Orange County Register
March 17, 1988
Stranger to the theater world
By Barry Koltnow
A well-worn rain hat is
pulled down to eye level and the beginnings of a goatee surround the young man's
clenched teeth as he struggles with the wind and rain over control of the front
door to New York City's famed Public Theater.
The young man wins the battle
and stops inside the door to look around the lobby. He takes off the hat,
shakes it dry and smiles. Mark Linn-Baker is back where he belongs, in the
Although millions of
television viewers know him as Balki's cousin Larry on ABC's hit sitcom
"Perfect Strangers," Linn-Baker is better known in the theater world
as an actor, writer and director of serious drama.
In fact, while he is on
hiatus from the series, he is directing "Self Torture and Strenuous
Exercise" for colorful stage producer Joe Papp, who founded the Public
Theater, a former library that now houses six stages.
Linn-Baker has acted in three
Papp productions and has had a play he co-wrote produced by Papp, but this is
his first directing assignment for the producer.
When not working for Papp or
appearing in the occasional movie or television role, Linn-Baker has worked
steadily in the theater since he arrived in New York 15 years ago.
That heavy theater schedule
belies that Linn-Baker's West Coast career never has hampered his East Coast
"There really is a
theater world, and it is an extensive world," Linn-Baker said over lunch in
a coffee shop across from the theater. "When I walk into an audition,
people know me as a theater person. I'm not a TV person in New York.
I doubt that all but a few of the people I deal with have even seen the
"It's the television
magazines that make it seem as if I materialized out of thin air just before 'My
Favorite Year' and then began working on 'Perfect Strangers.' They pick
out what's relevant to their audience, and that usually means they just leave
out the stage stuff."
The actor, 34, a native of
St. Louis, graduated with an undergraduate degree from Yale and then added a
second degree from the school's drama school. He appeared in regional and
repertory theater productions before being picked to star with Peter O'Toole in
the feature film "My Favorite Year," a film not so loosely based on
Sid Caesar during television's golden age.
A year later, he returned to
the stage and made his Broadway debut in the ill-fated "Doonesbury"
musical in 1983, which lasted three months.
When the show folded, he
auditioned twice for network casting people in New York before being flown to
Los Angeles to audition again. The third audition was the charm, and he
won the role of Larry Appleton in "Perfect Strangers," now completing
its third season. It recently moved from its Wednesday-night timeslot to
Friday night at 8 on KABC/7.
"It was a good move for
the network, but I'm not so sure initially that it's going to be good for
us," he said. "It was kind of a left-handed compliment that the
network thought we were strong enough to move us to another night. We were
the first winner on Wednesday night in a long time, and I guess they think we
can build a new audience on Fridays.
"But viewership is lower
on Friday, and our weekly ranking is not really going to reflect the strength of
our show. Our numbers are going to drop, but I suppose the network knows
what it's doing."
The prediction, make two
weeks ago, was right on the mark. "Perfect Strangers," which has
consistently ranked in the Top 30 television programs all season, slipped to
37th in this week's Nielsen ratings.
Yet Linn-Baker said the show,
about two cousins / roommates working at a Chicago newspaper, should weather the
timeslot change, if for no better reason than the strength of its characters.
"When we started the
show, we said we wanted to do an old-fashioned character comedy along the lines
of 'I Love Lucy' and 'The Honeymooners.' And to tell you the truth, I
don't mind the comparisons to those old shows. I don't think we come up
short in those comparisons."
The actor said he thinks the
show could enjoy an extended run on television and insisted that such a run
would not hurt his theater work.
"That kind of exposure
can't hurt you," he said. "It raises your visibility and can
only bring you more stage work. That's what producers are looking for
these days, particularly in the big-budget Broadway shows, where a recognizable
face is an asset.
"As for being typecast
as cousin Larry, there are bigger problems than typecasting in this business --
like not being cast at all."
Coming from a theater
background, Linn-Baker said the biggest adjustment he had to make when the show
became an instant success during its six-week first season was not a change in
acting style but a change in job security.
"I wasn't accustomed to
a job that didn't stop," he explained. "I never had that
before. It just isn't in the nature of being an actor, particularly in the
theater. You have a starting date and a closing date, and you know both up
front. This is the longest job I've ever had.
"I believe some people
call that job security, but I'm not sure. I'm not familiar with that