Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Barnard Hughes (1915-2006)

You might not recognize the name immediately, but the face should be ring some bells. The great character actor Barnard Hughes has passed away at the age of 90. His career encompassed stage, screen and television with many memorable moments in all mediums.

He won a 1978 Emmy for an appearance as a judge on Lou Grant. The same year, he won a Tony for the title role in Da, a role he later re-created in a 1988 film version. His television work was plentiful, including five years in the early 1960s on The Guiding Light as Dr. Bruce Banning, three appearances on All in the Family as the Catholic priest Father Majeski and a notable guest appearance on Homicide: Life on the Street.

His work on Broadway was plentiful. In addition to his Tony win for Da, he earned a 1973 Tony nomination as featured actor for a revival of Much Ado About Nothing. Other Broadway work included revivals of Uncle Vanya, The Iceman Cometh and Hamlet. He also appeared in the original casts of Prelude to a Kiss and The Good Doctor. His film work was also notable and I've picked some highlights (or notable films) out of his career to spotlight.

  • Midnight Cowboy (1969): Hughes gave a memorable turn as the old man who encountered Joe Buck in a hotel room.
  • Where's Poppa? (1970): Hughes was part of the ensemble in this indescribable wacky comedy.
  • The Hospital (1971): Hughes played a seemingly ill patient in Paddy Chayefsky's second-greatest satire.
  • Sisters (1973): Hughes had a small role in Brian De Palma's early, but memorable thriller.
  • Oh, God (1977): Hughes seemed to play a lot of judges, such as the one he played in Carl Reiner's comedy starring George Burns and John Denver.
  • Tron (1982): Honestly, I don't remember him in this — but to me this whole movie was an incoherent blur.
  • The Lost Boys (1987): For me, Hughes was the highlight of this vampire tale as the feisty grandfather who gets the memorable line at the end about the problem with the town where they live.
  • Da (1988): Hughes recreated his Tony-winning stage role in this underrated film about a man dealing with his Irish's father's presence.
  • Doc Hollywood (1991): Hughes was the town's old-style doctor who teaches young upstart Michael J. Fox a thing or two.

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    Yes, Barnard Hughes was certainly a great character actor--who on occasion was also a great leading actor! I remember him first from his role as "Dr. Bruce Banning," husband of "Meta Bauer Banning" (then played by Ellen Demming, in later years by Mary Stuart) on "The Guiding Light" back in the early-to-mid 1960s.

    I also recall Hughes's sitcom past, playing the lead of the kindly family doctor in "Doc," as well as the recurring role of the Catholic priest, "Father John Majeski," on "All in the Family." In fact, it was one of my favorite episodes of "Family," wherein "Edith" (Jean Stapleton) dented the priest's car with a can of Cling peaches, leading to the inevitable confrontation & misundersatnding with "Archie Bunker" (Carroll O'Connor)!

    Hughes also starred in "Mr. Merlin" and was a member of the cast of "Blossom " for several years, as 'Grandpa Buzz Richman."

    I was fortunate to have seen Hughes on stage in 1999 at Boston's Colonial Theater, his last stage role, in a production of one of Noel Coward's lesser-known works, "Waiting in the Wings." The play co-starred Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Harris, also featured Hughes' wife, Helen Stenborg, in the cast.

    I know I have seen Hughes in films and other TV work as well, usually playing a grandfatherly figure, and almost always with a touch of wit and wisdom--must say something about this man out-of-character, that he could play those types of roles so convincingly & well!
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