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Charles Nelson Reilly, 1931-2007 May 31, 2007

Posted by Jeff in In memoriam, Movies, Opera, Theater.

Charles Nelson ReillyIf all you knew of him was from “The Match Game”, here’s a few things that might surprise you …

  • From the age of thirteen, despite a long career in movies and theater as an performer and director, Reilly never once sat in a theater with an audience. He explained why in this 1997 interview:

  • He was the original Bud Frump in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, for which he won a Tony Award, and he was the original Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly! If the thought of the “Match Game” contestant singing seems weird, I can tell you that I remember him very clearly in the latter show, and he had one of the best voices I ever heard live in a Broadway musical.

  • In his late teens, he was hired as a comprimario singer by the Metropolitan Opera, and appeared in one performance, as the Custom Sergeant in Act III of La Boheme with no less than Bidu Sayão as Mimi.

  • As a director his specialty was one-person Broadway shows. He directed two of the first (and best) of the bunch: Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson in The Belle Of Amherst and James Earl Jones as Paul Robeson.

  • He appeared over forty times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Here is a typical appearance:

  • His last appearance on Broadway was yet another one-person show, this one autobiographical. Here’s the first ten minutes of The Life Of Reilly, for which he received his fourth Tony nomination:

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