallum
Movie
1978

More Than Friends

Actor
Joshua "Josh" Harrington
Movie
1978

Viva Knievel!Stream

Actor
Ralph Thompson
Movie
1977
14%

Rolling Thunder

Actor
Maxwell
Movie
1977

The Quality of Mercy

Actor
Movie
1976

Kiss Me... Kill Me

Actor
Capt. Logan
Movie
1976

Saturday Night LiveStream

Host
Series
1975

Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan

Actor
Paul Mathison
Movie
1975

The Other Side of the Mountain

Actor
Dave McCoy
Movie
1975

Returning Home

Actor
Al Stephenson
Movie
1975

Bite the BulletStream

Actor
Jack Parker
Movie
1975
73%

Black Fist

Actor
Heineken
Movie
1975

Petrocelli

Actor
Series
1974

TattletalesStream

Guest
Game Show
1974

The Dove

Actor
Charles Huntley
Movie
1974

Bad Ronald

Actor
Mr. Wood
Movie
1974

The Towering InfernoStream

Actor
Deputy Chief 1
Movie
1974
68%

House of Evil

Actor
Movie
1974

KojakStream

Guest Star
Alex Linden
Series
1973

Barnaby JonesStream

Guest Star
Series
1973

Colombo: Doppio shock

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Detective Murray
Movie
1973

Cinderella LibertyStream

Actor
Executive Officer
Movie
1973
56%

Dying Room Only

Actor
Bob Mitchell
Movie
1973

The Streets of San FranciscoStream

Guest Star
Andrew Horvath, Sr.
Series
1972

Savage

Actor
Ted Seligson
Movie
1972

ColumboStream

Guest Star
Detective Murray
Series
1971
84%

Cannon

Guest Star
Lt. Daggett
Series
1971

The President's Plane Is Missing

Actor
Sen. Bert Haines
Movie
1971

Dan August

Guest Star
Rick Bessett
Series
1970

The Mary Tyler Moore ShowStream

Guest Star
Congressman Phil Whitman
Series
1970

Room 222

Guest Star
Series
1969

Downhill RacerStream

Actor
Mayo
Movie
1969
85%

The Trouble With GirlsStream

Actor
Harrison Wilby
Movie
1969

Mod Squad

Guest Star
John
Series
1968

The ScalphuntersStream

Actor
Jed
Movie
1968
70%

MannixStream

Guest Star
Ralph Stoner
Series
1967

The Flying NunStream

Guest Star
Series
1967

Iron HorseStream

Guest Star
Series
1966

That GirlStream

Actor
Dr. Leon Bessemer
Series
1966

This Property Is Condemned

Actor
Salesman
Movie
1966

I Dream of JeannieStream

Guest Star
Lt. George Webb
Series
1965

The Slender Thread

Actor
Charlie
Movie
1965

12 O'Clock High

Guest Star
Series
1964

The FugitiveStream

Guest Star
Officer George Graham
Series
1963

The Outer LimitsStream

Actor
Series
1963
92%

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonStream

Guest
Talk
1962

Alfred Hitchcock HourStream

Actor
Series
1962

Ben Casey

Guest Star
Dr. Bobby Bainbridge
Series
1961

Dr. Kildare

Guest Star
Series
1961

HazelStream

Guest Star
Series
1961

BonanzaStream

Guest Star
Series
1959

Death Valley DaysStream

Actor
Calvin H. Higby
Series
1952

Death Valley DaysStream

Guest Star
Calvin H. Higby
Series
1952

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