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Dabney Coleman began his acting career as a relatively anonymous character actor, appearing in a variety of comedies and dramas on TV and in small roles in big movies like “The Towering Inferno” in 1974. In 1976, he landed a role on Norman Lear’s satirical soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” as Merle Jeeter, the underhanded stage father of a child evangelist. Coleman described the show’s humor as strange and off-the-wall and credited playing it straight as the key to his success in the role. He also noted that growing his signature jet-black mustache was a turning point in his career, as it became an indispensable accessory to his unsavory characters.

While “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was critically acclaimed but not a huge hit, it was a stepping stone in Coleman’s career. His breakthrough came in the 1980 ensemble comedy “9 to 5,” where he played the sexist, egotistical boss of office workers portrayed by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Coleman’s performance as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” was praised by critics, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times singling out his portrayal as the funniest in the film. This role solidified Coleman’s reputation as a versatile actor capable of playing complex and humorous characters.

Throughout his career, Coleman embraced his typecasting as an unrepentant lout and made the most of it. While “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and its follow-up “Forever Fernwood” did not achieve mainstream success, they established his ability to portray unsavory characters with depth and humor. Coleman’s ability to blend comedy and drama in his performances endeared him to audiences and critics alike, setting the stage for his later success in films and television.

In addition to his work in film and television, Coleman also appeared in numerous stage productions, showcasing his versatile acting skills across different mediums. His dedication to his craft and willingness to take on challenging roles endeared him to audiences and critics, establishing him as a respected character actor in Hollywood. Despite his success, Coleman remained humble and focused on his work, choosing roles that allowed him to showcase his talents and challenge himself as an actor.

As his career progressed, Coleman continued to take on a wide range of roles in film and television, earning praise for his performances in comedies, dramas, and everything in between. While he may have been typecast early in his career, Coleman’s ability to infuse his characters with depth and complexity allowed him to break free from stereotypes and establish himself as a versatile actor capable of taking on any role. His dedication to his craft and his passion for acting endeared him to audiences and critics alike, solidifying his status as a respected and sought-after character actor in Hollywood.

In conclusion, Dabney Coleman’s career is a testament to his talent, dedication, and versatility as an actor. From his early days as a character actor in small roles to his breakthrough in “9 to 5” and beyond, Coleman has consistently delivered memorable performances that have captivated audiences and critics alike. His willingness to take on challenging roles, his ability to blend comedy and drama seamlessly, and his dedication to his craft have solidified his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most respected and talented character actors.

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