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George Segal: The star who never stopped

George Segal at an event at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills in 2014.
Serge Rocco

Highly successful film actor, TV star, accomplished banjo player..... these are some of the titles defining George Segal whose career spans an impressive 50 years. Few performers can pride themselves of a resume so rich in big screen classics and covering such a wide array of genres. One of the most versatile Hollywood stars still working in the business, Segal has pursued a prolific and successful acting career in the 60's and 70's. He collaborated with acclaimed directors ranging from Mike Nichols, Paul Mazursky, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman and Mark Robson. He also costarred with screen legends Liz Taylor, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Barbra Streisand, Jacqueline Bisset and Goldie Hawn, to name a few. When his big screen fame started to elude him, the Oscar nominee turned his attention to television where he enjoyed a new-found fame as a sitcom star in Just Shoot Me! (NBC, 1997-2003).

Originally from New York, the Columbia University graduate got his early start as an understudy in a Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. After signing a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1961, he was quickly propelled to stardom appearing in a string of big budget projects for the studio that included King Rat, Ship of Fools (both 1965) and Lost Command (1966), before earning an Oscar nod in 1966 for his supporting role in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (this one at Warner Brothers).

Whereas portraying a war hero, paratrooper, secret service agent, bookworm, unfaithful husband, junkie or wisecracking burglar, Segal always shows the same amount of dedication and talent in a wide variety of genres. He was equally convincing in the war drama The Bridge at Remagen (United Artists, 1969), the romantic comedy Blume in Love (Warner Bros., 1973), the sci-fi thriller The Terminal Man (Warner Bros., 1974) and the Universal-produced disaster movie in Sensurround Rollercoaster (1977). In the latter, he costarred with Timothy Bottoms, Richard Widmark and a young future Oscar winner as his daughter, Ms. Helen Hunt.

George Segal has always been more prominently featured in comedies but proved himself equally at home in dramas. He was truly touching in Loving (Columbia, 1970), a compelling and insightful dramedy directed by Irvin Kershner. In this intelligent and well-observed film, Segal portrayed a cheating suburban husband opposite wonderful Eva Marie-Saint. The movie’s climax, in which the husband’s indiscretions are caught on closed-circuit television at a party also attended by his spouse, was unforgettable and noteworthy in the way it efficiently mixed comedy and sadness.

While The Owl and the Pussycat (Columbia, 1970), A Touch of Class (Avco Embassy, 1973), California Split (Columbia, 1974), Fun with Dick and Jane (Columbia, 1977), Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (Lorimar, 1978) and The Last Married Couple in America (Universal, 1980) are all different in scope and styles, they undeniably bear George Segal’s unique signature. The actor has that rare talent to make every role he approaches his own with the same unmatched enthusiasm which he efficiently parlayed to the stage with a successful run in Yasmina Reza's Art on the West End in 2001.

Cinema, theater, television, Segal did it all, including co-hosting the 1976 Academy Awards with Goldie Hawn, Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and Gene Kelly. He also played the banjo at different venues in town with the "Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band". Never a man to set his own boundaries, the actor is now back with another TV hit to his credits, The Goldbergs (ABC, 2013- ), proving that at 80 years old, he hasn't lost any of his enthusiasm and star qualities.