'Inside The Actors Studio' Host James Lipton Has Died

Mar 2, 2020
Originally published on March 2, 2020 7:53 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

James Lipton, the longtime host of the TV series "Inside The Actors Studio," has died at age 93. Lipton was best known for his show's one-on-one interviews with famous actors. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: James Lipton was a lot of things - a Detroit native, a child actor on "The Lone Ranger" radio show, a Broadway lyricist and author. But he's best known as the original host of "Inside The Actors Studio."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO")

JAMES LIPTON: Trying to categorize tonight's guest is like trying to catch lightning in a butterfly net.

BLAIR: Over the course of 25 years, James Lipton interviewed more than 250 actors - Robin Williams, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Will Smith, Laura Dern. He came to it as an authority. He was the dean and founder of the Actors Studio Drama School of Pace University. In 2007, he told NPR he was proud of the substance of those interviews.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LIPTON: Imagine a television program about craft, not about gossip. God knows there's plenty to gossip about with respect to these guests.

BLAIR: Lipton's seriousness was appreciated by actors but also ripe for parodying. In his impression of the TV host, "Saturday Night Live's" Will Ferrell sports a beard, glasses and an intense gaze.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WILL FERRELL: (As James Lipton) In 1995, you do a film - a film which some call a chick flick, meaning a movie primarily intended for the opposite gender of myself (laughter).

BLAIR: Lipton was well aware of the parody. He told NPR he didn't object to it but that he wasn't as full of himself as Ferrell made him out to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LIPTON: I'm not aloof - not at all. But certainly, compared to my guests, I am less animated than they are. My job in this chair is to ask the questions and then get out of the way.

BLAIR: Students got to ask actors questions in a relatively intimate setting. Lipton's widow tells NPR he tried to empower people to do their best.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DECEPTIKON'S "AUTUMN STORM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.