Early Life & Childhood
Charles Grodlin was born Charles Grodinsky in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 21, 1935, into an orthodox middle class Jewish American family as the second son. His father, Theodore, worked as a wholesale supplier while his mother, Lena, worked in the family business. Charles grew up watching movies and the acting bug bit him in his teen years.
His family was highly conservative, so he wasn’t allowed to pursue acting. As much as he loved acting in the high school productions, his parents didn’t allow him to take it further. He enrolled at the University of Miami but dropped out midway due to his love for acting. Thereafter, he started learning acting from Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg. He arrived in New York to further study drama and enrolled into HB Studio, Greenwich Village, New York City.
He started his career with theatre appearances at a time when the New York theatrical circle was flourishing. He eventually landed a very tiny part in the 1954 Disney film ’20,000 Leagues under the Sea.’ He further made his big Broadway debut in ‘Tchin-Tchin’ opposite the well-known actor Anthony Quinn. Tired of not getting enough acting parts, he joined director Gene Saks as his assistant, and this turned out to be the big turning point in his career.
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Throughout the early 60s, he appeared in very small parts in series’ such as ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’ and ‘Have Gun-Will Travel.’ In 1964, he appeared in the film ‘Sex and the College Girls’ and carried on with TV series’ such as ‘Shane,’ ‘The Iron Horse,’ ‘The F.B.I.,’ and ‘The Virginian.’ Ace director Roman Polanski signed him for a small but crucial role in his 1968 cult horror film ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ where, for the first time, his acting skills were praised.
By the late 60s, he got involved with Broadway as a director. He directed ‘Hooray! It’s a Glorious Day.. and all That!,’ and ‘Lovers and Other Strangers.’ His comic brilliance was appreciated by the critics and the audiences alike. Famous singers Simon and Garfunkel signed him to direct their 1969 television special ‘Songs of America.’
Despite his limited success in the industry, he wanted to do only the meatier parts by the early 70s. This proved very bad for his career and haunted him for years. He rejected the film ‘The Graduate,’ by the producer Lawrence Truman, saying that the pay was too low. Lawrence promised him that the part would take his career to new heights, but Charles wasn’t convinced. The role eventually went to Dustin Hoffman and the rest is history.
By the onset of the 70s, he was already being hailed as one of the most promising comedy stars and he proved this with his stellar performances in many successful comedy films. In 1970, he appeared in the film ‘Catch-22’ and followed it up with the first leading role of his career in ‘The Heartbreak Kid,’ a comedy film. He was nominated for a ‘Golden Globe Award’ for his role in ‘The Heartbreak Kid.’
In the coming years, he further proved his talent with films, such as ’11 Harrowhouse,’ ‘King Kong,’ and ‘Heaven can Wait.’ In all these movies, he proved his mettle as a brilliant actor. Despite his established movie career, he remained loyal to his stage and Broadway productions.
In the 80s, he bagged several key roles in notable films, including ‘The Great Muppet Caper.’ In the film, he played the role of a jewel thief who develops a romantic inclination towards a woman. He further appeared in another successful film ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman,’ a science fiction comedy film. The film was a critical disaster but he was appreciated for his performance.
His 1980 film ‘Seems Like Old Times’ received some great reviews upon its release. Thereafter, he starred opposite Robert De Niro in the action comedy film ‘Midnight Run.’ The film was a huge commercial and critical success and Charles’ role as the best buddy of De Niro met with applauds. In the 90s, several sequels to the film were made without featuring any of the main cast.
In the mid to late 80s, Charles stayed away from comic roles and played white collar professionals instead. He played the role of a successful psychiatrist in the film ‘The Couch Trip,’ an advertising executive in ‘Taking Care of Business,’ and a CIA agent in ‘Ishtar.’ ‘Ishtar’ was a successful action adventure comedy co-starring Dustin Hoffman.
'Ishtar' is known to be one of the highly polarizing films in the history of Hollywood, with many critics calling it a great film and others absolutely hating it. The business was hence affected and the big budget film bombed on the box office. For the most part of the late 80s, Charles stayed away from acting and appeared only in a few television series’ and talk shows.
In 1992, he made a solid comeback with kid’s comedy film ‘Beethoven’ and reprised his role in its 1993 sequel ‘Beethoven’s 2nd.’ In 1994, he played the leading role in a small film ‘It Runs in the Family.’ He then took a long break from acting and appeared in the 2006 film ‘The Ex.’
Apart from films and TV, Charles has been a highly loved talk show host for ‘The Charles Grodlin Show,’ ’60 Minutes II,’ and he has also appeared on ‘Late Night Show,’ ‘The Tonight Show,’ Saturday Night Live,’ and Late Night with David Letterman.’ He has also authored several bestselling books, such as ‘It Would be so Nice if You Were Not Here’ and ‘If I Only Knew then..Learning from my Mistakes.’