gazettelogo.gif - 2815 BytesThe Sunday Gazette
Arts & Entertainment
05/04/03, G-01

By MICHAEL LISI, Gazette Reporter
Actor Gould recalls days on WGY in '40s

'Rhoda's' father to appear at UAlbany on Tuesday

Long before he starred as Rhoda's father or Rose's mobster boyfriend on "The Golden Girls," actor Harold Gould was on WGY, doing voice parts for the station's 1940s crime show "The FBI In Action."

The WGY (810-AM) studio wasn't too far from where Gould, a Schenectady native, grew up on Route 5 in Colonie.

"WGY, by golly, I was in high school in the early 1940s and I'd go up to the station and do 'The FBI In Action' and I remember Howard Reig was the staff announcer at the time," said Gould, in a recent phone interview from his New York City hotel room. "I'd do various characters on the show and I think that was the first time I ever earned money [as an actor]."

Gould, 79, left the Capital Region decades ago to become a well-known character actor in television and film -- he played Kid Twist in "The Sting" (1973) and is grandpa in Disney's coming remake of "Freaky Friday" with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Staying in touch

But he has always managed to keep his local ties strong. Gould has visited the Capital Region a number of times over the years to visit family -- he has cousins who live in Albany -- and several longtime friends.

Gould, a graduate of Albany State Teacher's College, now the University at Albany, has been a strong supporter of his alma mater. He donated $100,000 to help the school's theater department in 1994 and has visited several times since as a guest speaker.

And he'll be back in town Tuesday as a guest lecturer for the New York State Writers Institute. He'll give a speech titled "My Life in the Theatre" at 8 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center's Recital Hall on the University of Albany's uptown campus.

Earlier that day, he'll put on an informal acting seminar -- all part of the Institute's 7th Annual Burian Lecture; both events are free and co-sponsored by the college's Department of Theater.

"The last time I was in Schenectady was in the late 1990s," said Gould, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. with his wife.

"I remember when the trolley cars used to run from Albany to Schenectady, where I used to go to visit my grandparents," he continued, adding that his mother was from Schenectady. "My grandfather was a tailor there and he made uniforms for the police department and Charles Steinmetz."

Early acting

Gould always had acting on his mind, starring in drama productions as a student at the former Roessleville High School (now known as Colonie Central High School), where he graduated as valedictorian of his class. His family moved from Schenectady to Colonie during the Depression, he said.

He caught the eye of a New York City acting agent but instead followed the advice of a high school counselor who suggested he shelve the stage to become a theater teacher.

After serving two years in the Army during World War II, Gould graduated from college and enrolled at Cornell University as a graduate student. He met his wife, Lea Vernon, there. With a master's degree and a Ph.D. in dramatic speech and literature in hand, Gould spent the next 10 years teaching drama at small colleges in Virginia and California.

But teaching wasn't fulfilling enough and Gould, at age 37, decided it was time to put down the chalk and tread the floorboards.

"I figured if I was going to make a leap, than this was the time to do it," said Gould, who had two young children at the time. "My wife supported herself, and I went and took a small room in Los Angeles and read for different shows. I got noticed after about a year."

He split his time between small TV, theater and movie roles during the 1960s, doing guest stints on some of the decade's most popular sitcoms, such as "Hogan's Heroes," "Get Smart," "The FBI," "Hawaii Five-O," "I Dream Of Jeannie" and "Mission: Impossible."

Gould might have been Richie's father instead of Rhoda's father if his timing had been better.

He had played a character named Howard Cunningham in an episode of "Love, American Style" called "Love and The Happy Days" -- the precursor to the classic 1970s comedy "Happy Days." Gould kept the role in the show's pilot and had the job -- until the producers wanted him back pronto to shoot extra footage.

Gould was in Paris at the time, acting in a play about Karl Marx, and couldn't return that soon. He asked the producers to hold off for about a week but they didn't want to wait; they hired Tom Bosley for the part and the rest is TV history.

"It went on for so long that I wouldn't have wanted to have been anchored to that show only," said Gould of "Happy Days."

"Oh no, my decision doesn't gnaw away at me; other things always come up."

Such as his role as Martin Morgenstern, a role he first landed in 1972 on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." It was expanded when CBS spun off "Rhoda," starring actress Valerie Harper, in 1974; the show ran for four years.

"Yeah, every once in a while I still get the 'hey you're Rhoda's dad' and [am recognized for] 'The Sting,' " Gould said with a chuckle. "Mostly now, it's from the reruns of 'The Golden Girls.'

"That show just goes on and on and people just love that show," said Gould, who played Betty White's character's boyfriend on the show. "I think my residuals ran out long ago but the writing was so outrageous and those ladies knew comedy. It was a pleasure working with them."

Still working

These days, Gould is still working; he played Grandfather Disguisey in Dana Carvey's 2002 comedy "Master Of Disguise," did a couple of plays, had a part in a "Judging Amy" episode in February and finished "Freaky Friday."

He recently turned down a theater job to take a trip to Japan, which he postponed to do "Freaky Friday," he said. But outside of playing golf, his passion is still acting.

"I still go for things and get rejected, but even the challenge of getting ready is still [exciting]," he said. "Acting, it's something I enjoy, and the alternative is doing what, sitting and letting your mind go dead? "You've got to keep your mind occupied and active; otherwise fungus begins to grow and it obscures everything else," he continued. "Why stop?"

Harold Gould will give an informal acting seminar at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Performing Arts Center's Recital Hall on the University at Albany's uptown campus. He will give a lecture on "My Life in the Theatre" at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall. Both events are free. Call the Writers Institute at 442-5620 or go online at for more information.

Reach Gazette reporter Michael Lisi at 395-3198 or [email protected].

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Harold Gould