Dabney Wharton Coleman is an American actor who has worked in over 60 movies and television programs. Often playing 'comic relief villain' characters, he is best known for his roles in 'Nine to Five', 'Buffalo Bill' and 'The Slap Maxwell Story'. Coleman began his career in theatrical productions while he was pursuing an acting course in New York city. After two years, he landed small roles in TV series and movies, and from there, his career graph shot upwards. His memorable roles have won him fame, Emmy Awards and also a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. While Billy Martin and Birdie Tibbitts were heroes of his youth, he holds actors Arthur Kennedy and Martin Balsam in high esteem. He got inspired by actor Zachary Scott during his college days, and decided to pursue a career in acting. Coleman has played tennis for the U.S. Army and won many charity and celebrity tournaments. At the age of 68, he underwent a successful treatment for his eyesight after being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Childhood & Early Life
Dabney Coleman was born on January 3, 1932 in Austin, Texas to Melvin Randolph Coleman and Mary Wharton (Johns). After studying in the Military Institute in Lexington, VA, he served two years in military. He then attended the University of Texas but changed his course from law to drama and earned his degree in 1954. Later, he joined The Neighborhood Playhouse School in New York to study method acting. Here, he was trained with Sanford Meisner from 1958-1960. During this time, he performed in a few regional theatrical productions, and he debuted in the Broadway play, 'A Call on Kuprin'. He shifted to Los Angeles in 1962 and made some small screen appearances. He debuted in 1965 melodrama 'The Slender Thread,' sharing the screen with Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft.
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Rise to Stardom
Dabney Coleman's early career in the 1960s included recurrent roles in TV shows - 'That Girl' and 'The Fugitive' and minor roles in 'This Property Is Condemned', 'The Trouble with Girls' and 'Downhill Racer'. The next decade gave him better chances to prove himself through a variety of roles in the movies, 'The Towering Inferno', 'Bite the Bullet', 'Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan'. Commercial success came to him with the 1980s big screen comedy 'Nine to Five' in which he played the lead role of a sexist boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., who becomes the target of three female office employees seeing revenge. This film established him as a devious and arrogant character – something he is most identified with. His good work continued in the movies 'Tootsie' (1982) and 'WarGames' (1983) in which he portrayed an easily-fooled director and a computer expert respectively. This decade also gave him his first Emmy nomination for his role in the TV series 'Buffalo Bill' and his first Emmy Award for the TV movie 'Sworn to Silence' in 1987. Next year, Coleman won the Emmy for Best Actor for his role in the sitcom, 'The Slap Maxwell Story'.
In the 1990s, he brought dexterity and dimensions to his work with the movies, 'On Golden Pond', 'Dragnet', 'Hot to Trot', 'The Beverly Hillbillies' and 'Clifford'. He also acted in several short-lived yet popular television classics: 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman', 'Fernwood 2 Night', 'That Girl, 'Fresno', 'The Slap Maxwell Story' and 'Madman Of The People'. The trend continued in the next decade with his roles in TV shows, 'Courting Alex' (CBS 2006), 'Heartland' (TNT, 2007) and 'Boardwalk Empire' (HBO, 2010-15), categorised under family drama, medical drama and historical chronicle respectively.
He also provided voice to the character of Principal Prickly in 'Recess', the Disney animated series that ran between 1997-2003. In 2001, he acted in a spin-off of 'Recess: School's Out', which was also a great success. One of his best roles was of the wise, grumpy father of Simon Baker in 2001-2004 series, 'The Guardian', a dark drama focusing on a family law firm. Another role that he is known for was that of a land developer in 'Moonlight Mile', a romantic drama directed by Brad Silberling in 2002.
His roles of Grandpa in the 2004 movie 'Where the Red Fern Grows' and Drake Bishop in Tony Scott's thriller film 'Domino' (2005) were widely praised. He also worked in two seasons of HBO's ‘Boardwalk Empire’ from 2010-2011. He received Screen Actors Guild Awards for his outstanding performance in the show two years in a row.
In 2018, the International Press Academy (IPA) honored him with the Mary Pickford Award at the 22nd Annual Satellite Awards for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the Entertainment Industry. From January 15, 2019, he is playing the character of Mr Sydney on the CBS show ‘NCIS’ (season 16).
Family & Personal Life
Dabney Coleman was married to Ann Courtney Harrell for two years before they divorced in 1959. They have two daughters and one son together: Kelly, Mary and Randolph. In 1961, Coleman got married to actress Jean Hale, only to get separated legally after 23 years of companionship. They have four children together: Meghan, Kelly, Quincy and Randy. Currently, Coleman lives in Brentwood, California. He is an active participant in a campaign to help protect forests across America. The campaign was conducted at the Baltimore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.