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Charles Nelson Reilly
(January 13, 1931 - May 25, 2007) U.S.A.

Charles Nelson Reilly

Entertainer, and director


Charles was born in The Bronx, New York, but was raised in New Haven, Connecticut. At age 13, he was in the audience during the Ringling Bros. Circus tent fire in Hartford, Connecticut on July 6, 1944, which claimed the lives of 168 people. The mother of his neighbor friend had taken the two boys to the show and the three managed to escape physically unharmed.

When Reilly was a child, his father, a poster artist and illustrator, was approached by another illustrator with the chance to make an animated film as partners if the family would move to California. Reilly's mother rejected the idea and the other illustrator moved on; that other illustrator was Walt Disney.

At eighteen, Reilly began classes at the New School under actress Uta Hagen; his classmates included Steve McQueen, Geraldine Page, and Gene Hackman. Around this time, Reilly got a meeting with an NBC executive, who told him, "They don't let queers on television."

Despite that, in the 1950's, he began his career on Broadway, appearing in hits like Hello, Dolly! and How to Suceed in Busines Without Really Trying. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the latter.

Charles Nelson Reilly

When Broadway wasn't calling, Charles nosed his way into television. His first regular TV job was as a regular on Steve Lawrence's variety show. Three years later, he began a two-year stint as Claymore, the nephew of the departed Captain Gregg, on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

After that series ended, Charles stayed in TV, appearing on The Golddiggers (a summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show) and a sitcom called Arnie, as well as a memorable two-year run on Saturday mornings in Sid & Marty Krofft's Lidsville. In 1973, Charles became a regular panelist on two game shows. One, It Pays to be Ignorant, lasted about a season in syndication. The other was MG.

In 1980, while working on Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, he first met the man he'd be inextricably tied with - Patrick Hughes. Reilly's openly gay television persona was ahead of its time, and sometimes stood in his way.

During Chuck's nine-year run with MG, he moonlighted as the host of another saturday-morning kids' show, Uncle Croc's Block, and become a frequent visitor to other game and variety shows, as well as continuing to be a presence on Broadway, well past the 1982 demise of MG.

Charles Nelson ReillyHe was probably best-known, at least television-wise, during this period as "the Bic Banana," sporting a nifty banana costume while selling the many fine writing tools of the Bic Company in commercials that ran throughout the '70s and early '80s.

Reilly also was a longtime drama teacher at HB Studios, where his pupils included Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler. In "The Life of Reilly," the highly-acclaimed film version of his one-man show, Reilly described how he never taught alone, but instead brought to each class all of those who had taught him; among others, he said, "I [bring] all of my pupils, especially the forty pupils that I lost to AIDS. I can hear them sing every day, and we all sit down together and we teach a class."

Chuck returned to the Ross Shaffer version of MG in 1990 as the sole regular (although Ronn Lucas was added later) and was, unquestionably, the bright spot on that show's panel. Later, he hosted a game show called Sweethearts, which was described as "The Dating Game meets To Tell the Truth."

Charles died in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia; he was seventy-six. He was survived by his longtime partner, Patrick Hughes III.


Sources: http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/ - et alii

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