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Edward Herrmann Remembered

by Joseph Montebello

We were saddened last week to hear of Ed Herrmann's death and decided to republish our last year's interview. Mr Herrmann was the consummate actor and gentleman and will be remembered by  those who worked with him and those who enjoyed his incredible performances. We offer condolences to his wife, Star, his family and many friends. It was an honor to know him.

His career has spanned three generations. From his first Tony-Award winning role on Broadway to his work on The Practice and Oz to his role on the hit show Gilmore Girls, Edward Herrmann has delivered performances we love to watch. But it is his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the television movie Eleanor and Franklin for which he is best remembered.

“I hadn’t really planned to be an actor,” Herrmann said. “But I did a little theater when I was at Bucknell and I was hooked. But I still needed training.”

So Herrmann found himself at the Theater Center at Harvard. “It seemed more creative to me than Yale, although that was where every aspiring actor wanted to go.”

Arriving in New York in 1970, Hermann was cast in Mrs. Warren’s Profession and won a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. He went on to appear in four hit movies in a row: The Paper Chase, The Great Waldo Pepper, The Great Gatsby, and Day of the Dolphin. “My parts were small, but these were major movies, so I managed to get noticed.”

Noticed enough for Mike Nichols to encourage him to talk to David Susskind about playing Franklin Roosevelt in a television movie he was planning. Jane Alexander would his Eleanor; they had acted together at Stratford, so the pairing was ideal.

Herrmann has been successful on stage and in film and television. “I love the stage because you get more time to rehearse and immerse yourself in a role. So many film and television actors are not used to rehearsing and don’t understand the value of it. In television you have very little time to build or examine a character. When I was preparing for Roosevelt, we had six weeks to prepare before the shooting started, which is very rare. I went up and stayed in a motel across from Hyde Park and spent time in the archives. I saw every piece of film they had on Franklin and even listened to secret tapes from the Oval Office. Most actors don’t get that opportunity.”

But from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Gilmore? “I suspect there are more people who know me from Gilmore Girls than from Eleanor and Franklin. I loved that show. There were three generations and the older folks were not portrayed as complete idiots who were clueless as to what was going on with the teenagers. We all interacted on a quick, intelligent, funny level. That’s not only a testament to the writer but also to the director.”

When not performing, Herrmann relishes his time at home in Salisbury.

“I like the people and the small townness of it. The intellectual ferment here is good; people read books and go to art galleries. There’s a larger portion of weekenders now, but there’s a core of village people and a real sense of community up and down the social scale. We all know we have something special here.”

He loves to fish, explore trails and work on his car collection. “I grew up in Detroit and my father was an engineer. I’m drawn to the craftsmanship and the engineering. My wife and I have restored several cars and we’ve shown them at various car shows.” But he enjoys the peace and solitude of reading – mainly history and 17th century poetry.

Herrmann loves what he does and has managed to find that delicate balance between work and recreation. And that’s what Berkshire Style is all about.