Obituary: Michael Lipton (1925-2012)

July 20, 2012

Michael Lipton, a prominent Broadway and daytime television actor who dabbled in film and prime-time over the course of a five-decade career, died on February 10 at the Actors’ Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey.  He was 86.  Although his death was reported locally, it seems to have been overlooked by the film and soap opera communities.  I learned of Lipton’s passing only by chance, while researching the obituary I wrote for the writer Edward Adler last month.  Adler’s late wife Elaine was Lipton’s sister.

Lipton’s most substantial television work came in soap operas, where he had a long run playing Neil Wade on As the World Turns; according to this blog, from which I have shamelessly cadged the photo below, Lipton (right, with Peter Brandon and Deborah Steinberg Solomon) was on the show from 1962 to 1967.  Lipton went on to star in Somerset for its entire run (1970-1976), and did a stint on One Life to Live in the eighties.


Lipton made his Broadway debut in 1949 as, essentially, a spear carrier in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra and went on to larger roles in Inquest (1970) and Loose Ends (1979-1980).  But the bulk of his theater work was done Off-Broadway and on the road, in stock and in touring companies of shows like The Moon Is Blue (1954) and Neil Simon’s The Gingerbread Lady (1973).  It was in the 1969 Los Angeles production of The Boys in the Band that Ralph Senensky spotted Lipton and decided to cast him as a warlock in a Then Came Bronson episode (“Sibyl,” pictured at the top) he was about to direct.

He played Harold, the role Leonard Frey had played in the [Off-Broadway] production and in the movie, and Michael was brilliant,” Senensky wrote via e-mail last month.  “The Bronson shoot was not a happy shoot.  But I remember Michael as being very open, talented, and versatile to work with before the camera.”

Actually shot in Phoenix, “Sibyl” was one of Lipton’s last forays to the Coast.  His few films are all noteworthy – Leo Penn’s A Man Called Adam; Hercules in New York, the infamous “two Arnolds” (Stang and Schwarzenegger) indie; Network (as one of the executives); and Windows, the only feature directed by famed cinematographer Gordon Willis – and all made in or around New York City.

Lipton’s first brush with Los Angeles, a feint at becoming, perhaps, a television star, had not gone well.  In 1959 he accepted a male lead in Buckskin, a western whose real focus was on a fatherless child (Tommy Nolan).  Child labor laws required Lipton, cast as a teacher, to play many of his scenes opposite Nolan without the boy present; he would ask the director for guidance, and be told to play the scene off a nearby flower pot.  “To make sense while conversing with a flower pot that doesn’t answer,” Lipton told reporter Lawrence Laurent, “takes a lot of acting.”  Lipton hung around long enough to play one more really good guest role, as a dandyish writer who confounds Steve McQueen’s Josh Randall in Wanted Dead or Alive, and then moved back to New York.


5 Responses to “Obituary: Michael Lipton (1925-2012)”

  1. Tom Says:

    It bothers me when hard working actors who have long careers are totally ignored when they pass away. Even Jill Haworth, the original Sally Bowles on Braodway in Cabaret and co-star of such big movies as Exodus, The Cardinal, and In Harm’s Way, did not rate an obit in the major newspapers. Entertainment Weekly too had no mention and they sometimes report on the really obscure who have died.

  2. I hope my quote “The Bronson shoot was not a happy shoot.” does not infer that Michael was the cause. He was a delight to work with and he was part of the group that dined together every evening. I am currently preparing a posting about that show for my website, RALPH’S CINEMA TREK at I am awaiting the arrival of what I hope will be a better copy of the film than the one I currently have. And as for Tom’s commenting “It bothers me when hard working actors who have long careers are totally ignored when they pass away.” — it bothers me even more when actors as talented as Michael are shunted off the sidelines rather than being stage front and center where they belong.

  3. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Thanks for that clarification, Ralph. I left out what I know to be the cause of your unhappiness on that shoot because I was under the impression you wanted it off the record (that was definitely the case the first time we spoke of it, in Carmel). However, I hope you’ll cover that issue when you get around to writing up BRONSON on your site.

  4. gregory hines Says:

    i just read of the passing of Michael Lipton, he was one of the very first actors to make an impression on me. he had a quiet presence on AS THE WORLD TURNS playing opposite fellow theater actor Rosemary Prinz. their story captivated me as a teenager

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