DAVID B BIRNEY
David Edwin Birney
April 23, 1939
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||April 27, 2022 (aged 83)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Education||Dartmouth College B.A., English)
University of California, Los Angeles (M.A., Theatre Arts)
(m. 1974; div. 1989)
David Edwin Birney (April 23, 1939 – April 27, 2022) was an American actor and director whose career included performances in both contemporary and classical roles in theatre, film, and television. He is noted for having played the title role in the television series Serpico. He also starred in Bridget Loves Bernie, an early 1970s TV series about an interfaith marriage that also starred Meredith Baxter (whom he married after the series ended). He also portrayed Dr. Ben Samuels in St. Elsewhere from 1982 until 1983.
Birney was born in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 1939. His father, Edwin, worked as a special agent for the FBI; his mother, Jeanne (McGee), was a housewife before becoming a real estate agent. Birney attended schools in Brooklyn, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in Cleveland. Named to the National Honor Society, he lettered in basketball, football, and track. He held a B.A. degree from Dartmouth College with “High Distinction” in English literature, English Honors. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Birney earned an M.A. in theatre arts, acting and directing, studying with Ralph Freud and William Melnitz. He held a teaching assistant fellowship and was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Humanities from Southern Utah University.
While in the U.S. Army, Birney won an All Army Entertainment contest and received the “Barter Theatre Award” in 1965. Since the award was an equity contract with the Company for an entire season, he consequently spent the next season with the Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, starring or appearing in fifteen shows, directing two others. In the following two years he went on to perform with a range of companies and productions, off-Broadway and in several regional repertory theatres. His New York debut was with Joe Papp‘s New York Shakespeare Festival as Antipholus of Syracuse in William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
Birney worked continually in the theatre performing leading roles with some of the most important theatres in the country. His stage credits included starring roles on Broadway in Amadeus, Benefactors, and Man and Superman. He also had major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, New York’s Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre, Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, and numerous regional theatres around the country.
Representative roles included: Prince Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Orsino in Twelfth Night, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jack Tanner in Man and Superman, Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World, Young Man in Summertree, Cusins in Major Barbara, Jerry in The Zoo Story, Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, Arthur in Camelot, Higgins in My Fair Lady, Matt Friedman in Talley’s Folly, David in Social Security, Andrew in Love Letters, Jamie in A Moon for the Misbegotten, Victor in The Price, Jaques in As You Like It, the Dauphin in King John, and Shaw in Dear Liar.
Birney recorded numerous audiobook bestsellers, including works by Dean Koontz, Paul Theroux, Annie Dillard, and Orson Scott Card. He was conferred the Audie Award for his reading of Julie Salomon’s The Christmas Tree, and was also bestowed several AudioFile Magazine Earphone Awards. He played Anakin Skywalker in the radio adaptation of Return of the Jedi.
Aside from his title role in Bridget Loves Bernie, Birney appeared frequently on television, building a career in TV movies, regular series and miniseries. He starred in such series as Live Shot, Cannon, St. Elsewhere, The Adams Chronicles, Glitter, Serpico, Fantasy Island, Hawaii Five-O, McMillan & Wife, The F.B.I., Murder, She Wrote, and he starred in the episode “The Nomads” from the 1977 series Quinn Martin’s Tales of the Unexpected, known in the United Kingdom as Twist in the Tale. His miniseries credits include Testimony of Two Men, Valley of the Dolls, Night of the Fox, and Master of the Game.
Birney also appeared in leading roles in many television films, including Long Journey Home and The Deadly Game. He also appeared in the soap operas The Best of Everything and Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.
Writing and directing
Birney edited and adapted for the stage a two-character play based on some of Mark Twain’s shorter works and letters. The piece, Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve, was presented on the PBS series American Playhouse.
Developing the play subsequently for the stage, Birney directed and starred in productions for regional theatres such as the Hartford Stage (opening the Mark Twain Festival in Hartford), the Capital Repertory Theatre, and on tour in performing arts centers across the country. A second play, A Christmas Pudding, a Christmas collage of song, story and poetry of the season was published by Samuel French, Inc.
Birney served on the Large Theatre Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and was a board member of the Foundation for Biomedical Research. He also served on the Theatre and Dance Panel of the Jacob Javits Fellowship Foundation. For Dartmouth College he served as a member of the Board of Overseers for the Hopkins Center for the Arts. He initiated and chaired the Class of ’61 Legacy: The American Tradition in Performance, helping to create a substantial endowment dedicated to live performance at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.
For five years, Birney co-chaired the American Diabetes Association, speaking and fund raising for the Association. He was an advisor for the Children’s Rights Council, a national nonprofit advocating access to both parents after divorce or separation. His contribution to classical theatre was recognized with Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre’s Millennium Award.
Birney married actress Meredith Baxter in 1974. They had starred together in the 1972–73 TV series Bridget Loves Bernie. During their marriage, she was known as Meredith Baxter Birney. Together, they had three children: Kate, Mollie, and Peter. They divorced in 1989. In 2011, she said Birney emotionally and physically abused her during their marriage. He published a lengthy statement on his website disputing the allegations made by his ex-wife.
In the December 2017 edition of the Wide Wide World newsletter for Dartmouth College class of 1961 alumni, it was disclosed that Birney had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Birney died on April 27, 2022, at his home in Santa Monica, California, four days after his 83rd birthday. At the time of his death, he was in a domestic partnership with Michele Roberge.
- Caravan to Vaccarès (1974)
- Trial by Combat (1976)
- Bye, See You Monday (1979)
- Oh, God! Book II (1980)
- Prettykill (1987)
- Nightfall (1988)
Films for television
- Ghost Story (1972 pilot)
- Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
- OHMS (1980)
- ABC Afterschool Special – “I Think I’m Having a Baby” (1981)
- The Long Journey Home (1987)
- Night of the Fox (1990)
- Always Remember I Love You (1990)
- Keeping Secrets (1991)
- The Naked Truth (1992)
- The Adams Chronicles (1976)
- Testimony of Two Men (1977)
- Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (1981)
- Master of the Game (1984)
- Sandomir, Richard (May 2, 2022). “David Birney, Who Starred in TV’s ‘Bridget Loves Bernie,’ Dies at 83”. The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “Honorary Degree Recipients: 1987”. Southern Utah University. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- “Actor David Birney in a scene fr. the replacement cast of the Broadway play “Benefactors.” (New York)”. New York Public Library. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “Theater Listings: Now Playing”. Billboard. Vol. 19, no. 25. New York Media, LLC. June 23, 1986. p. 83. ISSN 0028-7369.
- Hischak, Thomas S. (2001). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000. Oxford University Press. p. 284. ISBN 978-0-1951-2347-0 – via Google books.
- Gussow, Mel (February 21, 1974). “Stratford Gets Change of Name”. The New York Times. p. 26. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “(L-R) Actors David Birney and Philip Bosco in a scene from the Lincoln Center Repertory production of “Antigone””. New York Public Library. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- O’Donnell, Monica M. (1984). Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Gale. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-8103-2064-2.
- Piantadosi, Roger (June 4, 1993). “Much O’ Dues”. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Rosenberg, Mary (2006). The Masks of Anthony and Cleopatra. University of Delaware Press. p. 564. ISBN 978-0-87413-924-2.
- Herman, Jan (August 4, 1992). “Theater: Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair for Birney – Actor Haunted by Demanding, Conflicted Role of ‘Macbeth,’ Now at Grove Shakespeare”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Rodriguez, Bill (July 2003). “Money man”. Providence Phoenix. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “History of the Stratford Theater”. Hartford Courant. August 2, 1992. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Rogers, Rick (May 9, 1999). “Stories Part of Survival, Actor Says”. The Oklahoman. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Zolotow, Sam (May 28, 1968). “Clarence Derwent Awards Won By 2 Young Supporting Actors”. The New York Times. p. 38. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- John Willis’ Theatre World. Vol. 28. Crown Publishers. 1973. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-517-50096-5.
- “David Birney”. Concord Theatricals. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- Shirley, Don (May 2, 1997). “Solid Cast Beats ‘Camelot’ Staging Problems”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Ryfle, Steve (April 19, 1995). “Glendale – Alex Patrons May Exchange Tickets”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Daley, Suzanne (June 14, 1981). “New Shows, Big Stars, Eager Novices Light Up Straw Hat Circuit”. The New York Times. p. 2(1). Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Somerset-Ward, Richard (January 1, 2005). An American Theatre: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse, 1931–2005. Yale University Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-300-10648-0.
- Goddard, Liza (May 12, 2011). The Autobiography of Liza Goddard: Working with Children and Animals. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 978-1-908382-03-0.
- Borak, Jeffrey (October 10, 2007). “Two from the Founder”. The Berkshire Eagle. p. 23. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz – Read by David Birney”. AudioFile. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Hirschman, Bill (January 4, 1998). “A Mystery, A Memoir, An Author’s Swan Song”. Sun-Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “For the Time Being by Annie Dillard – Read by David Birney”. AudioFile. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Saricks, Joyce G. (March 21, 2011). Read On…Audiobooks: Reading Lists for Every Taste. ABC-CLIO. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-59158-807-8.
- “David Birney – About”. Bookshop. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Gross, Edward; Altman, Mark A. (July 13, 2021). Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-250-23688-3.
- Sterling, Christopher H., ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of Radio 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 2209. ISBN 978-1-135-45649-8.
- “David Birney”. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Rothenberg, Fred (May 2, 1984). “‘Happy Days’ Makes Way for New Shows”. Ocala Star-Banner. p. 16. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
- Holsapple, Barbara (January 15, 1986). “McMurray Child on ‘Missing'”. The Pittsburgh Press. p. 22. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
- “David Birney List of Movies and TV Shows”. TV Guide. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “New Years”. The Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. December 31, 1988. p. 24. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
- “Tales of the Unexpected”. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “David Birney – Filmography”. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- Newcomb, Horace (2014). Encyclopedia of Television. Routledge. p. 2121. ISBN 978-1-1351-9472-7 – via Google Books.
- Rasmussen, R. Kent (2014). Critical Companion to Mark Twain: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Infobase Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-4381-0852-0.
- “The Arts at Dartmouth Awards Ceremony” (PDF). Dartmouth College Department of Theater. May 26, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- James, Susan Donaldson (December 2, 2009). “Meredith Baxter Alleges Ex-Husband David Birney Abused Her”. ABC News. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- “‘Untied’ A Statement” (PDF). DavidBirney. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 19, 2011.
- Fleeman, Mike (March 4, 2011). “David Birney Denies Abuse Claims by Meredith Baxter”. People. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- Bloom, Arthur (December 2017). “Green Cards” (PDF). Wide Wide World: 5. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
- Mike Barnes (May 3, 2022). “David Birney, Actor on ‘Bridget Loves Bernie’ and ‘St. Elsewhere’, Dies at 83”. The Hollywood Reporter.
- “David Birney”. American Film Institute. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
- “David Birney”. British Film Institute. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
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