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Charles Nelson Reilly (1931)

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  Summary  

Charles Nelson Reilly (January 13, 1931 – May 25, 2007) was an American actor, comedian, director and drama teacher known for his comedic roles in theater, movies, children's television, animated cartoons, and as a panelist on the game show Match Game.

  Biography  

 early life
Reilly was born in The Bronx, New York City, the son of Charles Joseph Reilly, an Irish Catholic commercial artist, and Signe Elvera Nelson, a Swedish Lutheran. When young he would often make his own puppet theater to amuse himself. His mother, foreshadowing his future as an entertainer, often would tell him to "save it for the stage." At age 13, he escaped the Hartford Circus Fire where over a hundred people died, and as a result, he never sat in an audience again through the remainder of his life.

As a boy, Reilly developed a love for opera and desired to become an opera singer. He entered the Hartt School of Music as a voice major but eventually abandoned this pursuit when he came to the realization that he lacked the needed natural vocal talent to have a major career. However, opera remained a life-long passion and after he achieved celebrity he was a frequent guest on opera-themed radio programs, including the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. He also directed opera productions for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Portland Opera, San Diego Opera, and Santa Fe Opera among others. He was also good friends with opera singers Renée Fleming, Rod Gilfry, Roberta Peters, and Eileen Farrell.

 career
Reilly made his first motion-picture appearance in 1957, playing an uncredited role in A Face in the Crowd, directed by Elia Kazan. Most of his work during this period was on the stage. Reilly appeared in many Off Broadway productions. His big theatrical break came in 1960 with the enormously successful original Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie. In the ground-breaking musical, Reilly had a small onstage part, and was the standby for Dick Van Dyke in the leading role of Albert Peterson. In 1961, Reilly was in the original cast of another big Broadway hit, the Pulitzer prize-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. For his memorable origination of the role of Bud Frump, Reilly earned a 1962 Tony Award for featured actor in a musical. In 1964, Reilly was featured in the original cast of yet another giant Broadway success, Hello, Dolly! For originating the role of Cornelius Hackl, Reilly received a second nomination for a Tony Award for performance by an actor in a featured role in a musical.

While he kept active in Broadway shows, Reilly would soon become better known for his TV work. Reilly appeared regularly on television in the 1960s. For example, he did stints both as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests and as a panelist on the popular Sunday night CBS-TV program. In 1965, he made regular appearances on The Steve Lawrence Show, which aired for a single season. From 1968 to 1970, he appeared as uptight Claymore Gregg on the television series The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, which also starred Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. In one episode, Reilly was reunited with his Hello, Dolly! original Broadway castmate Eileen Brennan.

In 1971, he appeared as the evil magician Hoodoo in Lidsville, a psychedelically flavored live-action children's program produced by Sid and Marty Krofft that aired on Saturday mornings on ABC. The show was about a boy who falls into a magician's hat and enters a magical world of hat-humans. It is through these roles, as well as his playing the titular role in Uncle Croc's Block and appearing once on Walt Disney's The Mouse Factory, that Reilly's voice and mannerisms were embedded in a generation of young fans.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Reilly also appeared as a regular on The Dean Martin Show, and had multiple guest appearances on television series including McMillan & Wife; Here's Lucy; Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In; The Love Boat; and Love, American Style. Commercials he made throughout the 1960s and 1970s included Excedrin and Bic Banana Ink Crayons in which he wore a banana costume.

He was also a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, appearing more than one hundred times. Because Reilly was such a lively and reliable talk-show guest and lived within blocks of the Burbank studios where The Tonight Show was taped, he was often asked to be a last-minute replacement for scheduled guests who did not make it to the studio in time. During this time, Reilly was perhaps best known as a fixture of game shows, primarily due to his appearances as a regular panelist on the television game show Match Game. Reilly was one of the longest-running guests, and often engaged in petty, hilarious arguments with fellow regular Brett Somers (the two generally sat next to each other on the show, Somers in the upper middle seat and Reilly in the upper right-hand seat). Reilly typically offered sardonic commentary and peppered his answers with homosexually themed double entendres that pushed the boundaries of 1970s television standards.

From 1975 to 1976, Reilly starred in another live-action children's program called Uncle Croc's Block with Jonathan Harris. Reilly was often a guest celebrity in the 1984 game show Body Language, including one week with Lucille Ball and another week with Audrey Landers.

From 1976, Reilly was primarily active teaching acting and directing for television and theater.
In 1976 he directed Julie Harris portraying Emily Dickinson in her one-woman Broadway play The Belle of Amherst by William Luce. In 1979, he directed Ira Levin's play Break a Leg on Broadway. Despite the previous year's success of Levin's Deathtrap, Break a Leg closed after one performance.

Reilly directed episodes of Evening Shade in 1990 and earned a 1997 Tony Award nomination as Best Director of a Play for the revival of The Gin Game starring Julie Harris, opposite whom he had acted in Skyscraper in 1965-66.

Reilly was a longtime teacher of acting at HB Studio, the acting studio founded by Herbert Berghof and made famous by Berghof and his wife, the renowned stage actress Uta Hagen. Reilly's acting students included Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler, and Gary Burghoff.

In the 1990s, Reilly made guest appearances on The Drew Carey Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Family Matters, Second Noah, and as eccentric writer Jose Chung in the television series The X-Files ("Jose Chung's From Outer Space"), Millennium ("Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense") and occasionally as the voice of "The Dirty Bubble" on the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants before that character was taken over by Tom Kenny.

Reilly was nominated for Emmy Awards in 1998 and 1999 for his performances in The Drew Carey Show and Millennium, respectively.

 personal life
Reilly did not publicly affirm his sexuality until his one-man show Save It for the Stage. However, much like fellow game-show regular Paul Lynde of the same era, Reilly played up a campy on-screen persona. In many episodes of Match Game, he would lampoon himself by briefly affecting a deep voice and the nickname "Chuck," and self-consciously describing how "butch" he was. He mentioned in a 2002 interview with Entertainment Tonight that he felt no need to note this and that he never purposely hid being gay from anyone.

Patrick Hughes III, a set decorator and dresser, was Reilly's domestic partner; the two met backstage while Reilly was appearing on the game show Battlestars. They lived in Beverly Hills.

Despite sporting what appeared to be a full head of hair for most of the prime of his career, Reilly was in fact bald, wearing a toupée throughout most of his appearances in the 1970s and 1980s. He abandoned the toupée in the late 1990s and appeared bald in public for the rest of his life.

A Hartford native, Reilly was seated in the big top the day of the 1944 fire at a Ringling Brothers event in Hartford that has since become well known, he was only 13 at the time. Because of this, he never was in attendance at the theater, as he had stated that the large crowds reminded him of what happened that day. He would dramatize it in his stage show, "The Life of Reilly," and even talked about his experience on a few occasions.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Charles Nelson Reilly", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.