Richard Dysart, who starred in ‘L.A. Law,’ dies at age 86

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE -

Richard Dysart, a vet­eran stage and screen ac­tor who played se­nior part­ner Le­land McKen­zie in the long-run­ning TV court­room drama “L.A. Law,” has died af­ter a long ill­ness. He was 86.

Dysart died Sun­day at his home in Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia, ac­cord­ing to his daugh­ter- in- law Jean­nine Ja­cobi.

He cre­ated the Broad­way role of the Coach in “That Cham­pi­onship Sea­son,” for which he won a Drama Desk Award in 1972, and his many film ap­pear­ances in­cluded Hal Ashby’s “Be­ing There,” Clint East­wood’s “Pale Rider” and John Car­pen­ter’s “The Thing.”

But his most mem­o­rable role was likely that of head man in the firm of McKen­zie, Brack­man, Chaney and Kuzak in NBC’s 1986-1994 se­ries. It was pro­duced by Steven Bochco, who, hav­ing scored a hit with the po­lice se­ries “Hill Street Blues,” was cast­ing an­other multi-char­ac­ter se­ries that would por­tray the life in a toney Los An­ge­les law of­fice.

“I was try­ing to make it by do­ing films and TV movies,” Dysart said in an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­view in 1988. Then he heard about the prospec­tive “L.A. Law” project, and called his agent.

“Af­ter I read the script,” he re­called, “I called him and said I wanted to talk to Steven Bochco. My agent said, ‘That’s funny, he wants to talk to you.’”

The role as Le­land McKen­zie was largely an of­fi­cial one, pa­tiently ad­vis­ing his lawyers about their cases and their ro­mances. But he had one ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the 1988 sea­son that was out of char­ac­ter: a ro­mance with a beau­ti­ful law stu­dent 30 years McKen­zie’s ju­nior. Dysart was de­lighted to de­pict this May-De­cem­ber fling.

“L.A. Law,” for which Dysart won an Emmy, was the cul­mi­na­tion of his long ca­reer.

But he hadn’t thought much about act­ing when he was grow­ing up in Maine. He worked at a lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion, but only when he en­rolled at Emer­son Col­lege in Bos­ton did he con­sider act­ing as a pro­fes­sion. Af­ter earn­ing his mas­ter’s de­gree, he headed to Broad­way.

In the 1960s, he be­came in­ter­ested in reper­tory and be­came one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tory Theater in San Fran­cisco. Ge­orge C. Scott ap­peared with the com­pany, and he and Dysart be­came good friends. Dysart later joined Scott in a New York re­vival of “The Lit­tle Foxes.”

In 1968, Dysart made his film de­but with Scott and Julie Christie in Richard Lester’s “Pe­tu­lia.” He also ap­peared with Scott in “Hos­pi­tal,” “Hin­den­berg,” “The Last Days of Gen. Pat­ton” and on Scott’s TV se­ries “East Side/West Side.”

Dysart por­trayed a va­ri­ety of prom­i­nent fig­ures. He was Dwight D. Eisen­hower in “The Last Days of Gen. Pat­ton” and in a BBC film “Churchill and the Gener- als.” He played Harry Tru­man in the CBS movie “Day One” and in the ABC minis­eries “War and Re­mem­brance.” He was J. Edgar Hoover in “Pan­ther” and Henry L. Stim­son, sec­re­tary of war in 1940-1945, in “Tru­man.”

In 1987, Dysart mar­ried artist Kathryn Ja­cobi, who sur­vives him.

AP

In this Aug. 30, 1992 file photo, ac­tor Richard Dysart grasps the Emmy Award he won for Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor in a Drama Se­ries for his role in “L.A. Law” dur­ing the 44th an­nual Emmy Awards in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia.

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