Philip Bosco

Philip Bosco

An avuncular, often underused character player in films, Philip Bosco made his feature debut in "Requiem For a Heavyweight" (1962) but acted in only one other picture prior to 1983 when his thinning white hair, ready smile and faultless delivery began bringing him many middle-aged roles, often as sympathetic figures of authority. On the New York stage, however, Bosco was a legend who headlined numerous Broadway productions and along the way earned three Tony nominations before taking the award home for "Lend Me a Tenor" (1989), his fourth invitation to the dance. A frequent presence in the plays of Shakespeare, especially early in his career, he also emerged as one of the finest contemporary interpreters of the work of George Bernard Shaw, appearing on the New York boards in eight Shaw plays. Though he always put the theater first, he increasingly worked in TV, films and commercials in the latter half of his career. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey to a carnival operator, Bosco washed out of Catholic University in Washington, DC, because he was spending too much time in dramatics to the exclusion of other studies. He went into the army, trained as a cryptographer, and upon his release returned to Catholic University and earned his degree. As he was 27 years of age, this set the pace for the late blooming which has marked much of his brilliant career. A resident actor of DC's Arena Stage from 1957-60, he made his Broadway debut in 1958 playing Brian O'Bannion in a revival of "Auntie Mame" at the City Center Theatre, then toured with the show before earning his first Tony nomination (as Featured Actor in a Play) for "The Rape of the Belt" (1961). He also enjoyed a long association with the American Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut, playing Henry Bolingbroke in "Richard II" and the title role in "Henry IV, Part I" (1962); Rufio in "Antony and Cleopatra" and Pistol in "Henry V" (1963); Claudius in "Hamlet" (1964); and the title role of "The Tragedy of Coriolanus" (1965), among his roles. Bosco embarked on another long association with a resident acting company portraying Lovewit in "The Alchemist" (1966) at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre of New York's Lincoln Center. During his tenure there, he played Dunois in "Saint Joan" (1968) and Crofts in "Mrs. Warren's Profession" (1976) from the Shaw repertoire and essayed Creon ("Antigone" 1971) as well as Reverend John Hale ("The Crucible" 1972). He again portrayed Pistol in "Henry V" in 1977, this time for the New York Shakespeare Festival, and was Mack the Knife in the Festival's acclaimed 1977 revival of "The Threepenny Opera." Bosco then played Mendoza in Shaw's "Man and Superman" (1978-79) at the Circle-in-the Square Theatre, where he would return as Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" (1983) and Boss Mangan in Shaw's "Heartbreak House" (1983-84), earning his second Tony nomination (as Featured Actor in a Play) for the latter all-star production which boasted Rex Harrison, Rosemary Harris, Amy Irving and Dana Ivey. After collecting a third Tony nomination for Shaw's "You Never Can Tell" (1987), he won both a Drama Desk and Tony Award for his leading role in Ken Ludwig's farce "Lend Me a Tenor" (1989-90) and later co-starred with Carol Burnett in Ludwig's backstage comedy "Moon Over Buffalo" (1995-96), which garnered him a fifth Tony nomination. During the '70s, Bosco suffered anxiety attacks which made it difficult for him to leave his Teaneck, New Jersey home and severely limited his professional choices. Unknown to feature film audiences until a small role in 1983's "Trading Places," he grabbed Hollywood's attention as millionaire industrialist Oren Trask in Mike Nichols' Oscar-nominated comedy "Working Girl" (1988). His firm yet warm delivery demonstrated his great range, and he got a ton of mileage for admonishing Harrison Ford about thinking with his "Johnson." From that breakthrough role on, he appeared in such films as "The Dream Team" (1989), "Blue Steel" (1990) and three Woody Allen pictures ("Another Woman" 1988, "Shadows and Fog" 1992, "Deconstructing Harry" 1997). A busy 1994 saw him play Geena Davis' father, keeping the secret of her natural mother's actual fate in "Angie," the judge ruling on Paul Newman's misdeeds in "Nobody's Fool" and Susan Sarandon's father in "Safe Passage," not to mention "Milk Money," which reteamed him with "Working Girl" Melanie Griffith. He subsequently made a valiant effort in tween comedy "It Takes Two" (1995), starring the Olsen twins, and courted laughs in his cameo gag as Uncle Carmine Morelli in "The First Wives Club" (1996). While it took middle age to jump-start his feature career, Bosco had been working in New York-based TV since the early '60s, appearing in live anthology shows like "DuPont Show of the Month" (CBS) and acting in "The Nurses" and "The Defenders" (both CBS series). With the rise of his big screen career in the 80s, Bosco's profile on TV increased as well. He co-starred in the 1986 NBC miniseries "Rage of Angels II: The Story Continues." He was a mobster turned good Samaritan in "Some Men Need Help," an "American Playhouse" presentation for PBS in 1985, and won a Daytime Emmy for his work as the grandfather in "Read Between the Lines," a 1987 "ABC Afterschool Special." The short-lived "Tribeca" (Fox, 1993) represented his first stab at regular series work, and although the show was an anthology, Bosco supplied the continuity, playing the proprietor of an upscale coffee shop where characters regularly had breakfast and dashed in for take-out. He has lent his smooth, resonant voice to many TV specials and miniseries, perhaps most notably standing in for Horace Greeley in Ken Burns' "The Civil War" (PBS, 1990) and for several characters in Burns' "Baseball" (PBS, 1994). He also played recurring characters in two CBS daytime serials, "Guiding Light" (1979) and "As the World Turns" (1994). Bosco popped up in another blockbuster, "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), playing Cameron Diaz's father, but he was never away from his first love for long. He was perfect as Malvolio, the pompous steward duped into believing his mistress Olivia desires him in Lincoln Center's Broadway revival of "Twelfth Night" (1998), suffering profound humiliation and communicating his misery in a way that elicited audience sympathy. The following year, he appeared as the grandfather in "Ancestral Voices," a minor addition to A.R. Gurney's "growing up WASP in Buffalo" canon. Back on Broadway in Michael Frayn's cerebral "Copenhagen" (2000), he delivered an acclaimed (yet overlooked at Tony nominating time) performance as the joyfully inquisitive physicist Neils Bohr, still haunted by his role in the creation of the A-bomb. He also turned up that year as Michael Douglas' father-in-law in "Wonder Boys" and as Mary-Louise Parker's cold and critical father in "Cupid & Cate" (CBS), not to mention acting in John Singleton's remake of "Shaft." Following appearances in Meg Ryan romantic fantasy "Kate and Leopold" and osychological thriller "Abandon" (2002), he joined seeminglye very other New York theater actor in a number of appearances on the long-running "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC 1999-). He next appeared in the WIll Smith comedy "Hitch" (2005), crime drama "Freedomland" (2006) and his final film, Tamara Jenkins' indie comedy-drama "The Savages" (2007) before winding up his career with a supporting arc on Glenn Close legal drama "Damages" (FX / Audience Network, 2007-2012) and quietly retiring due to health concerns. Philip Bosco died on December 3, 2018 at his New Jersey home of complications from dementia. He was 88.


Guest Appearances