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The Larry Sanders Show aired from August 1992 until May 1998 on HBO.
An unconventional behind-the-scenes sitcom based on a fictional talk show and centering on its neurotic and self-centered host, The Larry Sanders Show bravely went behind the scenes of late night television and pulled no punches with its caustic humor and often abrasive mainstay characters. Originally airing on HBO, the writers of The Larry Sanders Show were granted more freedom to express themselves, as well as accurately portray the often coarse backstage language, than would never be permitted on network television. As the eponymous host, Larry Sanders ( Garry Shandling) endured the stresses of network executives, fractured relationships, and avalanching misunderstandings that a normal late night talk show host would have. Perhaps even more self-centered than the titular character, sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) provided the perfect stressed-out complement to Larry's paranoid antics. However out of hand the host or his sidekick might get, a great producer was always ready and willing to settle matters and act as the rational voice of reason. Artie( Rip Torn), the producer of The Larry Sanders Show, frequently provided Larry and Hank with the sort of level-headed advice only a seasoned producer could offer, even if he wasn't always quite so rational and restrained when it came to some of his own personal quirks. The staff behind The Larry Sanders Show was in a state of constant fear taking their cue from the show's host. They included talent booker Paula (Janeane Garofalo); head writer Phil ( Wallace Langham)and Hank's personal assistant Brian ( Scott Thomas). Only Larry's assistant Beverly ( Penny Johnson) seemed to operate on an even keel.
Many real-life celebrities made guest appearances on The Larry Sanders Show playing themselves. Among them were Carol Burnett, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Bob Saget, Martin Mull, Helen Hunt, David Letterman, Roseanne, John Ritter, Burt Reynolds, Danny DeVito, George Wendt, Rob Reiner, Henry Winkler, Wayne Rogers, Brett Butler, Courtney Cox, John Stamos, Victoria Principal, Suzanne Somers, Tim Conway, Brooke Shields, Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld.
The Larry Sanders Show possessed an unpredictability that was sorely lacking from both late-night television and the by-the-numbers sitcoms of the mid-'90s.
A Review from The New York Times
Review/TV Weekend; Unforeseen Results Of Fighting in the Gulf
By WALTER GOODMAN
Published: August 14, 1992
Tonight's edition of "20/20" calls attention to veterans of the Persian Gulf war who say they have been afflicted with strange symptoms since their return home. The complaints include aching joints, chronic fatigue, bleeding gums, rashes and loss of hair and memory.
The Pentagon assigned a medical team at Walter Reed Army Hospital to study 79 cases in Indiana, where a disproportionate number have appeared. The head of the team, Maj. Robert Defraites, attributes 80 percent of the symptoms to the stress of readjustment to society, a diagnosis that brings sarcastic laughs from the unhappy group of soldiers Lynn Sherr interviews back home in Indiana.
They say they were healthy until they arrived in the gulf and attribute some of their current problems to poor sanitary conditions in the camps and pollution of the water supply by the Iraqi forces. One likens their plight to that of Vietnam veterans suffering the effects of Agent Orange, whose complaints were dismissed for years by the Army.
"Why Are We Sick?," one of three segments on tonight's program, is not a specimen of strenuous reporting. Most of the time is given to variations on the complaints. No civilian doctors are called on for their opinions. The viewer is left with little idea of how many people may be affected. And if you find your gums aching, don't blame the Army. It may just be Ms. Sherr's cliche-clogged opener: "Now it's a battle for their health, against a faceless, nameless enemy." 'The Larry Sanders Show' HBO Saturdays at 10:30 P.M.
Garry Shandling plays Larry Sanders in this amiable new series about the adventures of a late-night talk-show host. Each half-hour episode begins, naturally, with a monologue; tonight Sanders announces that he is not running for President because he fears that no woman will come forward to say she had sex with him. Then it's backstage for what passes as the evening's plot.
The opener finds Sanders, a soft-hearted, conscientious sort of nervous wreck with what seems to be more than his share of teeth, under pressure from a network virago who demands that he do live commercials for a tool called the Garden Weasel. No garden joke goes unraked.
The off-screen talk is offbeat enough to be on track, and Mr. Shandling is well abetted by Rip Torn as his producer and Jeffrey Tambor as the program's stooge. Their roles are pleasantly quirky, the performances nicely modulated. That cannot be said for the situations, like the one next week that involves Carol Burnett and a tarantula; they tend to be anything-for-a-laugh obvious. If the writers and producers are able to trust a little more in their characters and resist the broad gags, this may develop into a grown-up show. 20/20 What Happened Over There ABC, tonight at 10. (Channel 7 in New York.) Lynn Sherr, reporter; Fred Peabody, segment producer; Victor Neufeld, executive producer.
An Article from The New York Times
AT WORK WITH Garry Shandling; Late-Night TV, Ever More Unreal
By BERNARD WEINRAUB,
Published: December 10, 1992
Garry Shandling slumps on a sofa, sipping Evian water. He's wearing unfashionably baggy jeans ("I'm sorry about these jeans," he says), a floppy sweatshirt and sneakers. The phone rings and he makes an appointment with a friend to go jogging.
"I've gained 12 pounds," he says miserably. "I don't get out. I work. And work. I'm trying to jog every day now. Twelve pounds."
Mr. Shandling, a pleasantly dour man, is in his simple second-floor office at Raleigh Studios here. Dozens of index cards, standard issue in the offices of television producers, are pinned to two big bulletin boards. The cards are scrawled with his ideas -- some serious, some funny -- for "The Larry Sanders Show."
The series, on Home Box Office, is a sly, surrealistic and harsh parody of late-night talk shows. Like shows from "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" in the 50's to "Moonlighting" in the 80's, it obliterates the "fourth wall" between audiences and performers, interrupting the plot line to speak directly to viewers. The show has emerged as one of the more unpredictable and acid explorations of the men and women in television. It has lured some big names -- among them Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Carol Burnett, Bob Saget, Peter Falk, Mimi Rogers and Dana Carvey -- who play themselves and, at the same time, kid themselves.
The faintly bizarre quality of the half-hour series -- part talk show, part backstage comedy, part reality, part fiction -- has been even more bizarre lately. As if "The Larry Sanders Show" were the real thing, HBO is rerunning it every weeknight this week and next at 11 P.M., competing in many markets with Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg. (Beyond these two weeks, the show does not have a permanent time slot; viewers have to search the television listings.)
The series is Mr. Shandling's second television experiment to blur fiction and reality. The first, "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (which ended in 1990), used his life as fodder for a situation comedy, to the point that the set replicated his own living room.
One of Mr. Shandling's talents is carping about his life, and his weight is the subject for the day. Otherwise the 43-year-old comedian would seem to have little to complain about.
The reaction to "Larry Sanders," perhaps the most widely acclaimed new comedy on television, has stunned him. He breaks into a very tentative smile. He's pleased, and a little dazed.
"I'm not quite sure I've absorbed it all yet," he says. "All I wanted to do was explore the talk show in a real way. I wanted to do something different in terms of reality. I didn't expect this reaction.
"The show is really about human behavior. I start with characters who happen to work on a talk show. It's the world I know."
"The Larry Sanders Show," which began this fall with 13 episodes, has been renewed for 22 more. It presents a late-night talk-show host who has hints of Mr. Letterman's testiness, Mr. Leno's eagerness and, above all, Johnny Carson's chilliness. But it is also, of course, Mr. Shandling who plays -- and to some degree is -- Larry Sanders.
Larry is a manipulative, vain, often funny and smarmy host with a groveling, insecure sidekick, Hank (played by Jeffrey Tambor), who suggests Ed McMahon is some ways, approaching Larry's desk with a meek, "Permission to speak freely?"
There is also Arthur, the cynical executive producer who has seen it all, played by Rip Torn. (When a barracuda television boss speaks her mind, he whispers to Larry, "I swear I killed that woman in Korea.")
The characters in the show -- the writers, staff, guest stars and Larry's wife -- are generally paranoid, devious and totally familiar.
Mr. Shandling produces the show with Brad Grey and oversees nearly every bit of the writing and editing.
He prowls his office, speaking softly, laughing a bit slyly. In an outer office, the staff scrambles as the phone rings nonstop. He speaks of the worlds of television and comedy, and his own life, with a curious distance.
How different is Larry from Garry?
He winces. And sighs. "Larry's more driven than me," he says. "He's more concerned about the competition than I am. He gets more caught up in show business than I do.
"He's similar in that he's trying to figure it all out. Balance his life. Balancing this really consuming job with the rest of his life."
He shakes his head. "There are times that the director yells 'Cut!' after a scene, and I say, 'I hate Larry, I hate this guy,' because he's so much colder than I would be. I like him because he catches himself when he's a show-business jerk. He doesn't want to be that way. He hates himself at that moment. The driving force of Larry's character is, 'How can I avoid being a show-business jerk and more of a human being?'
"What I find myself doing, like Larry, is getting myself all absorbed in the show-business world, and I don't like myself for it. Someone will call me and ask me to come to do a benefit. And my first reaction is, who else is doing it? Not, what is it for? And I get mad at myself instantly. Larry doesn't get mad at himself for a couple of days."
Mr. Shandling says that since the show began, he has received warm phone calls from Mr. Leno, Mr. Hall and David Letterman. ("Letterman said to me, 'This show is like every day of my life.' ")
He says, a bit uneasily, that he has not yet heard from Mr. Carson, whom he considers a friend and something of a mentor. (Mr. Shandling was his regular substitute in the mid-1980's.)
He expresses some amusement at Mr. Letterman's acceptance this week of an offer from CBS for a late-night show at $16 million a year. Mr. Leno earns a paltry $3 million.
"I think Letterman should hold out for 17 million, and Leno should demand 4 million," he says, laughing. "It's like buying a free agent. It's probably coincidental that it's coming at the same time as Barry Bonds making a $44 million deal. And Bonds doesn't have to do a monologue." (Mr. Bonds has signed a six-year deal with the San Francisco Giants for $43.75 million.)
Is "The Larry Sanders Show" Mr. Shandling's revenge for being passed over as host of "Tonight?" Not at all, he insists. "The idea for this show began years ago," he says. "I don't see it as a statement concerning my experience with the other show."
On a personal level, there are sharp differences between Garry and Larry. Larry is married for the second time. (At the beginning of the series he was in his third marriage, but in midstream Mr. Shandling made it his second because, he says, Larry is too young to have been married more than twice.)
"I'm single, but Larry's very fast to commit to a woman," he says.
And what about Garry? He breaks into laughter and says nothing. Mr. Shandling, who lives in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley and is building a home in the Hollywood Hills, has had a four-year relationship with Linda Doucett, an actress who plays the role of Darlene, Hank's assistant, on the show.
"Most people in life are working it out, including me," he says, a bit vaguely. Working it out, he adds, involves trying to come to grips with a somewhat difficult childhood.
Mr. Shandling grew up in Tucson, Ariz., where his father, Irving, ran a successful printing business. His mother, Muriel, owns a pet store.
"She's kooky, just plain kooky in a very lovable way, a character," he says with a laugh. His father, who died five years ago, "was very bright, very, very funny," he adds.
A defining moment of his childhood, he says, took place when he was 10 years old: his brother, Barry, who was 13, died of cystic fibrosis.
"It had a huge impact, an impact I still cannot totally comprehend," he says. "I remember being very depressed when I was 10 -- crying in school, that kind of thing. It was extremely devastating to my parents, especially my mother, and it had to change me."
"I had this strange upbringing," he recalls. "Until I was 10, I had a lot of attention, but only secondarily to my brother, who was sick all the time and needed attention. And from 10 on, I got the attention an only child would get. It was strange. When I was 16, my mother told me she would buy me a car, and I was the one who said, 'Don't spoil me.' "
Mr. Shandling says he was a chubby child who listened to Mel Brooks comedy records, made up comic routines on a tape recorder and was later entranced by Woody Allen movies. After graduating from the University of Arizona in Tucson, he moved to Los Angeles. He began writing for sitcoms ("Sanford and Son," "Welcome Back, Kotter") and later went on the comedy circuit with a stand-up routine. Other entertainers encouraged him, including George Carlin, Joan Rivers and especially Mr. Carson.
Mr. Shandling says he does not view his show as especially scathing -- the critics' characterization -- but rather as an honest portrayal of the cutthroat, hypocritical, wildly insecure world of late-night television.
The show's highlights include an angry Billy Crystal who is unable to plug his movie "Mr. Saturday Night"; a seductive Mimi Rogers, whose apperance enrages Larry's wife, and a downbeat Carol Burnett, who sits sullenly on stage during commercials with Larry, who ignores her. When the cameras roll, though, the two smile and pretend to like each other. After the Shandling character fumbles a rehearsal sketch, Ms. Burnett complains, "They'll give a talk show to anybody these days."
"I'm trying to deal with human behavior that I might not approve of," Mr. Shandling says, "but it goes on. Everyone's guilty of bad behavior."
As if on cue, as his visitor departs, an associate in an adjoining office is screaming into a phone, "I want it, and I want it now!" It could be backstage at the Larry Sanders show.
An Article from The New York Times
Shandling's Blend of Fact and Parody
By BILL CARTER,
Published: June 2, 1993
One wall of Garry Shandling's office here is covered with newspaper clippings describing the latest twists and turns in the late-night television game: a little bit of Letterman, a little bit of Leno, some Arsenio Hall and Chevy Chase.
Mr. Shandling could easily have included several recent headlines about another prospective late-night talk-show host: Garry Shandling. Back in April, when NBC was pursuing Mr. Shandling to take over Mr. Letterman's "Late Night" show in the 12:35 A.M. slot, it was all over the newspapers. There still are rumors that CBS will offer him a show to follow David Letterman on that network.
But for the moment Mr. Shandling, who is 43 years old, is content to continue satirizing late-night television rather than star in it himself. "The Larry Sanders Show," Mr. Shandling's dead-on spoof, begins its second season on HBO tonight at 10, and as his wall of news stories proves, the available material is a long way from drying up.
If anything, the bizarre version of late-night television offered by "Larry Sanders" is matching the real events in the genre even more precisely than it did last season, when "Larry Sanders" gained instant recognition and widespread critical praise. Getting It Right
In tonight's episode, for example, Larry, played by Garry, holds up a newspaper with dueling headlines about Mr. Leno and Mr. Letterman. He reads aloud real quotes from the real Mr. Letterman and expresses his concerns about what will happen when Mr. Letterman moves to CBS in August and competes head to head with him. (While Mr. Shandling's show is on at 10, the fictional show within the show supposedly begins at 11:30 P.M.)
"I'm a big fan of doing this kind of thing," Mr. Shandling said. "Occasionally the writers will write something based on something that was in the papers and I'll say: 'No, we should find out exactly what the thing is.' You can't make up how many cars Leno has. We should say it exactly. He has beautiful cars. I've been to his garage."
In the episode he was shooting last week, Mr. Shandling even enlisted help from Mr. Letterman himself, who was in Los Angeles to accept an award for best comedy talk show from the American Television Awards. Mr. Shandling presented the award to him. "I'm just a huge fan of Dave's," Mr. Shandling said.
With Mr. Letterman on the scene, the temptation to get Larry involved with Dave was too strong to resist. Mr. Letterman had previously told Mr. Shandling he would be willing to join the long list of stars who have made guest appearances, playing themselves, on "Larry Sanders." (Mr. Letterman's co-executive producer, Robert Morton, appeared on the show last season.) A Goldmine of Plots
Again, as has been the case with "Larry Sanders" all along, the timing was exquisite. Only weeks after Mr. Shandling turned down NBC's offer to fill that network's 12:35 slot, saying he did not have enough time to prepare a late-night show, Mr. Shandling shot a scene with Mr. Letterman in which an unhappy Larry (he lost out again on an award) meets Mr. Letterman after the awards show and solicits his advice on whom Larry should select for his own companion 12:35 show.
It could be more mind-bending only if Mr. Letterman had suggested that Larry try to hire Garry Shandling. (Instead, it is Tom Snyder's name that gets hot consideration.)
"Larry Sanders" has been able to feed off the interest surrounding late-night television in ways no one expected when the show was created. Brad Grey, Mr. Shandling's manager, was in the middle of negotiations with NBC for the late-night show, and was also executive producer in the middle of planning for "The Larry Sanders Show." He said: "We had the episode about the 12:30 show in the works, and getting Dave into it just seemed fitting. We're so fortunate to fall into all this. The newspapers are feeding us stories every day. It's like a gift from God."
Mr. Shandling said: "It's incredible how familiar the general public is with late-night television. I've gotten more publicity and more recognition on the street from the NBC offer than I've gotten for jobs I actually had. There were, like, elevator operators saying: 'You going to take the NBC job?' " How It Started
When he conceived the show more than five years ago, Mr. Shandling saw it mainly as a way to explore some complicated human relationships. He wanted to use the format of a late-night talk show because it was a culture he knew well from his days as a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on the "Tonight" show.
But when he suggested the idea to Michael Fuchs, the HBO chairman, Mr. Fuchs immediately saw how topical it could be. Mr. Shandling recalled: "Michael said: 'I really believe people are going to be fascinated with this subject. This is going to be in the forefront of people's minds.' I said, 'Well, great.' "
Mr. Shandling filled the show with familiar late-night television types, from the conniving producer, Artie, played by Rip Torn, to the unctuous, insecure announcer, Hank, played by Jeffrey Tambor. (Actually, Larry Sanders is now the only late-night host with a sidekick. "The sidekick has become an endangered species," Mr. Shandling said.)
But Hank has surely made an impression: When Mr. Shandling's name was being advanced for NBC's 12:35 show, fans of "Larry Sanders" asked if Mr. Shandling would hire Hank as a sidekick on his real show. "It's quite a compliment to Jeffrey," Mr. Shandling said.
The new season was conceived as a "transition year" for Larry, Mr. Shandling said. "I used to say Larry" -- meaning the fictional Sanders show -- had lower ratings than the 'Tonight' show but similar ratings to Arsenio."
The show had several similarities to Mr. Carson's "Tonight" show, Mr. Shandling admitted. "But now that we're moving away from the Carson era, I think Larry will be pushing to make the show more specific to him and more contemporary." A Rough Transition
The transition is a bit rough on Larry. He splits up with his wife, has a "heart episode" that scares him, has several dating disasters and rekindles a romance with his ex-wife, Francine (played by Kathryn Harrold), which leads to more trauma when he learns she has had an affair with Alec Baldwin.
Mr. Shandling said he tried to balance the episodes between those about television, like the one about finding a 12:35 host, and those about characters offscreen. But nothing that happens on "Larry Sanders" this year should be confused with Mr. Shandling's plan for a late-night talk show should he decide to do a real one, and he still might. "I honestly don't know what I should do," Mr. Shandling said. He added that he was torn between exploring his acting career further and committing himself to a late-night talk show -- a real one, that is.
"If I decide to do a talk show, I have three or four concepts in my head that would make it a very different show," Mr. Shandling said. "I would not, as a writer, construct Larry's kind of show to do for Garry. It would break many more conventions. It would certainly be a different show. I've already satirized this format."
Review/Television; A TV Host as a TV Host. Familiar?
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: June 2, 1993
Starting new seasons tonight, two Home Box Office comedy series are being presented back to back. Expanded beyond their normal 30 minutes, "The Larry Sanders Show" runs from 10 to 10:45 and "Dream On" from 10:45 to 11:45. If you can catch only one, make it "Larry Sanders."
Like "Seinfeld," in which the real stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld plays a fictional stand-up comic named Jerry Seinfeld, "Larry Sanders" hovers tantalizingly between reality and fiction. Larry, the talk-show host, is played by Garry Shandling, once a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson and now, with the late-night scene churning furiously, being mentioned as a candidate for his own show, possibly after the new David Letterman package on CBS.
All of which doesn't inhibit "Larry Sanders" from poking into, around and under the egos and neuroses dominating the talk-show scene, both behind and in front of the cameras. In tonight's episode, called "The Breakdown," Larry is found scrunched into a fetal position on his office sofa.
He has good reason to be depressed. His wife is divorcing him and has hired a high-voltage lawyer. Worse, his name was not among this year's Emmy nominations. Then Artie (Rip Torn), his blustering producer, hits him with "the Phoenix problem" (the Arizona station is dumping him in the fall for Chevy Chase) and a ratings dip (Ted Koppel, a competitor, had the Buttafuocos).
Artie and Hank (Jeffrey Tambor), the show's Ed McMahon-like announcer sidekick, begin arranging dates for Larry. Hank's cure-all for stress cannot be printed here as specifically prescribed. Artie arranges dinners with some of the show's celebrity guests. Larry confides to the actress Dana Delany, "You know, I'm known to have wild palms myself." After a while, Larry warns Artie that "there's a very fine line between being a booker or a pimp." Mr. Shandling, a master of pained puzzlement, manages throughout to make it clear that even if appalled, Larry is hopelessly trapped in this lunatic show-business world. Where else would you find someone like Artie, who, learning his son has been picked up for drug possession, screams into the phone: "This is America! You don't get caught, and you don't ever plead guilty." There's a shrewd madness in this straight-faced satire.
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
Published on June 4, 1993
WILD ABOUT 'LARRY'
IN A ROUSING, IRREVERENT RETURN TO THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, GARRY SHANDLING CONTINUES TO PROVE THAT HIS MAKE-BELIEVE TALK SHOW CAN BE MORE FUN THAN THE REAL THING
A By Ken Tucker
Near the start of the long-awaited, how-have-we-lived-without-it second-season premiere of THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW (HBO, June 2, 10-10:45 p.m.), Rip Torn's Artie, the long-suffering producer of the fictional talk show, walks into Larry's office. He finds the host (Garry Shandling) curled in a fetal position on the sofa, his face buried in a cushion. ''Kid, you need a hot towel,'' says Artie with forced jollity, trying to rouse the doleful Sanders from his sour funk. Larry, you see, is in a very bad way. His wife is divorcing him, and she has hired lawyer Marvin Mitchelson to represent her (''Oh,'' groans Larry, ''now I'm not even gonna end up with the dog!''). Then, too, Sanders' name is nowhere to be found among the just- released Emmy nominations, and David Letterman's move to CBS is getting all the press attention. Not only that, the station in Phoenix that now carries Larry Sanders is dropping him when Chevy Chase's talk show premieres in the fall. Suddenly one of the show's writers (Wallace Langham) bursts in on Larry and Artie and urgently announces, ''Kathy Ireland's trying on ward-robe!'' and the three men scuttle down the hall to have a goggle-eyed chat with supermodel Ireland, a guest on the Sanders show that night. The Larry Sanders Show is all tension, cynicism, profound shallowness, and naughty-boy bonding-it's just the way you imagine life behind a big-time TV talk show to be, except infinitely funnier. And in the seven months since the last original episode of Sanders aired, its jaundiced ironies have become all the more rich and timely. The CBS-Letterman deal, the sudden arrival of Conan Who? to take Dave's place, the ongoing awkwardness of Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, and the rumors that have Shandling himself launching a CBS venture to follow Letterman's-well, talk shows have become the most volatile element in television, which makes The Larry Sanders Show's thorough, relentless satire of them so giddily thrilling. The first season of Sanders was pitch-perfect in tone, with one exception: / Larry's mirthless marriage to his second wife, Jeannie (Megan Galla-gher)-one of those awkward TV situations where you can't tell whether this character isn't funny because she's supposed to be not funny, or because the actress playing her isn't giving the lines the proper comic punch. For this or whatever reason, Jeannie is gone-she's now just someone Larry yells at on the phone-and that's opened up new territory on the series: dating. In this expanded, 45-minute season opener, Larry tries to cheer himself up by spending his evenings going out with some of the actresses who have appeared on his show, including Teri Garr, Mad About You's Helen Hunt, and Dana Delany, to whom Larry says with a Groucho leer, ''I've been known to have wild palms myself, you know.'' Larry's magnificent goofball of an announcer-sidekick, Hank ''Hey, now!'' Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), fixes Larry and himself up with what Hank considers a dream double date: ''two girls who work at the Gap, Katya and Brie.'' Filled with in-jokes about everyone from Jerry Van Dyke to uber-agent Michael Ovitz, the premiere is called ''The Breakdown.'' In a show filled with small surprises, it's not giving too much away to say that in the course of this one, poor Larry suffers a heart attack-excuse me, a heart episode, as our hero insists on calling it to emphasize its mildness-during the taping of a show. Sanders is the sort of insecure celebrity who measures his audience's love for him by weighing his fan mail-he's cheered a bit when his heart condition yields 71/2 pounds of get-well cards. Shandling continues to give his character new little tics-I particularly like the way Larry feverishly scratches his chest when he's depressed and nervous. At the same time, Shandling, who co-writes many of the shows, is always careful to keep this self-absorbed whiner a likable fellow. Forty-two and frazzled, Larry Sanders is a smart guy caught up in a business that cancels smart guys after four weeks. I wish Shandling all the best if he chooses to drop the facade of Larry and perform as himself for CBS, but it certainly seems as if he's doing the ultimate talk show right now. A
An Article from The New York Times
Garry Shandling Is Staying Put at HBO
By ELIZABETH KOLBERT
Published: August 12, 1993
Garry Shandling has had plenty of offers recently to be the host of a real late-night talk show on a real network. Yesterday, though, he announced that he would stick with parody and do at least 35 more episodes of "The Larry Sanders Show" on HBO.
On the show, Mr. Shandling plays the neurotic, manipulative but strangely likable Larry Sanders, the host of his own late-night show. In an eerie conflation of television and reality, the show's scripts this year have drawn heavily on actual developments in late-night television, developments that often included Mr. Shandling.
Earlier this year, when David Letterman announced that he was moving from NBC to CBS, NBC asked Mr. Shandling if he would take over as host of its 12:30 A.M. show. Mr. Shandling, who years ago was a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson, turned down the offer. More recently, there were reports that CBS was courting Mr. Shandling for a 12:30 A.M. show it hoped to develop to follow Mr. Letterman's. But with yesterday's announcement, it became clear that Mr. Shandling would not do that, either.
In a recent interview, Mr. Shandling said it would be difficult for him to be the host of a real late-night show unless it "had a unique format." Otherwise, he said, "there's a danger of becoming Larry Sanders."
Yesterday, Mr. Shandling could not be reached for comment. Brad Grey, the executive producer of "The Larry Sanders Show," said, "Creatively, this felt like the right decision for him."
In addition, with so many more episodes, "The Larry Sanders Show" is more likely to bring a high price if its reruns are eventually sold on the syndication market to other networks or stations. Mr. Shandling is a co-owner of the show with Brillstein/ Grey Entertainment.
"The Larry Sanders Show," broadcast on Wednesdays at 10 P.M., has won critical praise and was nominated for eight Emmy Awards this year, including the one for outstanding comedy series.
An Article from The New York Times
TELEVISION REVIEW; Is a Kiss Still a Kiss Or Will It Lead to More?
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: October 12, 1994
Suddenly, it seems, there's no getting away from Roseanne. Last night she was exploited in the trashy Fox movie "Roseanne: An Unauthorized Biography." Tonight at 9 she stars in her own hit ABC series, "Roseanne." And then at 10:30, she pops up as a guest star on HBO's "Larry Sanders Show." All of which, oddly enough, only leaves Garry Shandling and his "Larry Sanders" repertory company looking better and more ingeniously subversive than ever.
As Larry, late-night talk-show host, Mr. Shandling, who once subbed regularly for Johnny Carson, wanders with diabolical innocence through a world of jumpy neuroses and fragile egos, none more demanding than those of Larry himself. Crises in recent weeks, complete with scattered eruptions of obscenities, have included the disintegrating marriage of Larry's sidekick, Hank (Jeffrey Tambor), who had his wedding on the show a year earlier. Hank insisted that in his heart of hearts, he knew Larry would never touch his young, gorgeous wife. "Not without your go-ahead," Larry assured him.
As Artie (Rip Torn), the show's religiously unprincipled producer, put it, "Hank's heart is in the right place, but he keeps his brain in a box at home." Artie had his own crisis when Larry began ridiculing the networks. Not amused, the suits upstairs wanted an on-air apology to maintain their "we're all family" image. Don't give me that, snapped Artie; "Manson had a family." Meanwhile, after having broken his foot, Hank lost out to Gavin MacLeod in a bid to be the host of "Circus of the Stars." The final insult is the bit part offered to him instead. "They asked me if I'd be willing to be shot out of a cannon by Barbara Eden," Hank whined.
In tonight's episode, the last new one for several months, Larry, who has been popping pills over the last several weeks, is found hopelessly addicted to painkiller drugs. With his prescriptions running out, he rails against the health-care system in this country and begins humiliating his staff. Enter Roseanne, an old friend from Larry's (and Garry's) stand-up comedy days. Scheduled as a guest on Larry's show, she is wearing a nun's habit (says Artie with daffy earnestness, "What a delightful bride of Christ you make, Roseanne"), evidently to do a sketch with Hank, who is dressed in a cardinal's red robes. The sketch, perhaps blessedly, is never seen.
Instead, Roseanne, who knows a thing or two about addictive pills, moves in with her friend Larry to oversee his drug withdrawal. Hank pouts about Larry's having called him talentless and fat, which he found "very hurtful and not entirely accurate." Larry, who demands a nonthreatening replacement host while he's out sick, is still not entirely at ease when Artie brings in Pat Sajak. Roseanne is uncharacteristically nurturing but not to the point where she can forget her competition on the other networks. And somehow the conversation manages to incorporate, without pausing for breath, Jamie Lee Curtis and Nike commercials.
It all ends with a kiss and a clear indication of a budding affair between Larry and Roseanne, a marriage hardly made in heaven. Roseanne may or may not be back on the show next season. Although she comes off splendidly in this different context, her return isn't crucial. The fact is that "The Larry Sanders Show" has established itself as television's most inventively wicked sitcom.
THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW HBO, Wednesday night at 10:30 This episode written by Maya Forbes, Garry Shandling and Peter Tolan; Todd Holland, director; John Ziffrin, producer; Ms. Forbes, co-producer; Sandy Wernick, executive consultant; Mr. Shandling, Mr. Tolan, Brad Grey and Paul Simms, executive producers. Produced for HBO by Brillstein-Grey Entertainment. WITH: Mr. Shandling (Larry Sanders), Roseanne, Pat Sajak, Michel Richard and Bob Odenkirk.
An Article from The New York Times
Garry as Larry, Host Of Ego and Its Acolytes
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: November 20, 1996
When a series starts off great and just keeps getting better, it's television-classic time. And as ''The Larry Sanders Show'' racks up its fifth 13-week season, that's precisely what is happening on HBO at 10 P.M. on Wednesdays. Starring Garry Shandling, this is the ultimate take on prime-time talk-show hosts, riddled with ego trips, paranoia, back-stabbing, incipient insanity and all those other little quirks that make show business so confoundedly endearing. Leno and Letterman have to play the game straight-faced. Mr. Shandling, using a fictional facade, gets hilariously to the heart of the whole loony business.
This is not a one-man show. Mr. Shandling is surrounded by a wonderful comedy troupe: Rip Torn as Artie, Larry's producer, who is as protective and daunting as a badly trained Rottweiler; Jeffrey Tambor as Hank, Larry's on-air Ed McMahon-like sidekick, whose unctuous sincerity knows no rational bounds; Wallace Langham as Phil, the head writer, who spends most of his time perusing comic books; Penny Johnson as Beverly, the seen-it-all assistant, and Scott Thompson, formerly of the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe, as the office's expert on matters gay.
Describing a typical episode of ''The Larry Sanders Show'' is like trying to come up with a one-sentence summary of the theater of the absurd. It doesn't quite track on paper. But each episode establishes its own internal logic and, in no time at all, it seems perfectly reasonable that anything can happen. There are usually two or three plot lines unfolding at the same time.
Last week found Larry back from vacation and worrying about the fact that Jon Stewart would be temporarily filling in as guest host. The ever-faithful Artie set about making sure that Mr. Stewart's guests would be not exactly A-list. Among his suggestions: Jackee, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jamie Farr and Charles Nelson Reilly, who actually turned up at the end of the show asking where he could find Mr. Stewart. This series has a knack for getting stars to poke fun at themselves. Even Chevy Chase popped up once to ridicule his own failed talk show.
Meanwhile, Hank was furious with the singer Elvis Costello, who sold him a spiffy sports car that turned out to be a lemon. And Larry got nervous about getting so much attention from David Duchovny, star of ''The X-Files,'' who kept sending invitations to visit his beach place. Perpetually unsure, Larry asked Brian, ''Do I seem gay to you?'' Brian's double-edged answer: ''I don't think my gay friends think of sex when they watch you.'' Artie was no help at all: ''I've lost contact with that world since the death of Randolph Scott.'' Now that's an insider stretch. Mr. Duchovny handled the whole crazy situation with suave aplomb, demonstrating an attractive flair for light comedy.
Tonight, in ''My Name Is Asher Kingsley,'' Hank discovers his Jewish roots after happening onto a service at Marvin Hamlisch's synagogue. He suddenly realizes ''how empty my life has become,'' and sets about nailing a mezuza to his office door and announcing to the staff that Hank Kingsley is, from now on, Hank Lipstein. Of course, for Hank, whose list of high holy days consists of Yom Kippur and the Fourth of July, his sudden spurt of religion may have something to do with the synagogue's rabbi being a woman.
Things begin to get touchy when Hank, on camera with Larry, insists on wearing a yarmulke. Artie is, as always, suspicious: ''This is television. Morality is just going to get in the way.'' Larry is beginning to think that Hank is an alien creature, especially when after introducing the rock group They Might Be Giants as first-time guests, he leans over to confide that ''in my faith, they have a prayer for things that happen for the first time.'' Along the way, we hear that celibacy may be the reason so many Catholic priests have prostate problems.
When it comes to that special commodity known as a fine madness, television has few adept practitioners. ''Seinfeld,'' for one, has a splendid track record. But ''The Larry Sanders Show'' is unbeatable.
THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW
My Name Is Asher Kingsley
HBO, tonight at 10
Written by Peter Tolan; Todd Holland, director; John Ziffren and Jeff Cesario, producers; Carol Leifer, supervising producer; Sandy Wernick, executive consultant; John Riggi and Jon Vitti, co-executive producers; Brad Grey and Garry Shandling, executive producers.
WITH: Garry Shandling (Larry Sanders); Rip Torn (Artie); Jeffrey Tambor (Hank); Wallace Langham (Phil); Penny Johnson (Beverly) and Scott Thompson (Brian).
An Article from The New York Times
The Hip Talk Show That's Realer Than Real
By ILENE ROSENZWEIG
Published: November 24, 1996
BACKSTAGE ON THE SET OF ''The Larry Sanders Show,'' the award-winning HBO sitcom that exposes the inner workings of a late-night talk show, Garry Shandling, the show's creator and star, was being a perfectly gracious host. Until he suddenly threw out his guest, a visiting journalist.
Earlier, Mr. Shandling seemed to be the antithesis of the neurotic talk-show host he portrays. Wearing sweat pants and unlaced work boots, he offered his guest bites of his frozen yogurt and pointed out that he would soon have to go ''punch up'' a bit of dialogue for a scene with Rip Torn, who plays Artie, Sanders's producer, and with the visiting Ellen DeGeneres. But once rehearsals were over, and Mr. Shandling was costumed in the double-breasted suit that is Larry's uniform, a transformation began.
Mr. Shandling, who is also a writer and the executive producer for the show, which just started its fifth season after an absence of a year, darted out from behind the camera to act in scenes, huddled with technicians and got steadily edgier. Every time he passed the journalist, he rolled his eyes and let out an irritated grunt. Finally, he turned to her with a frighteningly telegenic grin. ''I'm sorry, but you're going to have to leave now,'' he said. ''I wish you could stay the whole time. I'll walk you out.'' Then, with the chilling schmooziness of a host breaking for a commercial, he escorted her to the door.
Had he changed from Garry to Larry, or from Larry to Garry? Is there no difference? That is the mystery that is central to ''The Larry Sanders Show,'' and it is in this elastic environment that Mr. Shandling thrives. In his show he creates a searing portrait of the entertainment industry as a hornet's nest of narcissism and superficiality, but his talent for exposing the human vulnerabilities beneath even the most obnoxious celebrity behavior mitigate his sting. As a result, he has emerged as Hollywood's foremost inside outsider. He has won not only critical acclaim and a devoted audience but also the recognition of the industry he mocks and the adoration of the stars whose world he lampoons.
''He's a comic genius,'' said Sharon Stone, an old friend of Mr. Shandling's who has appeared on the show. ''The fact that he's willing to get in the face of the Hollywood community and tell the truth is why we all want to be a part of it.''
Through and through, Mr. Shandling, who will turn 47 years old on Friday, is a creature of paradox. In 1990, he declined a $20 million offer from NBC for his own late-night show, opting instead to create an imaginary one for cable, where he would be free to spoof the travails of a host beset by the pressures that he had avoided. While Larry Sanders's show is in danger of cancellation, Garry Shandling's show, which is broadcast at 10 on Wednesday nights, enjoys consistently good ratings and has won a Peabody Award and 15 Emmy nominations (Mr. Torn recently won an Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy). While Larry Sanders struggles to book A-list guests, Mr. Shandling can engage in celebrity cream-skimming because his show has the cachet of a nightclub of the moment.
Ms. Stone is not the only person in Hollywood who praises Mr. Shandling, in part for providing a forum to acknowledge the absurdities of show business. ''Everybody I know wants to be on the show; it's kind of an honor to be picked,'' says Julianna Margulies, a star of the NBC drama ''E.R.,'' who appeared on an episode in which she helped nurse Larry after he had cosmetic surgery on his eyes. ''In any other world that doesn't happen -- men at 45 getting their eyes done,'' she said. ''But men in Hollywood do, and women my age, 29, do too.''
''The Larry Sanders Show'' is virtually alone today in being a sitcom that is touted as ''real.'' Genuine stars are guests (Sting and Sally Field will be on Wednesday's episode), and they satirize themselves through scripted dialogue as the talk show within the show is taped before a live studio audience. Mr. Shandling spent years as a substitute for Johnny Carson, and he mines his network experience to create the show's dark, fictional behind-the-scene dramas, which have to do with booking problems, nervous guests and unctuous executives.
One of the few criticisms of ''The Larry Sanders Show'' is that it appears erratically. Working away from prime time has provided Mr. Shandling with undeniable benefits: few restrictions on content or language and the luxury of making only 13 episodes a year (a network sitcom generally produces 22). The show's fourth season ended in November 1995, then Mr. Shandling took time off to write a book, ''Confessions of a Late-Night Talk-Show Host: The Autobiography of Larry Sanders,'' which will appear in March, and a screenplay.
Given this schedule, Mr. Shandling could be expected to start this season looking fresh and well rested. Instead, a few days after the taping of the DeGeneres episode, he showed up for an interview exhausted to the point of illness. Bundled in a chenille turtleneck, he swallowed a fistful of over-the-counter pain relievers and wondered whether the series was really ''doable.''
The pressure is largely self-induced, Mr. Shandling admitted. If his show is difficult to produce, it is primarily because he sets his goals very high. Perhaps the chief reason he is so loved by his peers is that he works hard to show that Hollywood players have souls, if tormented ones, beneath the showy surfaces. He also has an aversion to formula, which he developed at the age of 25 when he quit writing for sitcoms like ''Welcome Back, Kotter'' and ''Sanford and Son.''
''Just getting laughs or just entertaining results would be unfulfilling for me,'' he said. ''I'm using talk shows as a metaphor for the duplicitous behavior that we all have in our lives. Because everybody has a curtain in their lives that they walk through and suddenly they act like a different person, whether it's at their job or in a relationship, or shopping for a car.''
Often that raw kind of characterization isn't found in the script. Mr. Shandling appreciates the sort of old-fashioned improvisation that characterized shows like ''The Honeymooners'' and ''The Carol Burnett Show.'' Actors vie to appear on his show because it's an opportunity to perform in a place where invention is still welcome.
In one episode, Ms. Burnett, appearing as one of Larry's guests, was feeling hostile toward him for abandoning a Tarzan sketch that she had planned. During a break in the interview, an awkward silence was suddenly broken when Ms. Burnett lashed out at Larry, telling him that his testicles had been hanging out of his Tarzan costume.
''I threw that in in rehearsal, and they went with it,'' Ms. Burnett recalls. ''It was a golden opportunity to say something naughty on cable. I miss that kind of liveness and spontaneity, which translates into danger.''
The show also can be dangerous because Mr. Shandling uses as material his actual relationships with the guests. Ms. Stone, for example, is one of many friends whom Mr. Shandling has booked, giving the show yet another layer of inside-the-freeway humor. In one episode, Ms. Stone and Larry were romantically involved, but he couldn't handle dating someone more famous than he. This situation parodied, and inverted, a real-life friendship that dates to when Mr. Shandling and Ms. Stone studied with the same acting teacher. ''There was a competition between us, and for so long he was so much more successful than I was,'' Ms. Stone said.
Part of the appeal of appearing on ''The Larry Sanders Shpw,'' though, is that Mr. Shandling makes his guests feel comfortable. While the invitation list is limited to people ''with the ability to laugh at themselves,'' he says, he gets rid of any lines that make a guest uneasy. His comic skewer is sharpest when it is turned on himself. On this season's premiere, Jon Stewart appeared as a guest host, and Larry, worried that he would be replaced, sabotaged Mr. Stewart's moment by providing second-tier guests like Zsa Zsa Gabor.
IT'S DEPRESSING TO SEE somebody satirize so beautifully what you did for a living,'' said Mr. Stewart, who guest-hosts on Tom Snyder's ''Late Late Show'' and has done short stints as a host for MTV and syndicated talk shows. ''It's like somebody had a security camera. They base everything on reality. That's why it's so effective. They capture the unbelievable dichotomy of wanting to entertain people and the incredible self-involvement.''
In real life, Mr. Stewart recently signed a production deal with David Letterman's company Worldwide Pants. He is deliberating whether to develop a talk show or a sitcom. When asked if he would consider the alternative that Mr. Shandling did, however, Mr. Stewart demurred. ''Garry's an artist,'' he said. ''I'm a businessman.''
Indeed, if there is an essential indictment at the heart of Mr. Shandling's satire, it is that television comedy cannot be produced like parts on an assembly line. ''In its simplest and most dysfunctional form, late-night television and most television has become more about ratings than content,'' said Mr. Shandling. ''That always existed to some degree, but I think something's gone awry in a society in which each member believes that money and success is more important than content.''
An Article from the New York Times
After Paying The Price, Reaping The Joy
By ALEX WITCHEL
Published: March 16, 1997
No, it's not ''Celebrity Jeopardy,'' just three of the hundreds of roles the versatile Rip Torn has played in his tumultuous 42-year acting career.
Yes, tumultuous. Mr. Torn's personal celebrity jeopardy has gone like this: married for 27 years to the legendary actress Geraldine Page, whose fame he never rivaled; branded a show-biz bad boy, first in his association with Robert Kennedy and the fight for civil rights, before it was chic in Hollywood; then by an unfounded rumor that he had walked off the set of the 1969 film ''Easy Rider.''
As a result, Mr. Torn says, he was blackballed by the mainstream entertainment industry for years, working instead Off Off Broadway and in fringe films until his triumphant debut as Artie, the all-knowing television talk show producer on HBO's ''Larry Sanders Show'' that won him an Emmy Award for best supporting actor last year. It seems that -- finally -- his celebrity has left the jeopardy part behind.
Mr. Torn, 66, is sitting on the stage of the Goodman Theater, on the set of ''The Young Man From Atlanta,'' the play by Horton Foote that won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. Directed by Robert Falls, it opens on Broadway at the Longacre Theater on March 27 with Mr. Torn in the starring role.
He sighs. ''I've had a long struggle and I've finally reached a modicum of success. I don't want to remind anybody of the days I had troubles.''
He refuses to comment on a lawsuit he filed in 1994 after the actor Dennis Hopper appeared on the ''Tonight'' show and publicly accused Mr. Torn of pulling a knife on him after a dispute. Just this month, a Los Angeles judge awarded Mr. Torn $475,000 in the defamation case.
Robert Chapman, the lawyer for Mr. Torn, said the judge found his client had never pulled a knife on Mr. Hopper, and that, in reference to the longstanding rumor, ''Rip had never walked off the set of 'Easy Rider' and had never been on the film at all.''
Paul Wasserman, a press representative for Mr. Hopper, said his client ''had no comment at this time.''
It may be that the years Mr. Torn failed to find mainstream work (from the mid 60's to the mid 70's) were the best preparation for the role of Will Kidder in ''The Young Man From Atlanta,'' in which Shirley Knight stars as his wife. Set in Houston in 1950, the story follows Will, who, in the aftermath of his son's mysterious death, is fired by the company he helped build, to make way for a younger generation.
Mr. Torn, who was born in Taylor, Tex., still has family near Houston. ''I told my uncle Roland that this play is the story of a guy from Houston,'' he says, ''a man who loses his work and doesn't know anything else but to keep going. It's like the people I grew up with. They didn't whine.''
Working with Mr. Foote, also from Texas, was a lure for Mr. Torn. In fact, Geraldine Page won her Oscar for best actress in Mr. Foote's film version of his play ''The Trip to Bountiful.''
''He is such a great dramatic poet,'' the actor says. ''If I don't get the right response, I know I've misplaced a word. I check the script every night to make sure there are no inaccuracies. The way his people talk is familiar to me, their expressions. But Horton doesn't just collect them. He turns it into his own poetry.''
Mr. Foote says he is thrilled by Mr. Torn's performance: ''Rip has an unabashed masculine drive. You can't act that. I've tried to figure it out. There's a certain irony to what he does, as if he's onto himself and his manic energy and his drives. There's something very authentic Texan about it.''
Right now, as Mr. Torn sits on the unnaturally hard couch on the set, warmed by the stage lights, his lined face and sharp eyes seem to pass through a kaleidoscope of emotions. He looks young, old, bitter, joyful, wise and out-and-out insane in quick succession. One minute he's wonderfully articulate, the next he's tongue-tied. When he is moved to tears, whether over the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the breakup of his first marriage, to the actress Anne Wedgeworth, it's a display that's hard to watch in its gracelessness. It is raw emotion uncalibrated by his actor's discipline that would never let a character indulge in the cliche of a shaking hand or the clapping of that hand over his eyes.
But Mr. Torn is not acting. He is feeling. At vascular high throttle. His face turns white and pink, his eyes thread with red. If he had a heath he'd be Lear. Which he actually may play here, under Robert Falls's direction, next season.
''Rip is pure emotionalism, pure actor,'' Mr. Falls says. ''He has the deepest possible emotional connections to everything and he has access to them, which is startling enough for men but especially for men of his age. Also, after 40 years, he has enormous craft.''
From work and from study: starting with featured roles in live television on shows like ''The U.S. Steel Hour,'' and numerous stints as an understudy, including Brick in the original Broadway production of ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' in 1955, to extensive work at the Actors Studio, to founding the Sanctuary Theater Company in 1976 with Ms. Page. He studied with Baruch Lumet (the father of the film director Sidney Lumet) with Sanford Meisner, with Lee Strasberg and with Martha Graham.
Really? What did he learn?
''Well, certainly contractions,'' he says, laughing. ''In those days if you weren't correct she'd come and punch you.''
He could take it. Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr., he came from a family of men who all nicknamed themselves Rip. (His uncle Roland is referred to in the family as ''the big Rip.'') His uncle Ed is Sissy Spacek's father. He taught Mr. Torn to fly fish, still one of his life's passions. Mr. Torn studied agriculture at Texas A&M College before switching to acting when he transferred to the University of Texas from which he graduated.
He married Ms. Wedgeworth in 1955 and moved to her hometown, Dallas, where he got a job managing a produce market. ''And my dad said, 'I guess Wedge got you salted away in Dallas,' '' he recalls. ''We had all these wrangles about my being an actor, but he said, 'I'd like to see if you can do it. If you don't, you'll end up sitting on the bench at the courthouse, grousing about what might have been.' He actually thought Annie was more likely to be a success than me. My nose was broken from football. He said my teeth looked like a wolf.'' He smiles. ''Boy, what a dad. I liked him anyway.''
MS. WEDGEWORTH WAS pregnant with their daughter Danae, now an actress, and, Mr. Torn says, ''She went along to New York with me. Her father was very upset. We put an air mattress in the back seat with our belongings on the roof of the Chevrolet and drove for two weeks like the Joads. My mother wept but I kidded her out of it.''
It was only in 1984, he says, when he was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor in ''Cross Creek,'' that his mother, Thelma, confessed that as a girl, she had been offered a Hollywood contract herself. ''She had gotten married instead, but she always wondered if she could have done it,'' he says, his eyes filled with tears. ''She looked like a more beautiful Vivien Leigh. She had great charisma.''
As for why his marriage to Ms. Wedgeworth failed, he says: ''Those things are always a mystery. It's very painful.'' More tears come and finally, he turns away.
It was while he was separated from Ms. Wedgeworth that he met Geraldine Page in a speech class at the Actors Studio. ''She was a beautiful woman,'' he says. ''She never wore makeup. A fabulous figure. A stunning person. Her father was a doctor. That willowy, eccentric thing she did was all a put-on. She had a mind like a scientist. Anyway, there used to be an ice-cream shop down the street, where you'd reach through the window, and I was embarrassingly bold, I guess. She was there and I said 'Give me a lick.' He breaks out laughing. ''Isn't that terrible? I'm turning red even today to think I had the nerve to say something so crude.''
Ms. Page gave him his lick and at the Actors Studio he reciprocated by getting her coffee. ''She was in the green room and just naturally by being there she was holding court,'' he says. ''I had gotten a job in 'Sweet Bird of Youth,' with Paul Newman playing Chance. She was in it, too. And she was saying who else was in the cast and she said 'Rip Torn. To be on a marquee with a guy named Rip Torn!' And when I brought her the coffee the other people there said 'Do you want to meet Rip Torn?' And she laughed and said, 'This guy?' She said she never forgot that look I gave her.'' He flashes it now. Victory.
The marriage lasted 27 years and produced three children, Angelica and twin boys, John and Tony, all of whom are actors. ''Even after we were separated,'' Mr. Torn says, ''we would walk down the street arm in arm. We were compatible in every way.''
Did he mind that she was a star and he was not? He shakes his head no. ''It was never difficult to be with her when it was the two of us, just the public life was difficult. People were very rude. They would actually trample you if you were next to a star to get to them. Or they would call me and say 'There's a great part for you in this movie or play.' The Catch-22, of course, would be that 'it's all predicated on whether we can get your wife.' I had a few choice words for those people. But I learned it wasn't her fault.''
The couple had enough to worry about after Mr. Torn was classified ''a prominent Negro'' by the F.B.I. in 1963 when he met with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to try to start an integrated national theater. ''After that,'' Mr. Torn says, ''I was told by people I used to hunt with that I wasn't going to be working anymore. I began to see things in gossip columns, stories about me.''
More trouble came in 1970, after Mr. Torn appeared on the Dick Cavett show and spoke out against the war in Vietnam. The next day, a bullet was fired through the window of his Chelsea town house. No one was injured.
''It did not fill me with fear but with anger,'' Mr. Torn says grimly. ''It turned me into a different person. Obviously one I would rather not be.'' He sighs again. ''I never belonged to any organization but the Methodist Church and the Boy Scouts. I always say I'm not a Method actor, I'm a Methodist actor. Garry Shandling's been a great help to me this way. He taught me, 'Don't get mad, get funny.' ''
Mr. Torn and Ms. Page separated in the early 1980's; she died of a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 62. Since 1976 Mr. Torn has been involved with the actress Amy Wright, with whom he has two daughters, Katie, 14, and Claire, 6, who is younger than his two grandchildren. Though he has proposed marriage (''In front of her parents!'' he exclaims), Ms. Wright has so far turned him down. ''It's her call,'' he says. ''It pains me.''
Mr. Torn has worked steadily in the mainstream since the late 1980's, when he moved to Hollywood. ''The comedians re-established me,'' he says. ''Carl Reiner in 'Summer Rental.' John Candy boosted me all over town. Albert Brooks saved my life when he cast me in 'Defending Your Life.' '' He smiles. ''When I was growing up I used to put on neighborhood shows and my sister told me, 'You try to be too much like Danny Kaye. Girls like Tyrone Power. Be more like that.' Now, in the latter part of my life, I'm more like Danny Kaye.''
Though before a performance, his sense of humor disappears. ''I'm still scared every night,'' he says. ''It's terrible after all these years. But in the theater if you don't feel that jumpy feeling then you're not out there.''
He leans back into the couch. ''I learned from Gerry that all you need is time on the stage. No matter how I felt, no matter what anyone said about me, I always had the audience.''
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