Childhood & Early Years
Hal Linden was born as Harold Lipshitz on March 20, 1931, in The Bronx, New York City, USA. His father, Charles Lipshitz, a first-generation Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, ran a printing shop while his mother, Frances née Rosen, was a homemaker. He had an elder brother named Bernard.
The family lived upstairs in his grandfather’s home. Several of his uncles and aunts also lived there along with an array of children. From early childhood, the boys were encouraged to take music lessons. While Bernard learned the violin, Harold chose the clarinet.
Harold was educated first at Herman Ridder Junior High School. Later, he moved to High School of Music & Art, graduating from there in 1948. Thereafter, he enrolled at Queens College with music as his major, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in business from City College of New York.
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In the early 1950s, Hal Linden began singing and playing saxophone at weddings and bar mitzvahs, also going on tours with singers like Sammy Kaye and Bobby Sherwood. Sometime during this period, he changed his name to Hal Linden, believing Lipshitz was not a suitable name for a budding singer.
In 1952, he joined the US Army for his military service. There, he entertained the troops at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. It was while serving there that he saw a production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ and decided to become an actor.
In 1954, Linden was discharged from the army. Thereafter, he used the G.I. Bill to enroll at the American Theatre Wings in New York with voice and drama. On graduating from there, he began his acting career with stock companies, continuing to sing in intervals.
In 1957, Hal Linden was appointed an understudy for Sydney Chaplin in the Broadway production of ‘Bells Are Ringing’, eventually replacing him as Jeff Moss in 1958. Also, in 1957, he debuted on television with the 'Ruggles of Red Gap' episode of 'Producers' Showcase'.
In 1960, he replaced Charles Braswell in the role of Matt in the Broadway production of ‘Wildcat’. Also, in the same year, he debuted in films, appearing as the Master of Ceremonies, singing ‘Midas Touch’, in the film adaption of ‘Bells Are Ringing’. However, his film career failed to pick up.
Linden spent the 1960s doing a few television series and dubbing English dialogues for foreign movies like ‘That Man from Rio’ (1964), ‘Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster’ (1967) and ‘Destroy All Monsters’ (1968). However, he had better luck on the stage, appearing in five Broadway productions during the decade.
In 1970, he got his first big break, being cast in the lead role of Mayer Rothschild in the Broadway production of ‘The Rothschilds’. Opening on October 19, 1970, it ran till January 1, 1972, earning him his only Tony Award.
His career finally took off in 1975 when he was cast as Capt. Barney Miller in 'Barney Miller', an ABC sitcom. Meanwhile in 1976, he appeared in a few other television productions like ‘F.B.I’, ‘The Love Boat’, and ‘How to Break Up a Happy Divorce’.
In 1979, he appeared as Richard Ethridge in the film version of ‘When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?’ After ‘Bells Are Ringing’, which was released in 1960, this was his first direct appearance in any feature film.
In the 1980s, Linden was busy doing a series of television movies. They were ‘I Do! I Do!’ (1982), ‘Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land’ (1983), ‘The Other Woman’ (1983), 'Second Edition' (1984), 'My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Legend of Errol Flynn' (1985) and ‘Dream Breakers’ (1989).
Also, in the 1980s, he renewed his music career with nightclub acts and returned to the big screen, starring as Mel in ‘A New Life’ (1988). Appearing in the lead role of Alexander Blacke in thirteen episodes of ‘Blacke’s Magic’ (1986) was another important work of this decade.
In the 1990s, he appeared in four feature films and fourteen television productions, the most notable of them being the series ‘Jack’s Place’ that starred him as Jack Evans in eighteen of its episodes (1992-93). ‘The Boys Are Back’, in which he starred as Fred Hansen in eighteen episodes (1994-95), was another important work.
In the new millennium, he continued to appear in numerous television productions and feature films. His last appearance on the big screen was in the role of Gabe in ‘Grand-Daddy Day Care’ (2019), while his last television appearance was on the ‘Mama’ episode of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ (2018).