1977 was a big year for actor Paul Dooley. That’s when he was “discovered,” and after twenty-five years in show business, became an “overnight success”.
It all happened when legendary film director Robert Altman caught him onstage in the Jules Feiffer comedy HOLD ME. Altman, who had achieved fame with MASH and NASHVILLE, signed Dooley on the spot to play Carol Burnett’s husband, and the father of the bride, in his upcoming film A WEDDING.
After another starring role in Altman’s A PERFECT COUPLE, Paul landed the part that would change his life forever, in the unforgettable coming-of-age classic BREAKING AWAY.
His hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering Dad earned him critical acclaim, and set the stage for another triumph, in the beloved John Hughes comedy SIXTEEN CANDLES. As Molly Ringwald’s distracted yet sympathetic father, Dooley endeared himself to an entire generation of young people.
Since then he’s played the father of some of our finest actresses including Helen Hunt, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow, and Julia Roberts (in RUNAWAY BRIDE.) In addition to being Hollywood’s favorite Dad, Dooley has become one of the busiest actors working today; creating one memorable character after another in such films as POPEYE, with Robin Williams, where he appeared as the hamburger-loving Wimpy—a part, Dooley says, that he played with relish. Other films include HAIRSPRAY with John Travolta, INSOMNIA with Al Pacino, A WEDDING and A PERFECT COUPLE for Robert Altman, and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and A MIGHTY WIND both with Christopher Guest.
On the small screen, Dooley starred in his own TV sitcom, COMING OF AGE on CBS, which kicked off a series of recurring roles on other TV shows including ER, GRACE UNDER FIRE, MY SO-CALLED LIFE, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, ONCE AND AGAIN, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, the out-of-the-closet father on HBO’s DREAM ON, for which he received an Emmy nomination; and a memorably feisty judge on THE PRACTICE, for which he received his second Emmy nomination.
Despite appearances, it didn’t happen overnight. Upon graduation from West Virginia University, Paul headed for New York City in a broken-down 1948 Dodge, with just fifty dollars in his pocket, and nothing to lose. To pay the rent, he worked as a clown, entertaining kids at birthday parties with his magic, juggling, and cartooning skills. Luckily one of his college chums was none other than Don Knotts. Already a working actor, Knotts convinced the producers of a new children’s TV show that Paul would be perfect as a comic cowboy.
Next came the New York premiere of Kurt Weill’s masterpiece THE THREEPENNY OPERA, a job procured for him by another friend, John Astin, who was appearing in it, along with Charlotte Rae and Beatrice Arthur.
Dooley turned to stand-up comedy and after several years of playing nightclubs, landed on THE TONIGHT SHOW. From there he joined SECOND CITY, the famous improvisational troupe, where his fellow actors included: Alan Arkin, Alan Alda…and some other guys named Alan. Improvising became Paul’s passion: “I make my living doing movies and television, but improv I do for the love of it.”
While at SECOND CITY he met director Mike Nichols, who was about to begin the original Broadway productions of THE ODD COUPLE. Dooley was cast as one of the poker playing buddies, and received kudos when he replaced Art Carney as Felix, playing opposite Walter Mathau.
The SECOND CITY actors were suddenly in great demand on Madison Avenue, their improvisational wit beginning to change the face of commercials. Teaming up with fellow writer-performers Andrew Duncan and Lynne Lipton, he formed a company: ALL OVER CREATION, and over the next ten years, Dooley appeared in well over five hundred TV commercials and nearly a thousand radio spots.
Eventually deciding to use his comedic talents “for good, instead of evil,” Paul became the co-creator and head writer of THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, the Emmy award-winning children’s program on PBS. Throughout all this, Dooley continued to perform onstage in New York, including his much lauded portrayal of CASEY STENGEL, in a one-man show about the life of the eccentric baseball coach.
In recent years, Dooley has turned his talents to screenwriting, collaborating with his son Adam, on a story inspired by his coming of age in West Virginia. He’s currently putting together the financing to bring this very personal story to screen. He has also written and directed the short film HEAD OVER HEELS starring Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Tambor, and Mr. and Mrs. Dooley. Paul shares his home in Los Angeles and his computer with his wife, writer Winnie Holzman who created the highly acclaimed TV series MY SO-CALLED LIFE. Her next success was the hit Broadway musical about the witches of Oz…WICKED with music by Stephen Schwartz. Holzman’s most recent venture…HUGE, the TV series for ABC Family which she developed with daughter Savannah Dooley which features, guess who…Dad.