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James Lipton, TV host of 'Inside the Actors Studio,' dies at 93

A June 14, 2007 file photo shows James Lipton with the Lifetime Achievement Awards from The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' 34th Annual Daytime Creative Arts & Entertainment Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AP

By DAVID HENRY | Bloomberg | Published: March 2, 2020

James Lipton, who interviewed hundreds of Hollywood celebrities as host of the U.S. cable-television show "Inside the Actors Studio" for two decades, has died. He was 93.

He died Monday at his Manhattan home, according to the New York Times, citing his wife, Kedakai. The cause was bladder cancer.

The founding dean of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York, Lipton projected the image of an esteemed professor with a thoughtful, sophisticated manner. With students of his master's degree program as the audience, he sat down with more than 250 actors, directors and writers, including Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg.

The program debuted on the Bravo cable channel in 1994, when Lipton created it. The conversations, which focused on artistic choices instead of gossip. doubled as school seminars, with his students questioning the guest at the end of the show. He announced in late 2018 that he was leaving the show, which was scheduled to move to the Ovation TV channel.

"Jim Lipton knows everything there is to know about acting and actors," Peter Price, then-president of the National Television Academy, said in announcing Lipton's Lifetime Achievement Emmy award in 2007. "He loves the craft of acting and has instilled that passion in his screenwriting, acting and producing as well as in his teachings to drama students and his documentation of the life stories of the most successful actors."

Lipton organized the educational venture between the Actors Studio and New York's New School in the 1990s before shifting the drama program to Pace in 2006. The Actors Studio, created in 1947 as a venue for performers to hone skills between jobs, has been a professional training ground for many Hollywood stars.

Famous for ending his interviews by posing an unchanging list of 10 questions, Lipton asked his subjects to name their most and least favorite word, the sound they love and hate most, and what they would like to hear God say at heaven's door.

He elicited confessions from some, with actor Jack Lemmon declaring himself an alcoholic during his interview. Others, such as Tom Hanks, Danny Glover and Gene Hackman, sobbed when asked about sensitive moments in their lives.

Lipton stunned fans in 2013 while promoting his book "Inside Inside" (2007) when he revealed that he had spent a year procuring customers for prostitutes in Paris's bordellos immediately after World War II. Describing it as a rite of passage, Lipton said he had run out of money and accepted a friend's offer to work as her "mec," the French term commonly used. He rejected the word "pimp" to describe the job he performed for an entire brothel, saying the relationship with the women was in no way abusive.

"I did a roaring business," he said in a May 2013 interview with Parade magazine. "The French 'mecs' didn't exploit women. They represented them, like agents."

Born on Sept. 19, 1926, in Detroit, Lipton was the son of Betty Weinberg and Lawrence Lipton. His Polish-born father was a beatnik writer, graphic artist and journalist who left the family when Lipton was 6.

Lipton began to work at age 13 and was a copy boy at the Detroit Times. He spent a year at Wayne State University and served in the Air Force.

He then enrolled in law studies in New York "because that was as far away from my father's lunacy that I could imagine," and took drama classes with Stella Adler, who coached Marlon Brando, in the hope that acting work would finance his legal education. Lipton also trained in modern dance and ballet.

Television writing jobs came his way in the mid-1950s, when he worked on the soap opera "The Edge of Night" followed by "Another World" in the 1960s, and "Return to Peyton Place" in the 1970s. He acted in "The Guiding Light," "You Are There" and "Inner Sanctum" during the 1950s.

Lipton, who was honored as a Knight of the Order of Merit in France, was also a television producer. He oversaw the first televised U.S. presidential concert with Jimmy Carter's inaugural gala, and reached record audiences with Bob Hope birthday specials.

Asked in the Parade interview what he would like to hear God say on arrival at the pearly gates, the atheist Lipton replied: "You see, Jim, you were wrong. I exist. But you may come in anyway."
 

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