For decades, Dabney Coleman has often appeared as a smarmy, selfish, nervous person, often with money, who is mostly out for himself. He did such a good job in this type of part that he’s made a career of it in film.
Dabney Wharton Coleman was born in Austin, Texas, to Mary Wharton (Johns) and Melvin Randolph Coleman. He attended the Virginia Military Institute, and studied law in Texas. Coleman has a well deserved reputation as a fine character actor, and a reliable presence for almost any role in TV and movies. Dabney Coleman’s early appearances in the cinema were in The Slender Thread (1965) and Downhill Racer (1969). On TV he starred in That Girl (1966). As the 1970s approached he became a well-known character actor in television and movies, appearing in The Towering Inferno (1974), Midway (1976), and Cinderella Liberty (1973). Television seemed Dabney Coleman’s forum in the 1970s as Coleman played the role of Merle Jeeter in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976) and Fernwood Tonight (1977). Coleman made appearances in the popular North Dallas Forty (1979) and the Oscar-winning Melvin and Howard (1980). Dabney Coleman also became known for some satirical movies, starring in the comedy How to Beat the High Cost of Living (1980) and snatched a lead role for the TV movie Pray TV (1981). Coleman’s reputation for playing world-class jerks became cemented in 1980 as the boss to Dolly Parton , Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Nine to Five (1980). The next year, Coleman was in very good company working with legends Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond (1981). Coleman’s hit streak would not end there.
In 1982 Coleman landed a key role in the classic Tootsie (1982), further cementing his role as an unlikable wealthy boss in some capacity. In 1983 Coleman starred in the Cold War classic WarGames (1983). During this period he also found many parts in lesser known movies like Young Doctors in Love (1982) and Callie & Son (1981). In 1984 he starred in The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and in 1985 he starred with Tom Hanks in The Man with One Red Shoe (1985). In 1987 the actor won an Emmy for Sworn to Silence (1987). In 1990 Coleman took two lead roles, one in the disastrous Where the Heart Is (1990), and the other in the quirky comedy Short Time (1990). In 1993 Coleman starred in the slapstick comedy Amos & Andrew (1993) (a very funny part) and in a remake of the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies (1993) as Milburn Drysdale. Coleman took an extensive line of TV movies, such films as Texan, In the Line of Duty, among others. Coleman took an unusual part in the ABC cartoon, Recess (1997), and then starred in a couple of big money grossers, the Tom Hanks comedy, You’ve Got Mail (1998), as Chief Quimby in Inspector Gadget (1999), and in Stuart Little (1999), both 1999.
Coleman is still very active.
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