HomeTVPaxton Whitehead, Actor Who Discovered Humor within the Stodgy, Dies at 85

Paxton Whitehead, Actor Who Discovered Humor within the Stodgy, Dies at 85


Paxton Whitehead, a comic book actor who earned a Tony nomination for his function in a revival of “Camelot” and performed the starchiest of stuffed shirts in movies just like the Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Back to School” and on hit Nineties sitcoms like “Friends” and “Mad About You,” died on Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 85.

His daughter, Alex Whitehead-Gordon, mentioned the reason for his demise, in a hospital, was issues of a fall.

Mr. Whitehead, an Englishman with a modulated baritone voice, typically coaxed humor from his sharp options and dignified bearing. His comedian characters sometimes displayed subtly exaggerated variations of his personal traits, which he executed with seeming ease.

“He couldn’t assist however be humorous,” the critic Terry Doran wrote in The Buffalo News in 1997 of Mr. Whitehead’s time on the George Bernard Shaw Festival in Ontario, including: “He didn’t sweat buckets striving to make us chuckle. He simply was amusing. It got here naturally.”

For Mr. Whitehead, discovering the comedy was the important thing that unlocked a job.

“You at all times have to seek out the core of humor in a personality — a minimum of I prefer to, the identical approach some individuals will say, ‘I like to seek out the great in him, though he’s a villain,’” he informed The Los Angeles Times in 1997.

One such character was Philip Barbay, the uptight dean of a enterprise faculty and the nemesis of Thornton Melon, Mr. Dangerfield’s character, in “Back to School” (1986). Melon, a crass however profitable businessman, involves Grand Lakes University to go to his struggling son and winds up enrolling on the faculty after making a large donation.

Barbay hates Melon on sight and does his finest to get him expelled, to little impact. Early within the movie he and his girlfriend, Diane, a literature professor performed by Sally Kellerman, see Melon shopping for books for college kids on the college bookstore, and Barbay describes him as “the world’s oldest residing freshman, and the strolling epitome of the decline in fashionable schooling.”

Melon goes on to disrupt Barbay’s class and date Diane.

Mr. Whitehead infused Barbay with some pathos — the character appeared unable to maintain himself from being a killjoy — which added one other layer to the humor. While out with the free-spirited, poetry-loving Diane, Barbay proposes that they take their relationship to the subsequent degree by means of “a merger,” including that they’d grow to be “included, if you’ll.”

Mr. Whitehead’s stodgy determine in “Back to School” was the archetype for a lot of of his later sitcom roles. He performed a stuffy neighbor on “Mad About You,” a stuffy boss on “Friends” and the stuffy headmaster of a prestigious faculty on “Frasier.”

He was additionally a prolific theater actor. He appeared in additional than a dozen Broadway productions, together with the revue “Beyond the Fringe” (1962-64) and the 1980 revival of “Camelot,” wherein his portrayal of King Pellinore earned him a Tony nomination for finest featured actor in a musical. He performed Sherlock Holmes reverse Glenn Close in “The Crucifer of Blood,” which ran for 236 performances on the Helen Hayes Theater in 1978 and 1979.

Mr. Whitehead’s roles, particularly onstage, weren’t at all times comedian. One departure was his portrayal of the ambition-crazed lead in a well-reviewed manufacturing of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” on the Old Globe in San Diego in 1985.

“Comedy, tragedy, pathos, spectacle — every thing is swept alongside earlier than the raging kinetic energy of this Richard,” the theater critic Welton Jones wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1985.

Francis Edward Paxton Whitehead was born in Kent, England, on Oct. 17, 1937. His father, Charles, was a lawyer, and his mom, Louise (Hunt) Whitehead, was a homemaker. His daughter mentioned that his household and associates had referred to as him Paxton since he was a toddler.

He graduated from the Rugby School in Warwickshire earlier than finding out performing on the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. His early work was with touring firms, generally performing a brand new play each week. In the late Fifties he earned a stint with the New Shakespeare Memorial Theater, which is now referred to as the Royal Shakespeare Theater and is a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“But I used to be the bottom of lows,” he informed The Los Angeles Times in 1992, and after enjoying Shakespearean extras for some time, he determined to maneuver to New York City. (His mom was American, so he was allowed to work within the States.)

His Broadway profession quickly took off, and it continued into latest a long time. He appeared within the unique productions of the comedies “Noises Off” (1983-85) and “Lettice and Lovage” (1990) and in revivals of “My Fair Lady” (1993), as Colonel Pickering and later Henry Higgins, and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (2011), because the Rev. Canon Chasuble.

In 1967, Mr. Whitehead turned the inventive director of the Shaw Festival. He produced, acted in or directed most of Shaw’s performs, attracting actors like Jessica Tandy to the competition’s productions, earlier than deciding to return to performing in 1977.

His different movies embrace “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1986), which starred Whoopi Goldberg; “Baby Boom” (1987) which starred Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard; and “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993), which starred Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance. His different tv appearances embrace “Murder, She Wrote,” “third Rock From the Sun,” “The West Wing,” “Hart to Hart” and “Caroline within the City.”

His marriage to the actress Patricia Gage resulted in divorce in 1986. The subsequent yr he married Katherine Robertson, who died in 2009.

In addition to his daughter, with whom he lived in Arlington, he’s survived by a son, Charles; a stepdaughter from his first marriage, Heather Whitehead; and 4 grandchildren.

Mr. Whitehead informed The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1986 that he normally most well-liked to behave in comedy, as a result of “it pursuits me extra, and truly I take it an amazing deal extra severely than I do tragedy.”

“The final time I did a tragic function,” he added, “they laughed.”

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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