Dabney Coleman

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Dabney Coleman
Coleman in The Towering Inferno (1974)
Dabney Wharton Coleman

(1932-01-03) January 3, 1932 (age 86)
ResidenceBrentwood, California, U.S.
Years active1961–present
  • Ann Courtney Harrell
    (m. 1957; div. 1959)
  • Jean Hale
    (m. 1961; div. 1984)
Children4, including Quincy

Dabney Wharton Coleman (born January 3, 1932) is an American actor.

Coleman's best known films include The Towering Inferno (1974), 9 to 5 (1980), On Golden Pond (1981), Tootsie (1982), WarGames (1983), Cloak & Dagger (1984), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), You've Got Mail (1998), Recess: School's Out (2001), Moonlight Mile (2002), and Rules Don't Apply (2016).[1]

Coleman's television roles include the title character in Buffalo Bill (1983–1984), Burton Fallin in The Guardian (2001–2004), the voice of Principal Peter Prickly in Recess (1997–2001), and Louis "The Commodore" Kaestner in Boardwalk Empire (2010–2011). He has won one Primetime Emmy Award from six nominations and one Golden Globe Award from three nominations.

Early life[edit]

Coleman was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Mary Wharton (née Johns) and Melvin Randolph Coleman.[2][3] He entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1949, then studied law at the University of Texas before turning to acting. He was drafted in 1953 to the United States Army and served in Europe.


Coleman is a character actor with roles in well over 60 films and television programs to his credit. He trained with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York City from 1958-60.[citation needed] Early roles in his career included a US Olympic skiing team coach in the 1969 Downhill Racer, a high-ranking fire chief in The Towering Inferno (1974), and a wealthy Westerner in Bite the Bullet (1975). He portrayed an FBI agent in Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan (1975).

He landed the main antagonist part of Franklin Hart, Jr., a sexist boss on whom three female office employees get their revenge in 1980's Nine to Five. It was this film that established Coleman in the character type he is most identified with and has frequently played since - a comic relief villain. Coleman followed Nine to Five with the role of the arrogant, sexist, soap opera director in Tootsie (1982), further enforcing audiences' identification of him as a smarmy, devious foil to a film's main character. He broke from this type somewhat, however, in his portrayal of military computer scientist John McKittrick in WarGames (1983). Since then, Coleman has consistently shifted between roles in serious drama and comedies.

Coleman received his first Emmy nomination for his lead role in the critically acclaimed, though short-lived, TV series Buffalo Bill. In 1987, he received an Emmy Award for his role in the TV movie Sworn to Silence.[4] He appeared in the feature film On Golden Pond (1981), playing the fiancé of Chelsea Thayer Wayne (Jane Fonda). Coleman played a Hugh Hefner-ish magazine mogul in the comedy Dragnet (1987), Bobcat Goldthwait's boss in the 1988 talking-horse comedy Hot to Trot, and befuddled banker Milburn Drysdale in the feature film The Beverly Hillbillies (1993). Coleman played Gerald Ellis in Clifford (1994).

From 1997 to 2001, Coleman provided the voice of Principal Prickly on the animated series Recess. He also played a philandering father in You've Got Mail (1998). More recently, Coleman appeared as a casino owner in 2005's Domino. He received acclaim as Burton Fallin in the TV series The Guardian (2001–04). For two seasons, from 2010 to 2011, Coleman was a series regular on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

On November 6, 2014, Coleman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Coleman resides in Brentwood, California.[6] He has been divorced twice. He was married to Ann Courtney Harrell from 1957 to 1959 and Jean Hale from 1961 to 1984. He has four children with Hale: Meghan, Kelly, Randy, and singer Quincy.[7]

In 1998, Coleman worked with fellow actor Bronson Pinchot at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina to help protect local forests and helped lead a campaign to educate others on how to care for and protect forests nationwide.

Coleman is an avid tennis player, winning celebrity and charity tournaments. He played mainly at the Rivera Country Club as well as in local sanctioned tournaments.[8][9]



The Trouble With Girls
Year Title Role Notes
1965 The Slender Thread Charlie
1968 The Scalphunters Jed
1973 Cinderella Liberty the Exec
1974 The Towering Inferno SFFD deputy chief 1
1975 Bite the Bullet Parker
1976 Midway Captain Murray Arnold
1979 North Dallas Forty Emmett Hunter
1980 How to Beat the High Cost of Living Jack
1980 9 to 5 Franklin M. Hart Jr
1980 Melvin and Howard Judge Keith Hayes
1981 Modern Problems Mark Winslow
1981 On Golden Pond Bill Ray
1982 Tootsie Ron
1983 WarGames Dr. John McKittrick
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan Martin Price / Murray Plotsky
1984 Cloak & Dagger Jack Flack / Hal Osborne
1985 The Man with One Red Shoe Burton Cooper
1987 Dragnet Jerry Caesar
1988 Hot to Trot Walter Sawyer
1990 Where the Heart Is Stewart McBain
1990 Short Time Burt Simpson
1991 Meet the Applegates Aunt Bea
1992 There Goes the Neighborhood Jeffrey Babitt
1993 Amos & Andrew Police Chief Cecil Tolliver
1993 The Beverly Hillbillies Milburn Drysdale
1994 Clifford Gerald Ellis
1998 You've Got Mail Nelson Fox
1999 Inspector Gadget Police Chief Quimby
1999 Stuart Little Dr. Beechwood
2001 Recess: School's Out Principal Peter Prickly (voice)
2002 Moonlight Mile Mike Mulcahey
2005 Domino Drake Bishop
2016 Rules Don't Apply Raymond Holliday


Year Title Role Notes
1964 The Outer Limits Lt. Howard Episode 22: Specimen Uknown
1964 The Outer Limits James Custer Episode: Wolf 359
1967 The Invaders Captain Mitchell Ross Episode 10: The Innocent
1967 The Invaders John Carter Episode 19: The Saucer
1994-1995 Madman of the People Jack "Madman" Buckner 16 episodes
1997 The Magic School Bus Horace Scope (voice) Episode: "Sees Stars"
1997-2001 Recess Principal Peter Prickly (voice) Main cast
127 episodes
1997 Jumanji Ashton Phillips (voice) Episodes: "The Palace of Clues" and "An Old Story"
1998 My Date with the President's Daughter President Richmond Television movie
2001-2004 The Guardian Burton Fallin 67 Episodes
2006 Courting Alex Bill Rose 12 Episodes
2006 Lilo & Stitch: The Series Principal Peter Prickly (voice) Episode: "Lax"
2009 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Frank Hager Episode: "Snatched"
2010-2011 Pound Puppies Mayor Jerry (voice) 4 episodes
Season 1 only
2016 Ray Donovan Mr. Price Episode: "

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominated work Result
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Buffalo Bill Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
1984 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1987 CableACE Awards Actor in a Movie or Miniseries Murrow Nominated
1987 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Sworn to Silence Won
1988 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy The Slap Maxwell Story Won
1988 Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Sworn to Silence Nominated
1988 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series The Slap Maxwell Story Nominated
1988 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Baby M Nominated
1991 Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Nominated
2011 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Boardwalk Empire Won
2012 Won


  1. ^ "The New York Times".
  2. ^ Dabney Coleman Biography (1932-) at filmreference.com
  3. ^ Dabney Coleman Biography at Yahoo! Movies
  4. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1437. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
  5. ^ Saval, Malina (6 November 2014). "Dabney Coleman Receives a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Variety. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  6. ^ Dabney Coleman, The Movieland Directory, 2010, archived from the original on 2013-10-12
  7. ^ Glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com
  8. ^ Wallace, David (11 July 1983), "As TV's Macho Buffalo Bill, Dabney Coleman Finds That Sexism Breeds Success", People, 20 (2)
  9. ^ Scott, Vernon (17 January 1982), "Dabney Coleman Gradually Working His Way to Top", Florence Times - Tri-Cities Daily, UPI

External links[edit]