LOS ANGELES (August 26, 2016) -- Comic character actor and writer Marvin Kaplan died Thursday at the age of 89. Kaplan, a former member of the national boards of both Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, served four terms as president of AFTRA’s Los Angeles Local from 1989–95 and 2003–05, and on the SAG board from 1975–84, including a two-year term as 9th vice president.
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “Marvin was the face that everyone recognized. He was your kindly neighbor; your favorite uncle or, as he was on the sitcom Alice, a 'regular guy' phone company employee and the favorite coffee shop customer. Marvin was one of the most recognizable character actors of his generation, and he was a proud union activist and leader. We are forever grateful for the gift of his work and his service to our members.”
Son of a physician, Dr. Isidore Kaplan and his wife, Ruth, Marvin Kaplan graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 and soon headed for California. Like something out of a movie, his film career was launched at age 22, after film star Katharine Hepburn discovered him by seeing his comic turn in Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself in a Los Angeles Circle Theater production. The next afternoon, Kaplan was on the MGM lot auditioning for one of the best directors in the business, George Cukor, winning a role in Adam’s Rib and a lifelong career in film, television, radio, commercials and animation.
He made his TV debut in 1953 as a co-star of the comedy series Meet Millie, and appeared in popular TV programs through the next four decades, including Becker, Charlie’s Angels, CHiPS, ER, The Fall Guy, Gidget, Gomer Pyle: USMC, I Dream of Jeannie, Julia, Love American Style, MacGyver, McHale’s Navy, The Mod Squad, Petticoat Junction and as the voice of the cat Choo-choo in the 1960s animated series Top Cat. In 1978, he began a seven-year run as telephone repairman Henry Beesmire in the award-winning comedy Alice. Kaplan also added his unique comic touch to feature films like The Great Race, Freaky Friday and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
As Kaplan aged, he became involved in the cause of promoting and encouraging senior performers. As he expressed it, “There’s a real ageism prejudice about old people these days. But older actors are damn good. I love good actors. I worship good actors and actresses. But older actors have a rough time getting jobs these days, me included, because the business is youth oriented.”
In 2004, Kaplan was honored with a special award from the Tri-Union Equal Employment Opportunity Committee of Actors’ Equity, SAG and AFTRA for his work with senior performers and his service to performing arts unions. He was also highlighted in the 2010 documentary Troupers, which focused on actors over the age of 80 and, in recent years, was an active member of California Artists Radio Theater and served on the board of Theatre West.