Mostly Credited As: Harry Anderson
Birth Name: Harry Laverne Anderson
Date Of Birth: October 14, 1952 (Age 63)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Newport, Rhode Island
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
A liar, a thief, a braggart, a cheat. That is how Harry Anderson frequently introduced himself when he toured as what can best be described as a comedic magician. He would later say before telling the story about his introduction to card tricks, "You can believe it because it is a true story, but then I am a pathological liar. But not really."
Harry Laverne Anderson was born October 14, 1952 in Newport, Rhode Island. His father was a traveling salesman, and the job put a strain on his parents' marriage. Anderson's parents were divorced by the time Harry was five, and he began a nomadic childhood. He lived mostly with his mother in Chicago until he was ten, then moved to Los Angeles to live with his father.
Despite being tall and lanky the youngster had no real interest in playing basketball, choosing instead to focus on learning magic tricks. The ability to do magic helped the teen be accepted in the numerous schools he attended. Despite the frequent moves Anderson was the valedictorian in his 1970 North Hollywood High graduation class.
Instead of enrolling in college Harry headed up the coast to San Francisco, where he began working as a street hustler, earning money by dealing the three-card monte trick he had first seen performed as a child while living in Chicago. He made enough to survive, but the job also entailed risks. One victim of the game broke Harry's jaw in retaliation for losing.
Anderson went further up the west coast, settling in Ashland, Oregon. He opened a magic shop, Le Bateleur, and began working as a prop builder for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The job also put him in front of an audience as an actor for the first time.
Anderson began touring with an act that was magic mixed with a healthy dose of comedy. His assistant was a local magician and mentalist, Leslie Pollack, who would become Harry's wife in 1977.
In 1980 Anderson's personal and professional life took a turn for the better. Wife Leslie gave birth to their first child, daughter Eva Faye. Anderson signed with personal manager Ken Kragen, best-known for being the man behind "We Are the World" thanks to his long affiliation with the late folk singer and humanitarian Harry Chapin. Kragen managed to quickly move Anderson out of small clubs and community colleges and onto major television shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and The Merv Griffin Show, as well as stints opening for the likes of singer Kenny Rogers.
While Anderson was performing in Las Vegas Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels caught his act and invited him to guest on the legendary program. Anderson appeared on the program as a guest performer numerous times, generating more interest in his talents. The guest spots led to a recurring role on the NBC sitcom Cheers, where Anderson basically played himself: Harry "the Hat" Gittes, a con man who came into the bar with the intent of hustling anyone he could.
While Anderson's star was rapidly rising NBC was putting together what would become one of the classic nights of television in the history of the format. One of the shows was the creation of former Barney Miller writer Reinhold Weege, Night Court. Anderson read the script, paying particular attention to the role of unorthodox judge Harold T. Stone, a man with a love of magic and Mel Tormé. When he went to the audition Anderson told Weege, "I am this guy!" Anderson got the part.
Night Court, along with The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers and Hill Street Blues, became the night of television in the 1980s. Although plagued by a shaky start as a midseason replacement, Night Court quickly rose to the top ten in the Nielsen ratings. The series lasted nine years, and Anderson earned three Emmy nominations for Best Actor. During the summer hiatus Anderson continued to do tours with his comedy/magic act and filmed a 1986 Showtime special, Hello, Sucker!, showcasing his talents.
After Night Court ended Anderson netted another series, Dave's World, in which he played Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist and author Dave Barry.
In 1998 his 21-year marriage to Leslie fell apart. Anderson moved to New Orleans, where he met his new wife, Elizabeth, wedding in 2000. He purchased a club in the French Quarter and named it Oswald's Speakeasy. The club also contained a magic shop, and Anderson frequently performed in the club.
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans. Although physically Anderson's nightclub was unscathed by the hurricane the aftermath, including a physical assault on Anderson and the re-election of the politicians he felt were responsible for keeping New Orleans from recovering, proved too much. In 2007 the Andersons left New Orleans and settled in Asheville, North Carolina.
Anderson is dyslexic, although fellow actors have praised his ability to almost instantaneously memorize a script. Although Anderson has repeatedly claimed he is not an actor, Night Court creator Reinhold Weege begged to differ: "He is an actor," he said in an interview for the DVD release of the first season of the program. "He's a very good actor."