Marvin Kaplan has died of natural causes at the age of 89. Between 1978 and 1985, Kaplan recurred as Mel’s Diner regular Henry Beesmeyer on the CBS comedy Alice, starring Linda Lavin, Vic Tayback, Beth Howland, Philip McKeon, and Polly Holliday. He also voiced Choo-Choo on Hanna-Barbera’s Top Cat cartoon, which first ran on ABC in the 1961-62 television season.
Kaplan played producer Dwight McGonigle on the show-within-a-show sitcom, On the Air, starring Ian Buchanan, Marla Rubinoff, Nancye Ferguson, Miguel Ferrer, Gary Grossman, and Mel Johnson, Jr. Despite its title, of the seven episodes shot, only three aired, before the show was cancelled by ABC in 1992.
Variety reports Theatre West released a statement reading, “It is with a sad and heavy heart to inform you our very own Marvin Kaplan passed away today at 5 a.m. in his sleep. “We loved Marvin. He will truly be missed.” According to the report, he died at his home, in Burbank, California.
Mr. Kaplan’s most recent TV series work was a handful of guest spots as Mr. Gordon on Ted Danson’s sitcom, Becker, between 1998 and 2004. Through the years he appeared on everything from Even Stevens, to ER, to Charlie’s Angels and I Dream of Jeannie. His first TV appearance was in 1950, on Hollywood Theatre Time.
Kaplan remained active in theater and film, until the end. He appears in the upcoming film, Lookin’ Up, starring Steve Guttenberg, Debra Sullivan, and Fay DeWitt, which Kaplan wrote with Steven Carter. IMDb lists it as being in post-production.
The actor and writer — whose first film role was as a court stenographer in the 1949 Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn feature Adam’s Rib — was discovered by Hepburn. Here is the story in Kaplan’s own words, from his website:
How were you discovered by Katharine Hepburn?
I came out to Hollywood in 1947 to pursue my goal of playwriting and radio writing. I went to USC for a Master’s degree in theater. I took several courses and wrote a one-act play, which was well received: Death of an Intellectual. (This was before Arthur Miller’s Death of Salesman.) One day, William DeMille, the older brother of Cecil B. DeMille, said to me, “Mr. Kaplan, you’ve taken all our theater courses, but I advise you to drop out of school. Don’t pursue your Master’s degree right now. Instead, get a job in the theater as an assistant stage manager. See what actors do to writers’ lines!”
There were only a few playhouses at that time, and I got a job at the Circle Theatre as the stage manager of a play called Rain. The director was Charlie Chaplin. I stage-managed the play for several months until closing. Now that I was a member of the Circle Theatre, I could audition for the next play, a French farce by Moliere. I read all my lines with a Brooklyn accent! The director, Mabel Albertson, thought my delivery was so funny, she gave me the part. I got mixed reviews, like “his awkwardness may seem deliberate, but we doubt it.”
In the ninth week of the production run – it was a Thursday night – Katharine Hepburn came to the show. She stayed afterward to talk with the cast. She was absolutely gorgeous – so fresh, sweet, alert, and alive. I loved her, and I loved her movies. Miss Hepburn came up to me and said, “You’re Marvin Kaplan, aren’t you? Have you done a lot of work?” I admitted that, no, this was my first job. “Well, you were awfully good,” she said.
There was something about her – she was so pretty, beautiful, and fresh. I knew it was fresh of me to say this, but I said, “You remind me of my sister. You both have red hair and freckles.”
She replied, “Yes, this damn sun!”
When I came to rehearsal the next day, there was a note on the bulletin board for me: “Call MGM.” I thought it was for a page job. I called at noon, and they told me to be at George Cukor’s office at 3:00 for an interview – that was three hours away! I took a bus home, dressed, and took a cab to Culver City. I arrived at five minutes to 3:00 and went to the talent department. They looked at me like I came to do the books! They sent me to the Irving Thalberg Building and Mr. Cukor arrived at exactly 3:00.
Mr. Cukor said, “Katharine Hepburn is your agent – she recommended you for a part in a movie.” He described the movie, which would come to be called Adam’s Rib. And he described the part I would play: a court stenographer taking testimony in shorthand.
He explained, “You repeat this very emotional testimony in a dull, flat voice.”
I said, “I have a dull flat voice.”
He said, “I noticed.”
And that was my interview! It was 1949, and I was 22 years old. I was a baby, I knew from nothing!
I went to see my agent to sign the papers. First thing he did was turn down the job! I was new in the business and green as grass. He knew they would want to offer me scale, and it would be very hard to get raises from that. After some nerve-jangling negotiations, the part for Adam’s Rib finally fell into my lap.
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