Sheldon Leonard Berman
February 3, 1925
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||September 1, 2017 (aged 92)|
Bell Canyon, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Education||Art Institute of Chicago (BFA)|
|Medium||Stand-up, film, television|
Sheldon Leonard Berman (February 3, 1925 – September 1, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, writer, teacher, and lecturer.
In his comedic career, he was awarded three gold records and he won the first Grammy Award for a spoken comedy recording in 1959. He played Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm, a role for which he received a 2008 Emmy Award nomination.
Early life and education
He served in the Navy during World War II. He then enrolled in Chicago's Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University) as a drama student. There he met fellow student Sarah Herman; they married in 1947. His acting career began with an acting company in Woodstock, Illinois. Leaving Woodstock in 1949, the couple made their way to New York City. He studied acting at the HB Studio. To make ends meet, Berman found employment as a social director, cab driver, speech teacher, assistant manager of a drug store, and a dance instructor at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.
Berman began as a straight actor, receiving his training at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, honing his acting skills in stock companies in and around Chicago and New York City.
In the mid-1950s, he became a member of Chicago's Compass Players, which later evolved into The Second City. While performing improvised sketches with Compass, Berman began to develop solo pieces, often employing an imaginary telephone to take the place of an onstage partner.
Nightclubs and live performances
In 1957, Berman was hired as a comedian at Mister Kelly's in Chicago, which led to other nightclub bookings, and a recording contract with Verve Records. His comedy albums earned him three gold records and he won the first Grammy Award for a spoken comedy recording. Berman appeared on numerous television specials and all of the major variety shows of the day.
He starred on Broadway in A Family Affair and continued with stage work in The Odd Couple, Damn Yankees, Where's Charley?, Fiddler on the Roof, Two by Two, I'm Not Rappaport, La Cage aux Folles, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and Guys & Dolls.
Berman also appeared fairly regularly as a panelist (and once as the "Mystery Guest") on the famous CBS game show What's My Line in the early and mid-1960s.
Berman performed both comedic and dramatic roles on television, including appearances on episodes of The Twilight Zone (both radio and TV versions), Bewitched, Peter Gunn, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Adam-12, Emergency!, Brothers, Night Court, MacGyver, L.A. Law, Friends, Walker, Texas Ranger, The King of Queens, Grey's Anatomy, Boston Legal, Lizzie McGuire, Hannah Montana, CSI: NY and the revived Hawaii Five-0. He also had a recurring role on the short-lived sitcom Walter & Emily.
Among Berman's film credits are Dementia (1955, with Shorty Rogers), The Best Man (1964, with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson), Divorce American Style (1967, with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds), Every Home Should Have One (1970, with Marty Feldman), Beware! The Blob (1972, with Robert Walker Jr.), Rented Lips (1988, with Martin Mull and Robert Downey Jr.), Teen Witch (1989, with Robyn Lively and Zelda Rubinstein), The Last Producer (2000, with Burt Reynolds), Meet the Fockers (2004, with Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller), The Holiday (2006, with Cameron Diaz), and You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008, with Adam Sandler).
For over 20 years, Berman was a lecturer (later lecturer emeritus) in humor writing in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California. He was also a teacher for the Improv Olympics program.
|1964||The Best Man||Sheldon Bascomb|
|1967||Divorce American Style||David Grieff|
|1970||Every Home Should Have One||Nat Kaplan|
|1972||Beware! The Blob||Hair Stylist|
|1988||Rented Lips||Bill Slotnik|
|1989||Teen Witch||Mr. Weaver|
|1990||Elliot Fauman, Ph.D.||Stromberg|
|1991||Motorama||Million Dollar Driver|
|2000||The Last Producer||Poker Player #1|
|2004||Meet the Fockers||Judge Ira|
|2008||You Don't Mess with the Zohan||Zohan's Father|
|2010||The Legend of Secret Pass||Ira (voice)|
|1954||The Repertory Theatre||Sheldon Berman||Episode: Time of Delivery|
|1955||Goodyear Playhouse||Manager||Episode: The Catered Affair|
|1959||Peter Gunn||Danny Holland||Episode: The Comic|
|1961||The Twilight Zone||Archibald Beechcroft||Episode: The Mind and the Matter|
|General Electric Theater||Stanley||Episode: The $200 Parlay|
|Car 54, Where Are You?||Rabbi Einsenberg||Episode: Catch Me on the Paar Show|
|1962||Rawhide||Mendel Sorkin||Episode: The Peddler|
|1963||Breaking Point||Roy Chase||Episode: Whatsoever Things I Hear|
|1964||Burke's Law||King Dmitri||Episode: Who Killed Cassandra Cass?|
|Bewitched||Mr. Brinkman||Episode: The Witches Are Out|
|1966||Mister Roberts||Performer||Episode: The Replacement|
|The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Sheldon Veblen||Episode: The Super Colossal Affair|
|The Hero||Performer||Episode: The Truth Never Hurts|
|1967||Get Smart||Elwood Box||Episode: Classification: Dead|
|1968-69||That's Life||Mr. Quigley||6 episodes|
|1969||The Tommy Leonetti Show||Performer||1 episode|
|1970||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Dr. Walter Udall||Episode: Divorce Isn't Everything|
|1971||Adam-12||Phil Duke||Episode: Log 165: Once a Cop|
|1970-71||Love, American Style||Various Roles||3 episodes|
|1974||Emergency!||Art Frommich||Episode: The Screenwriter|
|1975||Police Woman||Eddie Bender||Episode: The Company|
|1977||Forever Fernwood||Mel Beach||1 episode|
|1978||Vega$||Mickey||Episode: Milliken's Stash|
|Flying High||Phil||Episode: High Rollers|
|1979||Brenda Starr, Reporter||A.J. Livwright||Television Movie|
|Eischied||Performer||Episode: Angels of Terror|
|1978-81||CHiPs||Strum/Desperate Car Owner||2 episodes|
|1983||Matt Houston||Dickie Bevak||Episode: The Yacht Club Murders|
|1985||Knight Rider||Josh Bevin||Episode: Knight Song|
|1987||St. Elsewhere||Bill Belvedere||Episode: Getting Ahead|
|The New Mike Hammer||Comedian||Episode: The Last Laugh|
|CBS Summer Playhouse||Harry||Episode: Mabel and Max|
|ABC Afterschool Special||Harold||Episode: The Kid Who Wouldn't Quit|
|1988||Night Court||Al||Episode: I'm OK, You're Catatonic|
|1989||What's Alan Watching?||Mel Krasoen||Television Special|
|The Munsters Today||Sam Hawkins||Episode: The Trial|
|1990||What a Dummy||Grandpa Lou||Episode: Grandpa Lou|
|1991||Monsters||Leo Tandoski||Episode: Werewolf of Hollywood|
|MacGyver||CIA-Agent Abe||Episode: Honest Abe|
|Walter & Emily||Albert||1 Episode|
|1992||Carol Leifer: Gaudy, Bawdy & Blue||Himself||Television Movie|
|Civil Wars||Performer||Episode: The Triumph of DeVille|
|1992-93||L.A. Law||Ben Flicker||6 episodes|
|1994||Garfield and Friends||Dick Drake (voice)||Episode: Horror Hostess|
|1995||Living Single||Hyman||Episode: Baby I'm Back...Again|
|1996-96||Friends||Mr. Kaplan Jr.||2 episodes|
|1997||Chicago Sons||McGlashan||Episode: The Things We Do for Love|
|1997||The Blues Brothers Animated Series||Alderman J. Alderman (voice)||8 episodes|
|1998||Arlis$$||Ollie Fogle||Episode: The American Game|
|1999||L.A. Doctors||Performer||Episode: Been There, Done That|
|2000||Providence||Performer||Episode: Syd in Wonderland|
|Walker, Texas Ranger||Ira Goldberg||Episode: Lazarus|
|2001||That's My Bush!||Principal||Episode: Fare Thee Welfare|
|2002||Lizzie McGuire||Nobby Frostybump||Episode: Xtreme Xmas|
|2003||The King of Queens||Skitch||Episode: Queens'bro Bridge|
|2004||Dead Like Me||Theo||Episode: The Shallow End|
|2005||Grey's Anatomy||Jed Sorento||Episode: Let it Be|
|2007||Entourage||Uncle Shelley||Episode: The Return of the King|
|State of Mind||Harvey Fleischman||Episode: Passion Fishing|
|2006-08||Boston Legal||Judge Robert Sanders||11 episodes|
|2008||Hannah Montana||Dr. Froman||Episode: Don't Go Breakin' My Tooth|
|Pushing Daisies||Gustav Hofer||Episode: Robbing Hood|
|2009||CSI: NY||George Savar||Episode: Yahrzeit|
|The Unusuals||Tom Speigelman||Episode: The Tape Delay|
|Raising the Bar||Danny Rose||Episode: Rules of Engagement|
|2002-09||Curb Your Enthusiasm||Nat David||13 episodes|
|2012||Hawaii Five-0||Morty Sapperstein||Episode: Ohuna|
|1959||The Girls Against the Boys||Husband||Alvin Theatre|||
|1962||A Family Affair||Alfie Nathan||Billy Rose Theatre|
|1973-74||The Prisoner of Second Avenue||Mel Edison||National Tour|
|1980||Insideoutsideandallaround with Shelley Berman||Playwright-Performer||Bijou Theatre|
- Inside Shelley Berman (1959)
- Outside Shelley Berman (1959)
- The Edge of Shelley Berman (1960)
- A Personal Appearance (1961)
- New Sides (1963)
- The Sex Life of The Primate (And Other Bits of Gossip) (1964)
- Let Me Tell You a Funny Story (1968)
- Live Again! Recorded at the Improv (1995)
- To Laughter with Questions (2013)
- When Jews Were Funny (2013)
- Cleans and Dirtys (1966)
- A Hotel Is a Place ... (1972)
- Up in the Air With Shelley Berman (1986)
- To Laughter With Questions (2013)
Awards and nominations
|1959||Grammy Awards||Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album||Inside Shelley Berman||Won|||
|2006||Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series||Curb Your Enthusiasm||Nominated|
|2008||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series||Nominated|
Berman married Sarah Herman on April 19, 1947. The two met while they were studying acting at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
In the mid-1960s, Berman and wife Sarah adopted two children, son Joshua and daughter Rachel. The Bermans were planning Joshua's bar mitzvah when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Joshua died on October 29, 1977 at age 12.
Berman and his wife were both enthusiastic supporters of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (located in Woodland Hills, California), a charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries with limited or no resources, and contributed their time and resources to the benefit of the facilities and the residents.
In the 1980s, the Chamber of Commerce in Canoga Park, California selected Berman to be one of the celebrities to serve a term as honorary mayor of Canoga Park.
Allegation of plagiarism
In a 2012 podcast interview with Marc Maron, Berman alleged that comedian Bob Newhart plagiarized his improvisational telephone routine style, describing its genesis and saying it was a "very special technique that couldn't really be imitated. It could be stolen. And it was." He continued, "I was coming to work at night and a guy stopped his car, passed me by, and said 'Hey, Shelley! There's a guy [who] stole your act!'" When asked by Maron if it was done maliciously, Berman replied, "Maliciously? He wouldn't do it maliciously. Nobody does that. But he did it to make a living. And he became a star."
When asked in interviews about the telephone issue, Bob Newhart noted that:
Shelley Berman did it before I did it. Mike (Nichols) and Elaine (May) did a version of it. There was a thing called 'Cohen on the Telephone,' which was a very, very early recording by Edison [Records] of a guy on the phone....George Jessel had a radio show...At the end, he would call up his mother and tell her how the show had gone. As a kid growing up, I remember listening to him and he would call his mother up and say, 'Mama, this is Georgie'" – he paused, skillfully – "'from the money.'"
On his website, comedy writer Mark Rothman discussed the history of comic "telephone" monologists, who dated the routine as far back as the 1920s, George Jessel who was doing phone conversations with his mother in vaudeville, with the opening line "Hello Mama? This is Georgie." In the 30s and 40s there was this radio comedienne named Arlene Harris, often referred to as Arlene "Chatterbox" Harris, who did telephone monologues to one of her "friends." In the 50s, a great comedienne, Betty Walker, made about a zillion appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, doing essentially the same kind of act as Arlene Harris. All of this pre-dated Shelley Berman. Even Mike Nichols and Elaine May, who were contemporaries of Berman's at Second City, engaged in telephone dialogues, with very similar styled material.
Berman died from Alzheimer's disease-related complications at his home in Bell Canyon, California, in the early morning of September 1, 2017. He was 92 years old. His archive was donated to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York.
Comedian Steve Martin praised Berman on Twitter, thanking him for "changing modern stand-up [comedy]". Marc Maron also tweeted praising "Shelley Berman has hung up the phone. RIP. The guy who inspired me to sit. Great comic."
- "Shelley Berman, Famed 'Sit-Down' Comedian, Dies at 92". Hollywoodreporter.com. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Grammy Winner Shelley Berman Dies". Grammy.com. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Actor, Dies at 92". NBC News. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman". University of Southern California. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "18Doors". 18doors.org. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- McLellan, Dennis (September 1, 2017). "Shelley Berman, angst-filled comedian who pioneered standup (or sit-down) comedy, dies at 92". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman, angst-filled comedian who pioneered standup (or sit-down) comedy, dies at 92". Los Angeles Times. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "HB Studio - Notable Alumni | One of the Original Acting Studios in NYC". Hbstudio.org. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- "Vintage Television". Kine Video. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Keepnews, Peter (September 1, 2017). "Shelley Berman, Stand-Up Comic Who Skewered Modern Life, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "The Second City Mourns the Loss of Shelley Berman". Broadway World. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Comedian Shelley Berman, who got his start in Chicago, dies at 92". The Chicago Sun-Times. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Yakky Doddle in Foxy Duck". Yowp.blogspot.com. August 19, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Rawhide "The Peddler"". TV Guide. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman Biography". Film Reference. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Star Shelley Berman Has Passed Away". The Observer. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman dead: Curb Your Enthusiasm alum dies at 92". Entertainment News. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman, Famed Comedian and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' Actor, Dead at 92". The Rolling Stone. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Shelley Berman". IMDb.com. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- "Shelley Berman – Broadway Cast & Staff". IBDb.com. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- "Shelley Berman Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Shelley Berman obituary The Guardian, accessdate February 20, 2018
- Shelley Berman, Comic And ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Actor, Dead At 92, Huff Post, accessdate February 20, 2018
- "Shelley Berman". IMDb.
- "Shelley Berman, comedian-bard of everyday life, has died". The Washington Post. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · Page 270". The Los Angeles Times. September 9, 1991. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- "Episode 332 – Shelley Berman". Wtfpod.com. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Martel, Ned (April 12, 2005). "For Bob Newhart, Dean of Deadpan, the Laughs Go On". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Thorn, Jesse (May 16, 2012). "Bob Newhart talks about stand-up, sitcoms, and why he stays busy | Comedy | Interview". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
- Rothman, Mark (March 28, 2013). "The Telephone Hour". Markrothmansblog.blogpot.com. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
- "National Comedy Center Acquires Archive Comedian Shelley Berman". The Post-Journal. February 1, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2018.[permanent dead link]
- "Steve Martin on Twitter". Twitter. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
- Ivie, Devon (September 2, 2017). "Shelley Berman, Comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm Actor, Dead at 92". Vulture.com. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- Official website
- Comprehensive Berman interview with Kliph Nesteroff
- Shelley Berman at IMDb
- Shelley Berman at the Internet Broadway Database
- Shelley Berman at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Shelley Berman at AllMovie
- Audio interview on The Sound of Young America (MP3 link)
- Shelley Berman Radio Interview WSLR
- Shelley Berman at The Interviews: An Oral History of Television