News Column

Pop culture Q&A: David Hyde Pierce onstage; background on Dick Powell

August 27, 2013

YellowBrix

Q: Recently viewing "Frasier" reruns, I wondered what happened to David Hyde Pierce, who played Frasier's brother. To me, he played more than a supporting role. In many episodes he was major.

A: Well, it was Kelsey Grammer who played Frasier Crane, but he certainly had a lot of comedic help from regulars John Mahoney, Jane Leeves, Peri Gilpin _ and David Hyde Pierce, as well as an array of guest stars. But Pierce has hardly disappeared since the series ended in 2004. While there have been a few screen appearances, including in the film "The Perfect Host," he has been especially active in theater.

In 2007, he won a Tony Award for best actor in a musical for his work in "Curtains." In 2010, he received the Tonys' Isabelle Stevenson Award, given to "an individual from the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations, regardless of whether such organizations relate to the theatre." Pierce has been active and outspoken about the battle against Alzheimer's disease, which his father had.

In 2012, Pierce directed the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest," which put Oscar Wilde's play through a "Guys and Dolls"-like filter. He has been appearing in Christopher Durang's play "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," and received a best actor in a play Tony nomination for it. (Pierce did not win, but the production picked up the Tony for best play.)

Q: I happened to see Dick Powell on a PBS special. He was quite a good singer back in the old days. Who was his first wife? He was later married to June Allyson.

A: For those tuning in late, let's first explain more about Powell (1904-63). He was, as "The Film Encyclopedia" puts it, a "cherubic crooner of Warner Bros. musicals of the '30s, often opposite Ruby Keeler, before a surprising transition to dramatic roles, becoming particularly adept at portraying tough heroes of private-eye thrillers." Among other things, he was one of the many actors to play Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe onscreen. Powell was also successful as a director, producer and the president of the Four Star Television production company.

Possibly his most notorious effort as a director is "The Conqueror," with John Wayne as _ seriously _ Genghis Khan; made less than 150 miles from an atomic-bomb testing site, in an area where one expert said radioactive fallout was "very abundant," the film had an alarmingly high number of cast and crew members later stricken with cancer, among them both Wayne and Powell.

Powell's TV work included hosting and sometimes starring in the Western anthology series "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater" and serving as host and sometime star of another anthology, "The Dick Powell Show." "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows" says Powell was the first to play millionaire lawman Amos Burke in a pilot that aired on "The Dick Powell Show"; Powell died of cancer before the pilot led to a series, "Burke's Law," where Gene Barry played Burke.

According to a 1963 obituary, Powell was married three times to the not-in-show-biz Mildred Maund in the '20s; then actress Joan Blondell and finally, actress June Allyson. Powell and Allyson married in 1945, split in 1961 but reconciled before their divorce became final, and remained married until Powell's death.

Q: I would like to know why episodes of "Taxi" aren't in rerun. Thank you in advance for snooping into this.

A: These days, old shows can be spread across broadcast, cable, online services, DVD, Blu-ray and digital downloads. CBS.com has a bunch of episodes of "Taxi," including its premiere, available for online viewing. (Look at the list of "TV classics" in the site's "Shows" section.) All five seasons are also on DVD. ME-TV (Memorable Entertainment TV), a nostalgia channel, is adding the series to its Tuesday-night lineup on Sept. 3.

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