Charles Nelson Reilly, 76; Tony-winning actor, TV game show regular
May 29, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer [Text only - photos added for this website presentation]
Charles Nelson Reilly, whose persona as a wacky game show panelist and talk show guest overshadowed his serious work as a director and Tony-winning actor, has died. He was 76.
Reilly, a longtime resident of Beverly Hills, died Friday of complications from pneumonia at UCLA Medical Center, said Paul Linke, who directed Reilly's one-man show "Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly." "The average person thinks of him as being on 'The Match Game.' That was a mixed blessing for him," Linke told The Times on Monday. "One of the reasons I was so motivated to get his show out there was because I wanted people to recognize that this was a heavyweight talent." When a Times reporter visited his home in 2000, Reilly displayed an opera review that referred to him as "Charles Nelson Reilly of 'Hollywood Squares' fame." "It's like a scarlet letter," Reilly yowled in his high-pitched, nasal voice.
Wearing his trademark ascot and oversized glasses, Reilly made a near-record 97 appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," often making ribald ripostes. After a "Tonight Show" guest who was talking about Shakespeare dismissed Reilly's attempt to join the conversation, he silenced her by delivering Hamlet's "the play's the thing" monologue straight, with depth and passion, the New York Observer reported in 2001.
He broke through on Broadway in 1961, winning a Tony for playing the insidious nephew Bud Frump in the original production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Reilly also received Tony nominations for his role in "Hello, Dolly!" in 1964, and for directing a revival of "The Gin Game" with Julie Harris in 1997.
Reilly often directed plays that starred Harris, including "The Belle of Amherst," a 1977 one-woman play about Emily Dickinson that remained one of his proudest achievements. "He's a wonderful actor but never gets enough chance to do it," Harris told the Times in 2000. "He's taught me a lot about theater. It's his insight into the personal idiosyncrasies of human beings. He's attuned to small details -- the pieces of the puzzle that make up the whole picture."
Reilly's close friend Burt Reynolds said in a 1991 Times article that he thought Reilly's reputation as the perpetual jester had worked against him in Hollywood. "We have a thing in this town that if you are enormously witty and gregarious, you can't be very deep. There's something wrong with a society that says, 'You're the wit, but you're not the teacher.' People just haven't seen him in this arena," Reynolds said.
A well-regarded acting instructor, Reilly moved to Florida in 1979 to teach at the Burt Reynolds Institute. Reilly also coached Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin and Christine Lahti and ran an acting school in North Hollywood. In his one-man show, which would be his final work, Reilly told the story of his life, which began Jan. 13, 1931, in New York City. The play's name came from the phrase his mother often said when her son spoke: "Save it for the stage." In 2006, the show was made into the movie "The Life of Reilly."
He was the only child of the former Signe Elvera Nelson and Charles Joseph Reilly, who designed outdoor advertising for Paramount Pictures. After his father had a nervous breakdown, partly brought on because his wife made him turn down a job offer from Walt Disney, he was institutionalized, Linke said.
Reilly and his mother moved to Hartford, Conn., to live with 10 relatives, all of whom spoke Swedish, in an apartment that had only cold water. "Eugene O'Neill could never begin to get near all this," Reilly said in the 2000 Times article. At 9, he got the lead in the school play, and a teacher told his mother that Reilly was the only true actor she had ever known, the Observer reported. When he was 13, he and a friend survived a circus fire in Hartford that killed more than 165 people. It was the last time he would sit in a theater as an audience member, Reilly repeatedly said.
By 18, he had moved to New York and was soon studying with Uta Hagen and her husband, Herbert Berghof, at their acting school. Classmates included Jack Lemmon, Charles Grodin, Geraldine Page and Hal Holbrook.
Reilly never tried to hide his homosexuality, and frequently cracked double-entendres on television about being gay. He got a job as a night mail boy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and tried to get hired by NBC, but a producer told him "that they don't allow queers on television," Linke said. "Charles' response was, 'It didn't bother me. I knew in my heart his words weren't true,' " Linke said. Later, Reilly would count how many game show appearances he would make in a week -- once it was 27 -- and consider it his revenge.
When he first came to California to co-star on television in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" in 1968, he stepped off the plane and said of the 70-degree weather: " 'How long has this been going on?' He said he'd been cold his whole life until then," Linke said. Reilly made more money in one or two TV appearances with Dean Martin than he would in a year of performing on Broadway, so he stayed, Linke said.
Reilly went on to make many guest appearances in sitcoms and was a regular on "Laugh-In." In the late 1960s, Reilly bought his Beverly Hills home and also owned a 34-foot cabin cruiser that he kept in Marina del Rey.
"The world is a slightly less funny place now," Linke said. "He made people laugh along the way, and that's a legacy that lives on long after the game shows."
Reilly is survived by Patrick Hughes, his companion of more than 25 years.
Chicago Opera Theater`s `Cinderella` Makes Rossini Fit Like A Glass Slipper
April 25, 1988. By John von Rhein, Music critic. Chicago Tribune
If Chicago Opera Theater was feeling the pinch of having to produce more opera within a shorter time span than ever before, no strain was evident in the company`s season finale, Rossini`s “Cinderella,” which had its first performance Saturday at the Athenaeum Theatre.
Those who admired the high spirits and authentic musical style that have marked the Opera Theater`s previous forays into Rossini`s comic repertory will not be disappointed with “Cinderella.” The production, beautifully sung by a youthful and attractive ensemble and buoyantly staged by Charles Nelson Reilly, makes a charming addition to the cycle.
Regular operagoers will draw comparisons with Lyric Opera`s most recent Rossini effort, “L`Italiana in Algeri.” Here it must be admitted that the Opera Theater enjoys a sizable advantage over the Lyric, because the Rossini comedies really work best when presented in the language of the audience in small theaters that allow the words to be easily projected and clearly understood. They do not require major international casts to make the kind of effect the composer intended.
Why has “Cinderella”-or “La Cenerentola,” to revert to the original Italian title-failed to achieve the enormous popularity of Rossini`s earlier buffa, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”? Certainly its score is equally fine, and in some respects it is even superior. Perhaps the fairy-tale plot of a poor servant girl wooed and won by a handsome prince is stretched rather too far here, but then, the repertory is full of operas that shamelessly make comic mountains out of narrative molehills.
One thing, however, is certain. The Opera Theater is presenting more of Rossini`s score than most Rossinians probably have ever heard, this despite deleting all music not written by Rossini that has found its way into various corrupt editions. True, this makes for a long evening in the theater, but conductor Louis Salemno wields such a knowing, firmly propulsive hand, and elicits such crisp playing from the chamber orchestra, that the 3 1/4 hours of “Cinderella” pass very pleasantly indeed.
The Opera Theater cast is strong from top to bottom. I first heard Stella Zambalis in the title role last year in St. Louis, where she was wonderful. This time allowances had to be made for the fact that she was singing through a case of flu so severe it forced cancellation of the Sunday matinee. (That performance now has been rescheduled for May 8.) However, only in “Non piu mesta” did one notice that Zambalis was not in her best vocal form. The warmth and flexibility of her wide-ranging mezzo, and her touching portrayal of the character, won all hearts.
To find a young Rossini tenor as sweet of voice and as accomplished of technique as Glenn Siebert is good news indeed these days. His confidently sung Ramiro blended nicely with Zambalis` voice in the tender duets. James Rensink was a dandy Dandini. If his coloratura was less than precise, this rakish courtier clearly relished his princely masquerade; every amusing flourish was drawn to perfection. John Fiorito, the Don Magnifico, managed to avoid the usual buffo overkill as the opera`s serio-comic figure. Janis Knox and Kathryn Hartgrove added much to the prevailing high spirits as the not-so-ugly stepsisters. Rossini`s Cinderella has a human godfather rather than a fairy godmother; the character was nobly sung by Greg Ryerson.
The simple, storybook-cutout sets, borrowed from Texas Opera Theater, were a good match for the bright costumes of Kerry Fleming. Ruth and Thomas Martin`s English translation adhered to the general sense, if not always the literal meaning, of the libretto.
“Cinderella” plays through May 8.
Comic opera in three acts by Rossini, presented by Chicago Opera Theater April 23 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Conducted by Louis Salemno, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly, set designs by Peter Dean Beck, costumes by Kerry Fleming, lighting by Michael S. Philippi, artistic supervision by Alan Stone. Length of performance: 3:15. Repeat performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and May 4, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and May 8. Tickets $14 to $36. Phone 663-0048.
Johanna Maria Lind (6 October 1820 – 2 November 1887), better known as Jenny
Lind, was a Swedish opera singer, often known as the "Swedish Nightingale".
One of the most highly regarded singers of the 19th century, she performed
soprano roles in opera in Sweden and across Europe, and undertook an extraordinarily
popular concert tour of America beginning in 1850. She was a member of the
Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1840.
Lind became famous after her performance in Der Freischütz in Sweden in 1838. Within a few years, she had suffered vocal damage, but the singing teacher Manuel García saved her voice. She was in great demand in opera roles throughout Sweden and northern Europe during the 1840s, and was closely associated with Felix Mendelssohn. After two acclaimed seasons in London, she announced her retirement from opera at the age of 29.
In 1850, Lind went to America at the invitation of the showman P. T. Barnum. She gave 93 large-scale concerts for him and then continued to tour under her own management. She earned more than $350,000 from these concerts, donating the proceeds to charities, principally the endowment of free schools in Sweden. With her new husband, Otto Goldschmidt, she returned to Europe in 1852 where she had three children and gave occasional concerts over the next two decades, settling in England in 1855. From 1882, for some years, she was a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music in London.
There are no recordings of Lind's voice. She is believed to have made an early phonograph recording for Thomas Edison, but in the words of the critic Philip L. Miller, "Even had the fabled Edison cylinder survived, it would have been too primitive, and she too long retired, to tell us much".
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on April 17, 1988. Portions were broadcast on WNIB two days later. This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.