The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young, said Henry Ford. Mounting a one-man show certainly requires a young mind — which is why, even though he’s had 88 birthdays, actor Paul Dooley remains on the sunny side of the youth divide.
Dooley, whose accomplishments range from playing some 30 movie dads (for onscreen offspring the likes of Julia Roberts, Toni Collette, Mia Farrow and Molly Ringwald) to creating the beloved Children’s Television Workshop series “The Electric Company,” will be seen in his play, “Upright and Personal,” in the L.A. Fringe Festival June 9-25.
Why a one-man show?
Dooley says people have been telling him to write his memoirs for years, “but I thought, ‘If I write a book and there’s funny things in it, I won’t be there to hear the laughs.’ I’d rather put it on stage where I can get laughs.”
It’s hard to imagine how Dooley managed to winnow down his 60-year career into a 90-minute show. The Robert Altman film staple got his break playing a poker buddy/understudy for Art Carney in “The Odd Couple” on Broadway, later taking over the Felix Unger role — which alone offers a night’s story fodder. He once made a commercial with one of his idols, Buster Keaton. He was in the Second City comedy troupe with Alan Arkin and Alan Alda. He has also taken some downright weird show business side trips.
For instance: “I made a comedy album with Muhammad Ali,” he recalls. “When Ali was an upcoming star and his name was Cassius Clay, someone made a comedy album with him. It had several actors on it with him.”
Ali displayed a natural comedic ability, Dooley notes. “You know how charismatic he was. He was a very funny guy, for a boxer. He used to do poetry and he used to say things like ‘He’s going to go down in the 8th round.’ He always used to entertain the press. William Morris saw how much interest he was getting and signed him to an all-purpose contract — so whether he made a TV show or a movie, they would represent him.”
The comedy record was called “I Am the Greatest.” Dooley says he used to have an LP copy, but it’s long gone. Recently, however, one of the album’s writers made CDs, he says.
“Upright and Personal” contains some 50 photo and video cues as Dooley wends his way through his experiences as a comic, a cartoonist, a Hollywood writer and actor. “Once I get my sea legs and find out what’s working and what’s not, I’ll tighten it up and make it even better,” he says. Thinking young.