James Lipton, who created, hosted and executive produced the Bravo series “Inside the Actors Studio” and served as dean (and then dean emeritus) of the Actors Studio Drama School at New York City’s Pace University, has died. He was 93.
“Inside the Actors Studio” had run for more than two decades and more than 240 episodes on Bravo beginning in 1994. It moved to Ovation TV in its 23rd season, which premiered last October.
Ovation issued a statement saying, “We celebrate and honor the great legacy of James Lipton. James is beloved around the world for his passion, insight, and dedication to the craft of acting. With ‘Inside the Actors Studio,’ James has created a long-lasting impact on the acting world. Ovation mourns his loss and offers deepest condolences to his family, friends and fans.”
Frances Berwick, President NBCU Lifestyle Networks president Frances Berwick said in a statement, “James Lipton was a titan of the film and entertainment industry and had a profound influence on so many. I had the pleasure of working with Jim for 20 years on Bravo’s first original series, his pride and joy ‘Inside the Actors Studio.’ We all enjoyed and respected his fierce passion, contributions to the craft, comprehensive research and his ability to bring the most intimate interviews ever conducted with A-list actors across generations. Bravo and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Jim’s wife Kedakai and all of his family. “
Lipton, also an actor, writer, lyricist and dancer, was considered by some to be an obsequious interviewer of the celebrities who were guests on “Inside the Actors Studio,” as a 2002 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer made clear, and Lipton and the show were parodied by Will Ferrell on “Saturday Night Live.” Those who criticized him, however, may have been confused about his mission: He was not a crusading journalist seeking to pry secrets from celebrities about their transgressions but an acting teacher interested in drawing from the performers he interviewed information about their acting techniques and experiences for the benefit of the students assembled and secondarily for the television audience.
He shared some 18 Emmy nominations for “Inside the Actors Studio” with his fellow producers — and won one in 2013 — after first receiving a nomination in 1988 for outstanding achievement in music and lyrics, shared with Cy Coleman, for the song “Comedy Ain’t No Joke,” which was performed as part of the Bob Hope special “Happy Birthday, Bob: 50 Stars Salute Your 50 Years with NBC.”
He received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys in 2007 and shared a nomination for best writing in a drama in 1974 for “The Doctors.”
The origins of “Inside the Actors Studio” lie in Lipton’s effort, during the early 1990s, to create a three-year educational program for actors that would distill what he had learned in his own 12 years of study. In 1994 he arranged for the Actors Studio, which had taught method acting for more than six decades, to join with New School University to form the Actors Studio Drama School, a formal, program granting master of fine arts degrees. After the Actors Studio’s partnership with the New School ended, the Actors Studio established the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in 2006.
Within the Actors Studio Drama School, Lipton created a non-credit class called “Inside the Actors Studio,” in which accomplished actors, directors and writers would be interviewed by him and would answer questions from acting students. These sessions are also taped and aired on the Bravo network for the benefit of the general public. The series “Inside the Actors Studio” is viewed in 125 countries.
Lipton had earlier produced a number of specials for television, including a dozen Bob Hope birthday specials; NBC entertainment special “The Road to China,” produced in the country; and the first presidential inaugural gala, for Jimmy Carter, that was televised.
He appeared as himself in the 2005 feature adaptation of the TV series “Bewitched” and provided the voice of the Director in the 2008 Disney animated film “Bolt” while voicing himself in MGM’s 2008 animated feature “Igor.”
He voiced himself on episodes of “The Simpsons” in 2002 and 2011 and appeared as himself on a 2006 episode of NBC’s “Joey,” starring Matt Le Blanc, entitled “Joey and the Actors Studio”; on 2009 episodes of “Family Guy” and “Saturday Night Live”; and on 2012 episodes of “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Glee.”
He recurred on critical and cult favorite “Arrested Development” as Stefan Gentles, warden of Orange County Prison, in 2004–2005 and 2013; played the Devil in a 2008 episode of ABC’s “According to Jim”; and played Dr. Richard Rohl in a 2012 episode of “Suburgatory.”
During an interview with Daniel Simone, author of “The Lufthansa Heist,” on the show, Lipton was asked if he had anticipated the success of “Inside the Actors Studio.” He responded: “Not in my wildest imaginations. It was a joint, arduous effort involving many people. At a point and time not too distant in the past, I had three lives. I was the dean of the Actors Studio, the writer of the series, its host and executive producer. I maintained a preposterous 16-hour schedule.”
Louis James Lipton was born in Detroit; his father was journalist Lawrence Lipton, who abandoned the family upon his divorce when James was 6. Afterwards the family was impoverished, and James started working when he was 13. During high school he was a copy boy for the Detroit Times, as well as an actor in the Catholic Theater of Detroit and on radio (he was one of several actors to portray Dan Reid, the Lone Ranger’s nephew, on “The Lone Ranger,” which originated from Detroit’s WXYZ). Lipton attended Wayne State University for a year in the mid-1940s and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
He moved to New York with the intention of becoming a lawyer, returning to acting initially only to finance his education.
Lipton studied acting with Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and Robert Lewis. He also studied voice and dance (including modern dance and classical ballet), and he choreographed a ballet for the American Ballet Theater.
Lipton appeared on Broadway in 1951 in Lillian Hellman’s play “The Autumn Garden.” He played a shipping clerk-turned-gang member in Joseph Strick’s 1953 crime drama “The Big Break,” an independent film.
He was head writer in 1952 on the soap opera “The Guiding Light,” on which he played Dr. Dick Grant, both on radio and television, for at least a decade in total; served as head writer for “Another World” in 1965, wrote for the soap “The Edge of Night” in 1968-69 and was head writer for “Return to Peyton Place” (1972) and for the prime-time soap “Capitol” for eight episodes from 1984-87.
Lipton penned the libretto and lyrics for the musical “Sherry!,” based on the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman play “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with music by his childhood friend Laurence Rosenthal; the musical had a brief run on Broadway in 1967. The original cast was never recorded; in 2003 a studio cast recording featuring Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Tommy Tune and Mike Myers spurred renewed interest in the show. He also wrote the book and lyrics of the Prohibition era-set “Nowhere to Go but Up,” which had a brief Broadway run in 1962 directed by Sidney Lumet.
His 1981 novel “Mirrors” was born out of Lipton’s experience in the world of dance and dancers; Lipton adapted the book into the screenplay for a 1985 NBC TV movie of the same name starring Tim Daly. He was also author of the nonfiction “An Exaltation of Larks,” a collection of “terms of venery” — the names for different groups of animals, dating back to the English hunting tradition of the Middle Ages — both real and created by Lipton himself. The latter book has been in print since its initial publication in 1968.
Lipton’s memoir “Inside Inside,” an account of his experiences as founding dean of the Actors Studio Drama School and creator and host of “Inside the Actors Studio,” was published in October 2007. Author Jay McInerney wrote: “With all due respect to the actors and actresses he has famously interviewed, James Lipton is as interesting a character as any of them. Happily, he has the wit, erudition, and storytelling skills to do justice to his own amazing story.”
Lipton was twice married, the first time to actress Nina Foch from 1954 until their divorce in 1959.
He is survived by his second wife, Kedakai Turner, to whom he was married since 1970.