Tuesday, December 27, 2016

One Of Broadway's Bright Lights Has Gone Out

The distinctive comic character actor George S. Irving was a Broadway staple for decades, appearing in some of the most successful productions on the Great White Way. He was also well-known for his many TV apperances.

Irving was born George Irving Shelasky in Springfield, Massachusetts on November 1, 1922, the son of Abraham and Rebecca Shelasky (née Sack).

When Irving was 13 or 14, he sang in synagogues and churches as a boy soprano. By his final high school year in 1940, he heard about a dramatic school in Boston for those who were not quite draft age and who were tall and had deep voices, so he immediately received a scholarship. In 1942, he worked in the chorus of the St. Louis Muny Opera.

Irving made his debut in the original 1943 production of Oklahoma!, only to be drafted days later to serve in the United States Army in World War II. He received this role when one of the original actors lost his voice and Irving went on as his replacement. He explains the following: "I wrote to The Theatre Guild when they were casting Oklahoma! and asked them to remind Oscar Hammerstein that he knew me a little, and I got an audition and was cast in the chorus. Irving is best known to Broadway audiences for his role opposite Debbie Reynolds in Irene (1974) and his Tony nominated performance as Sir John in Me and My Girl (1987).

In 2008, Irving recreated the three roles he originally played in the ill-fated 1976 Joseph Stein musical So Long, 174th Street, now reworked, revised, and with its original title Enter Laughing at Off-Broadway's York Theatre Company, and received rave reviews for his rendition of "The Butler's Song". Irving performed his one-man cabaret show to great acclaim at Feinstein's in New York City in November 2008. On December 8, 2008, aged 86, Irving received the 17th Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre.

One of his most prominent non-Broadway roles was a voice-over for The Year Without a Santa Claus, in which he played the embittered Heat Miser opposite Dick Shawn's Snow Miser. He did another voice-over for Rankin-Bass as Mister Geppetto in Pinocchio's Christmas and was the narrator of the animated cartoon series Underdog, as well as the voice of Running Board on Go Go Gophers. He also voiced Captain Contagious in Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure. Irving has also narrated the popular Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Audio Books.

Irving returned to television in 2008 after an absence of more than a decade to reprise his role as Heat Miser in a new sequel to The Year Without a Santa Claus, A Miser Brothers' Christmas, which premiered on December 13, 2008, on cable's ABC Family. The show served as the network's first-ever original animated special. The production was nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Television Production Produced for Children by the Los Angeles Chapter of the International Animated Film Society.

Irving was familiar to television audiences of the 1970s as a result of his memorable guest-starring appearances on All in the Family as Russ DeKuyper, the loudmouthed husband of Edith Bunker's cousin Amelia. He was also a regular in the cast of the short-lived 1976 sitcom The Dumplings. Irving also did some work in commercials for While Owl Cigars in the early 1970s.

Irving was married to Maria Karnilova from 1948 until her death in 2001. They had a son, Alexander of Oceanside, California, a daughter, Katherine Irving of South Salem, New York, and three grandchildren.

Irving died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 94

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