Kansas City Star - Star TV & Radio
August 24 - 30, 1986

   Actor Finally Finds Perfect Role

by Jerry Buck
AP Television Writer

Culver City, Calif. - Mark Linn-Baker, co-star of ABC-TV's "Perfect Strangers," figures his first time on a movie screen probably lasted a tenth of a second.

"I appeared for that long," he said, snapping his fingers.  "It was in Woody Allen's 'Manhattan.'  But I did get a screen credit.  They spelled my name wrong.  It came out 'Mary Linn-Baker.'"

The main benefit was that he got his Screen Actors Guild card, although he had to change his name.  There was already an actor named Mark Baker, so he made his middle name part of his last name.

His next movie acting experience was in an independent film made in Alabama that was never released.  (Editor's note: This was the film The End of August)

Still, he had extensive stage work, which helped when actor-director Richard Benjamin went to New York to cast "My Favorite Year."  "Three casting agents . . . all suggested me," Mr. Linn-Baker said.  "They'd all seen my work."

He has appeared as Bertram in Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival production of "All's Well That Ends Well," Mark Slackmeyer in the Broadway production of "Doonesbury" and in "Alice in Concert" with Meryl Streep.

The curly-haired, cherub-faced actor auditioned for the "Favorite Year" role of Benjy Stone, the young comedy writer who has to baby-sit a hard-drinking movie star (Peter O'Toole) so he'll be sober enough to appear on a TV variety show.  The movie star was obviously modeled after Errol Flynn and the variety show host after Sid Caesar.

"I didn't have anyone in mind when I played the role," Mr. Linn-Baker said.  "But the script had someone in mind and I just played it the way it was written.  It was definitely Mel Brooks.  That's where they started, but the family wasn't his.

"Mel Brooks was one of the co-producers of the movie.  I met him once during filming.  He told me to be funny."

The movie was filmed at MGM on the sound stage next to the one where he and co-star Bronson Pinchot now do "Perfect Strangers" (shown at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on channels 2, 9 and 49 in the Kansas City area).  The new comedy is a culture clash between Mr. Linn-Baker as an American and Mr. Pinchot as a distant cousin, a Mediterranean immigrant named Balki Bartokomous, who takes up residence in Mr. Linn-Baker's Chicago apartment.

Mr. Linn-Baker plays Larry Appleton, who wants to be a photojournalist but works in a discount store.  "He's a young guy from the suburbs who's on his own for the first time," he said.  "He's trying to find his way."

Mr. Linn-Baker and Mr. Pinchot went to the Yale Drama School, but they weren't there at the same time.  Mr. Linn-Baker also spent three years with the Yale Repertory Theatre.

He grew up in Connecticut, where his father was a radio copywriter.  "My folks were involved in theater," he said.  "My mother was dancing in a college show and my father was directing.  They were always working in the theater when I was growing up.

"I have a strong sense of humor in my work.  That comes out in whatever I do.  I don't see things as comedy or drama.  The dramatic literature isn't that simple.  Many comedies have serious parts and tragedies have humor.

"It's not a distinction you make in training.  You don't train differently for comedy.  You learn how to act.  You bring your own reality and technique to it."

In TV guest roles, Mr. Linn-Baker has played a crooked stereo salesman on "Miami Vice," a harassed executive assistant who lost his boss' address file on "Moonlighting" and a computer whiz on "The Equalizer."

"Perfect Strangers" is his second TV series.  His first was "Comedy Zone," a summer series on CBS two years ago. 

"The idea was to give a showcase to off-Broadway writers," he said.  "I was one of the company.  We did a lot of short pieces and I played a lot of characters.  At the time I was doing Beth Henley's play 'The Miss Firecracker Contest.'  We only did five shows for 'Comedy Zone.'  It didn't work out well.  There was a lot of talent but too much bureaucracy."