By Mike Barnes
Jason Wingreen, who played Harry the bartender on All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place and provided the voice of the bounty hunter Boba Fett in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, has died. He was 95.
The recognizable character actor, who has almost 200 credits listed on IMDb, died at his home in Los Angeles on Christmas Day, his son, Ned, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Name a TV show, and Wingreen was probably on it.
The Brooklyn native appeared in three episodes of The Twilight Zone, most notably portraying the real train conductor in the 1960 episode in “A Stop at Willoughby.” He played a Chicago police captain on The Untouchables, a major on 12 O’Clock High and Judge Arthur Beaumont on Matlock; did six episodes apiece of The Fugitive, The FBI and Ironside, appearing as 18 different characters; and died a memorable death as Dr. Linke on the 1968 Star Trek episode “The Empath.”
And in Airplane (1980), he played a doctor from the Mayo Clinic who is seen talking on the phone as a beating heart bounces all over his desk.
Wingreen portrayed Harry Snowden, the Kelsey’s barkeep with the sympathetic ear, for 117 episodes and seven seasons of the CBS sitcoms All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place, both starring Carroll O’Connor. The role, which kept him employed from 1976 until 1983, “allowed me to retire, let me put it that way,” he said in a 2010 interview on The Classic TV History Blog.
“I loved it. It was wonderful. We worked from Tuesday on to the rest of the week. Monday, you had [off], to go to the bank and the laundry. We’d arrive on Tuesday morning, we’d sit around, read the script. We’d start laughing in the morning and laugh until 5 o’clock, when we’d quit. I mean, how could you not like it?”
On The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Wingreen auditioned for the part of Yoda. He didn’t get that role (Frank Oz did), but he was given four lines of dialogue spoken by the masked Boba Fett, the feared bounty hunter who captures Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
“I think the actual work, aside from the hellos and goodbyes and all that, could have been no more than 10 minutes,” he said. He received no credit for his work (it didn’t become publicly known that the voice was his until about 2000) and lamented that he received no residuals for the performance — especially since it’s Wingreen heard on some Boba Fett action figures.
The son of a tailor, Wingreen was born Oct. 9, 1920, in Brooklyn and raised in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens. He wanted to be a sportswriter and attended Brooklyn College, where he took his first acting class. His first show business job was with a marionette company.
After serving in World War II, Wingreen was one of the founders of the famed Circle in the Square theater company in New York’s Greenwich Village, and he appeared for the first time on Broadway in two 1954 plays: The Girl on the Via Flaminia and Fragile Fox.
In 1956, Wingreen starred on the first installment of the CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, an episode that was written by future Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.
He made his movie debut in The Bravados (1958), starring Gregory Peck, and also appeared on the big screen in A Guide for the Married Man (1967), Marlowe (1969), They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), The Terminal Man (1974), and Oh, God! You Devil (1984).
He retired after appearances on Seinfeld and In the Heat of the Night in the 1990s.
In addition to his son, survivors include two grandchildren and his sister, Harriet Wingreen, for decades an orchestra pianist for the New York Philharmonic.