Perhaps you know James Lipton as the pretentious, ultra-serious host of Inside the Actors Studio. (Or Will Ferrell’s impression of him on Saturday Night Live.) The bearded dean of the acting craft has lived a very colorful life, and here are some other ways he contributed to pop culture.
Lipton is 90 years old, so he’s been around show business along time—long enough to have been a radio actor. In the mid-1940s, Lipton moved to New York and got into acting to pay for law school. His big break: On the radio version of The Lone Ranger, Lipton portrayed Dan Reid, nephew of the Lone Ranger.
An Exaltation of Larks
A recurring feature in our Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books are the funny names of animal groups. For example: a cauldron of bats, a shrewdness of apes, or a murder of crows. The idea of naming animal collectives in such a way goes back to an English hunting game in the 15th century. But there were only so many beasts in 15th century England, so somebody had to come up with names for the rest of the animal kingdom. One of the major sources for these “terms of venery” is An Exaltation of Larks, a 1968 book written by…James Lipton. Some of the terms included in the book are real, and the rest were made up by Lipton.
The Best of Everything
One of the biggest flops in soap opera history is The Best of Everything. In a genre in which shows run for 20, 30, or even 40 years or more, The Best of Everything lasted just 126 episodes in 1970, or about six months. The brains behind the series was James Lipton, who served as executive producer, head writer, creator (adapting Rona Jaffe’s 1958 novel The Best of Everything)…and even theme song composer.
In the early 2000s, Lipton had a recurring, self-referential role on the cult sitcom Arrested Development as a prison warden whom wannabe actor Tobias (David Cross) studies to prepare for a tiny role in a prison-set movie. That couldn’t have been comfortable for either man, as in 1999 Cross spent a sizable chunk of his comedy album The Pride is Back making fun of Lipton and Inside the Actors Studio. (He called him “pretentious” and did an over-the-top impression.) Lipton was aware of Cross’s bits when he came onto the Arrested Development set, but Cross says the two later became good friends. (Although he still says he hates Inside the Actors Studio.)