November 21, 2018

Film Festival to Honor Hal Linden With Award

From Broadway to “Barney Miller” to his latest role in “The Samuel Project,” actor, singer and musician Hal Linden, who turned 87 in March, has been entertaining audiences for decades.

“I’ve been doing what I love for 70 years now. Why not keep doing it?” he said in a telephone interview.

Just back from New York, where he shot a guest spot on “Law & Order: SVU,” Linden was looking forward to the world premiere of “The Samuel Project” at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. He will receive the Marvin Paige Hollywood Legacy Award and participate in a post-screening Q-and-A on April 28.

The film is about a teenager whose senior year art project brings him closer to his grandfather, a German Jew, who reveals that he owes his life to a young woman who saved him from the Nazis.

“The story is about the relationship between a grandfather and grandson, brought together by art,” Linden said. “It’s not a Holocaust picture. That’s not the point. I never saw it as a specifically Jewish film. It was meant to appeal to all audiences.”

Linden has many Jewish characters on his extensive resumé, including Broadway roles in “I’m Not Rappaport,” “The Sisters Rozensweig” and “The Rothschilds,” for which he won a Tony Award in 1971.

He’s best known to nontheater audiences for his titular role in television’s “Barney Miller,” but he actually started out as a musician, playing clarinet and singing with big bands.

“It was not until I was in the Army that I had the opportunity to appear onstage and I was fascinated by it,” he said. “It also coincided with the end of the big-band era and the beginning of rock-and-roll, and that was a transition I was unwilling to make.”

“That point between words on a page and flesh on a stage is the most creative part for an actor.” — Hal Linden

Born Harold Lipschitz in the Bronx, N.Y., Linden’s Jewish upbringing was more cultural than religious. His mother kept kosher and lit Shabbat candles for tradition’s sake. He didn’t attend Hebrew school — he had a private tutor for his bar mitzvah — and didn’t quite get why his father, a Lithuanian immigrant who went to synagogue only on the High Holy Days, was such an ardent Zionist.

But hearing about the refugees who were denied entry to Palestine after World War II “got me to recognize the importance of Israel and made me a Zionist,” said Linden, who described himself as “tribally Jewish.”

“I’ve been the national spokesman for the Jewish National Fund for about 20 years,” he said. “I have done fundraisers throughout my career for Jewish causes.”

He’s been to Israel many times, and celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary there in 2008 with his four children and eight grandchildren. His wife, who died in 2010 and was not Jewish, had suggested he visit Israel.

“She wanted the kids to appreciate my passion” for Israel, he said. Today, “some of the kids are more Jewish than others, but they all understand my attachment to Israel, and the need for an Israel.”

His youngest grandson will celebrate his bar mitzvah in November.

Asked about his proudest accomplishments, Linden replied, with a laugh: “I’ve got four kids who still talk to me. I can’t say that for all my friends. Professionally, I was a musician and actor and I never waited tables or drove a cab. How lucky can a human being be?”

Not surprisingly, he wants to keep working as long as he can.

“Acting is a great profession,” Linden said. “You start from zero every time. That point between words on a page and flesh on a stage is the most creative part for an actor. I appreciate the process more than the results. That’s where the joy is.”

“The Samuel Project” screens on April 28 at the Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and April 30 at the Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Linden’s “Law & Order: SVU” episode airs May 16 on NBC.