Retro T.V. Reviews: Barney Miller (1975) (Part 2 - Actors)
Updated: Sep 13
For Part 2, of our Barney Miller review, we wanted to look at the actors that we have grown to love. There were some that were regulars and some were passer by's. However, each actor and character made their mark for the most part. We will look at the main actors of the series.
Hal Linden (Captain Miller)
Hal Linden was born on March 20th, 1931 in The Bronx, New York as Harold Lipshitz. Growing up, he dreamed of being a bandleader in a Big Band Orchestra. Linden, was known to play the saxophone and clarinet. He also toured with the likes of Sammy Kaye,and Bobby Sherwood.
There have been rumours that Linden decided to take his hand at acting after seeing a play called Guys and Dolls in Washington D.C.. At the beginning of his career his main focus was on Broadway. In fact, one of his most popular productions was The Rothchilds. He played the role of Mayor Rothchild. The show actually earned 9 Tony Award nominations in 1970.
He was cast as a straight arrow Captain of the 12th precinct in New York. He was part of the crew for its entire 8 season run. I think that one of the reasons that the show survived with the cast changes is because of Hal Linden. He is probably one of the more charismatic characters and actors on the show.
On the show he had a family. His wife was called Elizabeth and he had 2 kids. We saw the kids in the first episode of the show, but we never saw them again after that. Even his wife, made some appearances in the first 2 seasons and then was barely seen during the rest of the run.
One of the main story arcs in the show is that Miller often is looked over for promotion. However, he does eventually get his promotion during the last episode of the series.
Hal Linden, has been acting consistently throughout the years. He appeared in Grey's Anatomy in 2019. He has also released some musical albums.
Abe Vigoda (Philip K. Fish)
Abe Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 24th, 1921. In his early acting career, like Hal Linden, Vigoda played on Broadway. He played in Marat/Sade (1967), The Man in the Glass Booth (1968), Inquest (1970) and Tought to Get Help (1970).
Then in 1972, Vigoda landed what would become probably his most popular film acting role in The Godfather (1972) as Salvatore Tessio. He would also appear in the sequel, The Godfather II (1974) as Tessio albeit in a small cameo.
Then in 1975, in an apparent weird audition, Vigoda was cast as the classic TV character Fish in Barney Miller. He would only be on the show for the first 3 full seasons and 2 episodes in season 4. He would then go star in a short lived spinoff series called Fish (1977).
The remarkable about Vigoda in Barney Miller, is that he was there for such a short period of time, yet people know exactly who he is. Most people would refer to him as Fish when they would see him. That is rare to see, especially on the sitcom circuit.
On Barney Miller, Vigoda played the always somewhat depressed Fish. He would consistently talk about his ailments and he always needed to go to the washroom. Also, in a weird way, when delivering his lines, especially at his desk, it always looked like he was staring at the audience. So his lines usually looked like he was talking to the people at home. He would also complain about his marriage to his wife Beatrice.
Vigoda would go on and play in one shot TV episodes throughout the years. He appeared in The Rockford Files, MacGyver, Law & Order and The Littlest Hobo just to name a few.
One of his last TV appearances was a commercial for snickers, which he also starred in with Betty White.
Abe Vigoda would pass away on January 26th, 2016 at the age of 94.
Ron Glass (Det. Ron Harris)
Ron Glass was born on July 10th, 1945 in Evansville, Indiana. Like the others in the Barney Miller show, Glass started his career on the stage. However, that did not last too long. He would then move the Hollywood and had some bit parts in other TV series of the time. He appeared on The Bob Newhart Show, Good Times and Sanford and Son.
After that, he would get the longest TV gig of his career as Ron Harris in Barney Miller. Ron Harris was a character that liked to dress well and he had an ambition to be a writer. He was a good detective but always needed to be pushed to get his work done. However, he was not part of the original pilot. He came in in the second pilot and it was due to luck.
According to an interview that Glass had with Pop Goes The Culture TV, the first choice for Detective Harris was Rod Perry. As explained by Glass, while they were waiting to be picked up, this little show called the A-Team had cast him. So due to Rod turning down the Barney Miller part, Ron Glass was the beneficiary of that.
Also Glass explained that at the beginning, people thought that he would be the traditional secondary black guy on a sitcom. However, the writers of the show were aware and sensitive to the fact that he was just as big of the cast as any other actor on the show. That was cool to hear him say that. It also showed on the show.
Pop Goes the Culture - Ron Glass (Part 1)
Ron Glass's career did not end there. He has also been known through the years as Derrial Book in Firefly (2002) and movie tie in Serenity (2005).
Unfortunately, Ron Glass passed away on November 25th, 2016 in Los Angeles at the age of 71.
Maxwell "Max" Gail (Det Stan "Wojo" Wojciehowicz)
Maxwell Gail was born on April 5th, 1943 in Detroit Michigan. As far as I can tell, one of his first roles that he ever had was Barney MIller.
According Max Gail, the reason why he was named Wojo on the show is because the producers had problems pronouncing Wojciehowicz. So they started using Wojo and it stuck. I personally think that nickname fit his character perfectly.
Max Gail - Explaining where Wojo came from
In addition to his lack of experience on the force, he seemed to lack some life experiences as well. I always saw him on the show as the typical middle class American which means well, but his actions sometimes could rub people the wrong way. However, he learns from those mistakes and grows. This is an instance where the show shines in my opinion. More on that in Part 3.
Max has played in one off shows through the years after Barney Miller left the airwaves. However, in recent years he has been making a name for himself on General Hospital, where he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
James Gregory (Deputy Inspector Franklin D. Luger)
James Gregory was born on December 23rd, 1911, in the Bronx in New York City. James has a whole list of shows that he appeared in including The Twilight Zone, Bonanza and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour just to name a few.
On the show, Luger was a very old school minded individual. He was always think back about the old school days of cops. How much tougher they were. He has the most politically incorrect views. You see that he means well, but it is hard to teach old gods new tricks.
He was one of the few that lasted the full 8 seasons. He would come in for about a 5 minute filler every 3 or 4 episodes. The one thing though that you cannot take away from him, he always backed up his squad. He never had a bad thing to say about them.
His last acting credit after Barney Miller was an appearance on Mr. Belvedere in 1986.
He lived a long life and he passed away on September 16th, 2002 at the age of 90.
Jack Soo (Sergeant Nick Yemana)
Jack Soo was born Goro Suzuki on October 28th, 1918 in the Pacific Ocean. That may sound kind of weird but his parents wanted for him to be born in Japan. So they took a boat to Japan. Unfortunately, he did not make it all the way there and he was born on the ship itself.
Jack Soo is not a character that everyone says they remember. People seem to remember Fish much more vividly. Yet Soo was on the show for the first 4 seasons +.We will get to this a little later.
On the show, Jack was known for his one liners, his ability ot make bad coffee and his inability to file things in the proper order. He always had a funny line though. His delivery was always spot on. He would make fun of himself or just say something that you did not expect. I truly loved this character but unfortunately, his run was cut short.
At the end of Season 4, Jack Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He would still make appearances on the show, but according to the cast, by Season 5 they saw that he was weaker. They would film all of his parts first and then film the rest. They had to make sure that he was not in subsequent shots.
What I liked about Jack's character on the show is that he would play against stereotypes of Asian-Americans by joking about Yemana's American background. The lesson here was do not judge a book by its cover.
Jack was known in his early career as a stand up comedian and would appear in Cabarets and he also appeared on the Jack Benny Show. This is probably where he was noticed. However, during these years is also the time where he would become friends with the eventual producer of the show, Danny Arnold.
As said before, Soo passed way during season 5 on January 11th, 1979. The show dedicated the final show of that season to show their love for him, by showcasing funny parts that he had on the show and how he was important to them. The cool thing about this show was that the actors were not in character. They all had their own speech which was touching.
Jack Soo on Jack Benny Show
Steve Landesberg (Det. Arthur P. Dietrich)
Steve Landesberg was born on November 23rd, 1936. Once again, another actor from the show that was born in the Bronx in New York City. I guess they really wanted to get that real New York feel.
Landesberg before Barney Miller, was known as a stand up comedian and he was part of the improv circuit.
Landesberg was on of those actors that played multiple characters on the show. His first appearance on Barney Miller was when he portrayed a priest in Season 2 Episode 1. He would then later that season take on the role of Detective Dietrich.
Dietrich was a low key character that came off as an intellectual. He would often bring tidbits of information related to the situation and then end it with a funny one liner. Watching the show, I always felt that he came in to replace Fish. Although Fish only left after Season 3, I think there were already rumblings behind the scenes that Fish was going soon. They rarely were in the same room at the same time and usually when Dietrich was there, Fish was not and vice versa. Also, Dietrich would always use Fish's desk.
After Barney Miller went off the air Landesberg would play one off parts in sitcoms like Everyone Hates Chris and That 70's Show.
Steve Landesberg would unfortunately pass away of colon cancer on December 20th, 2010.
Steve Landesberg on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
Ron Carey (Officer Carl Levitt)
Ron Carey was born On December 11th, 1935 in Newark, New Jersey. I guess it is close enough to New York. :)
Carey played the energetic and loveably character called Carl Levitt. Levitt was an officer that wanted to be become a detective as he respected the team headed by Captain Miller. He would often come up to bring in the mail. Often it would be at the inopportune time. On the show, the going gag around was how small of a stature that he had. So he got teased a lot about that. However, he often would say that he cannot make it as detective because of his height.
Like Steve Landesberg, Levitt was not the first character played by Carey. He was played Angelo "The Mole" Molinari on the last episode of Season 2. The really like reusing actors.
Carey died on January 16, 2007 in Los Angeles of. stroke.
Other Notable Mentions
Gregory Sierra (Sergeant Miguel "Chano" Amanguale)
He was on the show only for the first 2 seasons. No real reason was ever given on the show as to why he left. However, he did have real reason for leaving the show. He was cast in A.E.S. Hudson Street, however that did not last too long. He then was on Miami Vice for a few episodes before he asked to be written off of it. He is still acting to this day.
Barbara Barrie (Sergeant Miguel "Chano" Amanguale)
Barrie played Captin Miller's wife for most of the series. She was not in the original pilot. SHe was a regular in the first 2 seasons but her appearances were less and less frequent as time went on.
There are others that I could have mentioned but these are the ones that stand out to me. Also the article is pretty long at this point. :)
Which one was your favourite actor from this series?