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Paul Dooley

1977 was a big year for actor Paul Dooley. That's when he was discovered, and after twenty five years in show business, became an overnight success.

It all happened when legendary film director Robert Altman caught Dooley on stage in the Jules Feiffer comedy Hold Me. Altman signed Dooley on the spot to play Carol Burnett's husband, and the father of the bride, in his film The Wedding.

After another starring role in Altman's A Perfect Couple, Dooley landed the part that would change his life forever, in the unforgettable coming-of-age classic, Breaking Away. His hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering Dad earned him critical acclaim and set the stage for another triumph in the beloved John Hughes classic, Sixteen Candles. As Molly Ringwald's distracted yet sympathetic father, Dooley endeared himself to an entire generation of young people.

Since then, Dooley has played the father of some of our finest actresses, including Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Julia Roberts (in Runaway Bride). In addition to being Hollywood's favorite Dad, Dooley has become one of the busiest actors working today, creating one memorable character after another in such films as Popeye, with Robin Williams, where he appeared as the hamburger-loving Wimpy. Other films include Paternity, with Burt Reynolds, Kiss Me Goodbye, opposite Sally Field and Jeff Bridges, Happy Texas, with William H. Macy, Insomnia, with Al Pacino, the Disney/Pixas film, Cars (he provided the voice for Sarge) and three films for writer/director Christopher Guest: Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. He will next be seen in The Horsemen, with Dennis Quaid.

On television, Dooley starred in his own sitcom, Coming of Age, on CBS, which kicked off a series of recurring roles on other TV shows, including ER, Grace Under Fire, My So-Called Life, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Once and Again, Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO's Dream On (as the out-of-the-closet father), for which he received an Emmy nomination, and The Practice, for which he received his second Emmy nomination for his portrayal of a feisty judge.

Despite appearances, Dooley's success didn't happen overnight. Upon graduation from West Virginia University, he headed to New York City in a broken-down 1948 Dodge, with just fifty dollars in his pocket and nothing to lose. To pay the rent, he worked as a clown, entertaining kids at birthday parties with his magic, juggling and cartooning skills. Luckily one of his college chums was none other than Don Knotts. Already a working actor, Knotts convinced the producers of a new children's TV show that Dooley would be perfect as a comic cowboy.

Next came a role in the New York premiere of Kurt Weill's masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, a job procured for him by another friend, John Astin, who was appearing in it, along with Charlotte Rae and Bea Arthur.

Dooley's love of comedy led him to develop an act as a stand-up comic, and after several years of playing nightclubs, he landed on The Tonight Show. From there he joined Second City, where his fellow actors included Alan Arkin and Alan Alda. Improving became Dooley's passion.

While at Second City he met director Mike Nichols, who was about to begin the original Broadway production of The Odd Couple. Dooley was cast as one of the poker playing buddies and received kudos when he replaced Art Carney as Felix, playing opposite Walter Matthau.

The Second City actors were suddenly in demand on Madison Avenue, their improvisational wit beginning to change the face of commercials. Teaming up with fellow writer-performers Andrew Duncan and Lynne Lipton, Dooley formed a company called All Over Creation, and over the next ten years he appeared in over five hundred TV commercials and nearly a thousand radio spots.

Dooley also was the co-creator and head writer of The Electric Company, The Emmy-award winning children's program on PBS. Throughout all this, he continued to perform onstage in New York, including his much-lauded portrayal of Casey Stengel, in a one-man show about the life of the eccentric baseball coach.

In recent years, Dooley has turned his talents to screenwriting, collaborating with his son, Adam, on a story inspired by his coming of age in West Virginia. He's currently putting together the financing to bring this very personal story to the screen. Now at work on a second screenplay, Dooley is married to Winnie Holzman, also a writer, and lives in Los Angeles. He has four children and three grandchildren.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2007.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Paul Dooley Facts

Birth NamePaul Brown
BirthdayFebruary 22, 1928 (93)
BirthplaceParkersburg, West Virginia, USA

Selected Filmography

Not available.