Dabney Coleman

Dabney Coleman

Dabney Coleman in The Towering Inferno (1974)
Born Dabney Wharton Coleman
(1932-01-03) January 3, 1932
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1961–present
Spouse(s) Ann Courtney Harrell
(1957–1959; divorced)
Jean Hale
(m.1961–1984; divorced; 4 children)
Children Quincy Coleman
Randolph Stanton Coleman (b. 1968)
Meghan Harrell Coleman
Kelly Johns (b. 1966)[1]

Dabney Wharton Coleman (born January 3, 1932) is an American actor[2] best known for roles in the films The Towering Inferno (1974), 9 to 5 (1980), On Golden Pond (1981), Tootsie (1982), WarGames (1983), Cloak & Dagger (1984), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), You've Got Mail (1998), Recess: School's Out (2001), Moonlight Mile (2002) and Rules Don't Apply (2016).

Coleman has also had prominent roles on television as the title character in the NBC series Buffalo Bill (1983–1984), Burton Fallin on the CBS series The Guardian (2001–2004), the voice of Principal Peter Prickly in the animated series Recess (1997–1999) and Louis "The Commodore" Kaestner on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire (2010–2011). He is the recipient of one Primetime Emmy Award, out of six nominations, and one Golden Globe Award, out of three nominations.

Early life

Coleman was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Mary Wharton (née Johns) and Melvin Randolph Coleman.[3][4] He entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1949, then studied law at the University of Texas before turning to acting. He was drafted in 1953 to the United States Army and served in Europe.


Coleman is a character actor who has a wide range, with over 60 films to his credit. He trained with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater from 1958-60.[5] Early roles in his career included a US Olympic skiing team coach in the Robert Redford 1969 film Downhill Racer, a high-ranking superior San Francisco deputy fire chief to battalion chief Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno (1974) and a wealthy Westerner whose champion horse is entered in a long-distance race against that of Gene Hackman and others in Bite the Bullet (1975). He portrayed an FBI Special Agent in the NBC-TV movie Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan (1975).

He eventually landed the main antagonist part of Franklin Hart, Jr., a sexist boss on whom three female office employees (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin) get their revenge in 1980's Nine to Five. It was this film that established Coleman in the character type he is most identified with and has frequently played since - a comic relief villain. (He had played earlier versions of such characters in the Elvis Presley vehicle The Trouble with Girls as well as an appearance in a 1962 AMC Rambler commercial.) Coleman followed up Nine to Five with the role of the arrogant, sexist, soap opera director in Tootsie (1982), further enforcing audiences' identification of him as a smarmy, devious foil to a film's main character. He broke from this type somewhat, however, in his portrayal of military computer scientist John McKittrick in WarGames (1983).

Coleman received his first Emmy nomination for his lead role in the critically acclaimed, though short-lived, TV series Buffalo Bill. In 1987, he received an Emmy Award for his role in the TV movie Sworn to Silence.[6] He appeared in the feature film On Golden Pond (1981), playing the fiance of Chelsea Thayer Wayne (Jane Fonda). Coleman played a Hugh Hefner-ish magazine mogul in the comedy Dragnet (1987), Bobcat Goldthwait's boss (wearing, inexplicably, a set of fake teeth) in the 1988 talking-horse comedy Hot to Trot, and befuddled banker Milburn Drysdale in the feature film The Beverly Hillbillies (1993).

Coleman played Gerald Ellis in Clifford (1994), with Martin Short in the title role. He also played a philandering father in You've Got Mail (1998). More recently, Coleman appeared as a casino owner in 2005's Domino. He received acclaim as Burton Fallin in the TV series The Guardian (2001–04). For two seasons, from 2010 to 2011, Coleman was a series regular on HBO's hit series Boardwalk Empire.

On November 6, 2014, Coleman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[7]

Personal life

Coleman has been married twice. He was married to Ann Courtney Harrell from 1957 to 1959 and to Jean Hale from 1961 to 1984. He has four children with Hale: Meghan, Kelly, Randy, and Quincy. He resides in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles.[8]

In 1998, Coleman worked with fellow actor Bronson Pinchot at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, to help protect local forests and helped lead a campaign to educate others on how to care for and protect forests nationwide.

Coleman is an avid tennis player, playing for the US Army while posted in Europe and later winning some celebrity and charity tournaments.[9][10]

Selected filmography

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Buffalo Bill Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
1984 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1987 CableACE Awards Actor in a Movie or Miniseries Murrow Nominated
1987 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Sworn to Silence Won
1988 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy The Slap Maxwell Story Won
1988 Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Sworn to Silence Nominated
1988 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series The Slap Maxwell Story Nominated
1988 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Baby M Nominated
1991 Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Columbo Nominated
2011 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Boardwalk Empire Won
2012 Won


  1. http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/114/Jean+Hale/index.html
  2. "The New York Times".
  3. Dabney Coleman Biography (1931-) at filmreference.com
  4. Dabney Coleman Biography at Yahoo! Movies
  5. http://completeactorstraining.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/the-meisner-community-list-of-meisner-based-actors/
  6. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1437. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  7. Saval, Malina (6 November 2014). "Dabney Coleman Receives a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Variety. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  8. Dabney Coleman, The Movieland Directory, 2010
  9. Wallace, David (11 July 1983), "As TV's Macho Buffalo Bill, Dabney Coleman Finds That Sexism Breeds Success", People, 20 (2)
  10. Scott, Vernon (17 January 1982), "Dabney Coleman Gradually Working His Way to Top", Florence Times - Tri-Cities Daily, UPI

External links

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