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Marvin Kaplan, the comic character actor perhaps best known as diner denizen Henry the telephone repairman on the long-running CBS sitcom Alice, died Thursday. He was 89.
Kaplan, who also voiced the flamboyant Cho Choo, the pink one with the turtleneck, on the ABC primetime cartoon series Top Cat, died at a hospital near his longtime home in Burbank, Theatre West executive director John Gallogly told The Hollywood Reporter. Kaplan had been a member of the Los Angeles acting company since 1966 and was on its executive board at the time of his death.
“As an actor and as a person, he always told the truth,” Gallogly said.
The bespectacled Brooklyn native was discovered by Katharine Hepburn and made his onscreen debut in Adam’s Rib (1949), directed by George Cukor and starring Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In an uncredited role as a stenographer, Kaplan steals a scene when he asks Tracy to spell “Pinky,” Tracy’s pet name for Hepburn that he inadvertently uses during testimony in court.
Kaplan appeared in 82 episodes of Alice, the comic adaptation of the Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The show, starring Linda Lavin, aired from August 1976 to March 1985, and his Henry Beesmeyer was one of the regulars at Mel’s Diner, where he often mocked Mel’s (Vic Tayback) cooking with his trademark deadpan delivery.
Kaplan provided the voice of Choo Choo on the 1961-62 ABC primetime cartoon Top Cat and then again in a 1987 telefilm. He also appeared with Arnold Stang, the actor who voiced Top Cat, in the wacky It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), directed by Stanley Kramer.
Kaplan’s film résumé also included The Reformer and the Redhead (1950) opposite Dick Powell, I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951) with Susan Hayward, Mervyn LeRoy’s Wake Me When It’s Over (1960), Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963), Blake Edwards’ The Great Race (1965), the Disney classic Freaky Friday (1976) and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990).
He served as AFTRA Los Angeles local president for eight years.
Born on Jan. 24, 1927, Kaplan studied at Brooklyn College and came to Hollywood in 1947 to pursue playwriting and radio writing. He attended USC in pursuit of his master’s and worked as a stage manager at the Circle Theatre for a play directed by Charlie Chaplin, then showed off his thick Brooklyn accent in a French farce by Moliere. It was his first acting job, and Hepburn was in the theater one night to see him perform.
They chatted, and the next day there was a note on the bulletin board telling him to call MGM. Kaplan was told to report to Cukor’s office at 3 p.m. “Katharine Hepburn is your agent — she recommended you for a part in a movie,” the director told him.
From 1952-56, Kaplan had a regular gig as Alfred Prinzmetal, an aspiring poet living next door to Elena Verdugo, on the CBS sitcom Meet Millie. He had done the part on the radio.
From then on, Kaplan was omnipresent on TV, appearing on Make Room for Daddy, McHale’s Navy, Honey West, I Dream of Jeannie, CHiPs, MacGyver, ER, Becker and many other shows.
Kaplan also had writing credits on episodes of The Addams Family, The Bill Cosby Show, Mod Squad and Maude. He wrote plays for Theatre West and most recently starred on its main stage in a production of Arthur Miller’s The Price.
Gallogly said that Kaplan will be buried in New York alongside his parents and grandparents.
Survivors include a sister.
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