Actor presenting multi-faceted life in ‘An Evening with Hal Linden’

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, April 23, 2014

COURTLAND—There’s more to Hal Linden than being Barney Miller, and when you attend his program this Saturday evening, you’ll find out why.

Hal Linden

Hal Linden

“An Evening with Hal Linden” is the next in the lineup of programs presented by the Franklin-Southampton Concert Association.

Speaking on the phone from his home in California, Linden said he’s hesitant to call the presentation ‘a show.’ That is, Linden won’t just be on the stage standing and singing.

“Basically, it’s autobiographical, considering my background is in the Big Band-era as a musician and Broadway as a performer for so many years long before ‘Barney Miller.’ I’m going back to those roots.

You’ll know a little more about me through the roots and disciplines of my early life.”

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., he grew up in a household filled with music.

“I came from a family where all my generation played a musical instrument. I was the youngest, and it was a question of not if, but which instrument I was going to play,” said Linden. “I picked the clarinet over the violin. My brother [Bernard] was a violist with the New York Philharmonic and a professor of music at Bowling Green State University. He never left music.”

Classically trained in the clarinet, Linden’s early ambition was to perform in a symphony.

Then he “slid over” into jazz and also took up the saxophones and flute. By the time Linden was getting started, though, the Big Band era was coming to an end.

“That was really propelled me into the theater. Had it [Big Band] continued, I might have,” he said. “It was a good choice.”

After studying acting at the American Theatre Wing, Linden’s big break was as understudy to Sydney Chaplin — a son of famed film actor Charlie Chaplin — in “Bells are Ringing” on Broadway. Judy Holliday was the female lead.

“Judy wasn’t at all like her character — the ditzy blonde,” said Linden. “She was smarter than everyone you ever met. She was the most generous actress I’ve ever worked with. So outgoing and helpful.

“I was a novice and she really helped me develop as an actor. A brilliant, brilliant woman.”

When Chaplin left, Linden got the lead, which was unusual then because “one did not elevate understudies to leading men.”

Before that break, he met the other brilliant woman of his life — Frances.

“We met in summer stock, an entire summer of musicals,” he said. “She was in ‘Bells are Ringing.’ She was the contact who got me the job. She was in. We were just going together, and we ended up performing until it closed.”

Afterward, they married and ultimately had four children. None followed their parents’ footsteps, but that’s OK with Linden.

He’ll share those details and many others, such as how he became Barney Miller.

“Yes, it’s been quite a tour,” said Linden, who’s been going since September. “We’ve been quite successful everywhere, meeting people all over the country and becoming a part of their lives, hopefully.”

The program begins at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 26, in the auditorium of Southampton High School, 23350 Southampton Parkway, Courtland.

Call Rowe at 653-2498 or Bill Vick at 653-2892 for more information.