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Edward Herrmann: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Master Character Actor

Edward Herrmann was a master of character, one of those actors who could be counted on to deliver no matter what else was happening on the screen or stage.

Herrmann, who died Wednesday at the age of 71, was famously adept at playing historical figures, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (many times, most recently as the voiceover in Ken Burns’ “The Rooosevelts: An Intimate History”) to Lou Gehrig, William Randolph Hearst (in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow”), Raymond Massey (in biopic “James Dean”), Joseph Breen (enforcer of Hollywood’s Production code from the 1930s-50s), Nelson Rockefeller, Alger Hiss, Fred Friendly and George Bernard Shaw.

Herrmann also had a face that was born to play priests, cops, dads and nondescript world leaders. Reviewing the 1999 NBC miniseries “Atomic Train,” Variety declared that Herrmann’s turn as the U.S. commander-in-chief was just about the only redeeming quality of the limp thriller (featuring Rob Lowe trying to stop a runaway freight train loaded with nuclear material).

Variety’s archives show that Herrmann rarely stopped working from the time he arrived on the New York legit scene in the early 1970s. Here are five things you didn’t know about Herrmann’s long career:

  • The thesp’s first mention in Variety came in the June 9, 1971, weekly edition as a member of the cast of David Rabe’s Vietnam War-set play “The Basic Training of Pavel Hummel,” produced by Joseph Papp.
  • Herrmann not only played Lou Gehrig in the 1978 TV movie “The Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story,” he played a character with Lou Gehrig’s disease a few years later — the compassionate Father McCabe in NBC’s “St. Elsewhere.”
  • Uncle Junior and Frasier? In 1982 Herrmann co-starred with Kelsey Grammer and Dominic Chianese in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of “Plenty.” He would earn a Tony nom for the same role the following year.
  • Herrmann was a booster and regular at the Williamstown Theater Festival, long after his career took off. In 1985 he and Dianne Wiest co-directed the Williamstown offering “Not About Heroes.” The direction and Herrmann’s work in the play was billed as “exceptional” by Variety’s reviewer.
  • He was an iron man of voiceover work and narration, doing everything from Dodge commercials to the History docu “Giganto: The Real King Kong.” He even lent his resonant pipes to voicing Rick Blaine in the 1998 audiobook rendition of “Casablanca” prequel novel “As Time Goes By.” Lynn Redgrave was his Elsa.

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