This Is Spinal Tap
Comic actor, writer, director, and musician Michael McKean, one of the founding members of the legendary comedy troupe “The Credibility Gap,” was first shot to fame while playing the lovable goofy Lenny on the ABC sitcom, "Laverne and Shirley" (1976-1982). He would gain even more recognition for his role as David St. Hubbins in Rob Reiner's classic "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), which he co-wrote with Christopher Guest, Reiner, and Harry Shearer.
He has starred in such films as "The Big Picture" (1989), "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995), "With Friends Like These..." (1998), "True Crime" (1999), "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" (1999), "Best in Show" (2000), "Slap Her... She's French" (2002), "The Guru" (2002), "A Mighty Wind" (2003; was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Grammy for co-writing with wife Annette O'Toole the song "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow"), "The Producers" (2005), "For Your Consideration" (2006), "Joshua" (2007), "The Grand" (2007) and "Adventures of Power" (2008). He will next be seen alongside Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson in Woody Allen's upcoming romantic comedy film, "Whatever Works."
TV viewers also remembered him as Gibby on HBO’s cult adult sitcom "Dream On" (1990-1996) and on the NBC variety series “Saturday Night Live,” in which he started out as a musical guest and then host before eventually joining the cast as a featured player in 1994. Additionally, he appeared on episodes of the TV shows “The X-Files,” “Friends,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Lois And Clark.”
On Broadway, the New York native performed in the productions of "Accomplice" (1990), "Hairspray" (2002), "Hair" (2004), "The Pajama Game" (2006) and "The Homecoming" (2007-2008).
This lanky comic actor was once married to Susan Russell, with whom he has two sons. He is currently the husband of actress Annette O'Toole whom he married in 1999.
Childhood and Family:
Born in New York, New York, on October 17, 1947, Michael John McKean grew up in Sea Cliff, a small town on Long Island. The second child of record executive Gilbert McKean and librarian Ruth, McKean is a descendant of Thomas McKean, one of the signers of the Declaration Of Independence. He also has an older sister.
Young McKean attended North Shore High School in Glen Head, New York. He then went to Carnegie Mellon Institute with David L. Lander, where they created the “Lenny and Squiggy” characters, and was taught acting by Olympia Dukakis at New York University, where he met Christopher Guest, whom he began writing songs with. McKean moved to Los Angeles in 1970.
From October 1970 to 1993, McKean was married to Susan Russell, the mother of his two sons: Colin Russell McKean (born in 1976) and Fletcher McKean (born in 1985). In 1998, he became engaged to actress Annette O'Toole (born on April 1, 1952) and they were married on March 20, 1999. McKean, who began singing with O'Toole before they were married, shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for the song they co-wrote, "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," which was featured in the film “A Mighty Wind” (2003). They also co-starred as a married couple in at least two TV shows: "Boy Meets World" (1993) and "Law & Order" (1990).
As his “Spinal Tap” and “Folksmen” characters, McKean has appeared at events ranging from concert tours to charity benefits. He also appeared on a local access cable show in California talking about the influence that teachers have on their students.
The Credibility Gap
At age 14, Michael McKean began acting in plays and performed in 22 of them by the time he had graduated from high school. He plays the guitar and piano as well and was a member of the 1960s musical group “The Left Banke” for a while. He decided to become an actor after seeing British actor and comedian Stanley Holloway perform in a one-man show titled "Laughs and Other Events" in New York and enrolled in New York University's School of the Arts. There, he was taught acting by Olympia Dukakis and met Christopher Guest, whom he began writing songs with. During this time, McKean received his first professional acting job at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spent his summers in such theatre companies as Eugene O'Neill's Playwrights' Conference.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1970, McKean was part of the Pitchell Players, a Los Angeles-based comedy improvisational group. He also joined Harry Shearer, David L. Lander, and the late Richard Beebe in an influential radio comedy group called "The Credibility Gap." They produced comedy shows and albums from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s and appeared in nightclubs and on television and in an episode of the "National Lampoon Radio Hour." Their voices were also heard in an educational film titled "Statistics At A Glance."
McKean and Lander's breakthrough came in 1975 when McKean, Lander and Shearer were signed to write for the ABC sitcom, "Laverne and Shirley." At the suggestion of series star Penny Marshall, McKean and Lander later joined the cast as recurring characters Lenny Kosnowski and Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman. Playing the oddball characters that they had originally created with “The Credibility Gap,” McKean and Lander’s lovable goofy Lenny and obnoxious Squiggy became so popular that they were upgraded as regulars. The two stayed on the show from 1976 to 1983, during which time McKean also used his musical talent to coordinate the album "Laverne & Shirley" (1976), which featured Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. He even wrote two of the cuts on the LP, "Oh Gee" and "Five Years On."
During his "Laverne & Shirley" tenure, McKean made his feature film debut in directors Rowby Goren and Chuck Staley's comedy "Cracking Up" (1977) and had his first TV movie role in "More Than Friends" (1978), which also marked his early collaboration with Rob Reiner. In 1979, he worked with Christopher Guest (and also Harry Shearer from “The Credibility Gap”) in "The TV Show," a pilot for a comedy series involving sketches which spoofed television. He also played the leading role, opposite Sean Young, in a feature in Garry Marshall's comedy film "Young Doctors in Love" (1982).
Following the demise of "Laverne & Shirley," McKean worked as screenwriter, song performer, and songwriter in "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), which was directed by Rob Reiner and co-starred Reiner, Guest and Shearer (the four of them also co-wrote the screenplay). In the following year, McKean and Harry Shearer, as their Spinal Tap characters of David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls, participated with other stars as part of "Hear-N-Aid," a "We Are The World" recording session.
McKean received his first lead role in a TV movie in "Classified Love" (1986), which also marked his first romantic lead on TV, and after turning down a regular role on "Married with Children" (1987), McKean directed the Showtime TV comedy special "The Rich Hall Show" (1987). He also played dual roles in the TV-movie spy spoof "Double Agent" (1987) and made his first non-U.S. film in Julien Temple's "Earth Girls Are Easy" (1988; with Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum). He then co-wrote the screenplay of Christopher Guest's film, "The Big Picture" (1989), in which he also co-starred as Kevin Bacon's best friend Emmet.
In the early 1990s, McKean joined the cast of HBO’s cult adult sitcom starring Brian Benben, "Dream On" (1990-1996). For his portrayal of Gibby, he was nominated for a CableACE Award twice for Best Actor in a Comedy Series. He also directed the episode "Felines...Nothing More Than Felines."
McKean became a recipient of a Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut in "Accomplice.” He also played one of the leading roles on the NBC comedy series "Grand" (1990) and could be seen on the DVD release of “The Spirit of '76” (1990), a comedy directed by Lucas Reiner.
In 1991, McKean directed one episode, and wrote another, of the short-lived CBS sitcom "Morton & Hayes.” He also played Dan Carver on the six-episode HBO comedy series "Sessions" and earned a CableACE Award nomination in 1993 for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.
The following year, McKean was a co-producer and writer of the NBC comedy special, "A Spinal Tap Reunion" and joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” In the mid 1990s, he appeared as the villainous neighbor in "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995) and played several roles in "J. Edgar," an original musical about the late FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. He later performed a staged reading of the play at the Aspen Opera House as part of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in 2003, alongside wife Annette O'Toole. McKean also appeared on "E! Features" and "Q and E!" and in a TV commercial for IBM (1996). He would spend the rest of decade playing a featured role in the remake of "That Darn Cat" (1997), portraying the high school principal in "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" (1999), and appear as a guest on the WTBS cable network's "Movie Lounge" (1999). He also hosted a series of specials on Comedy Central.
Hitting the new millennium, McKean appeared in the beauty pageant spoof "Beautiful," was cast in Christopher Guest’s "Best in Show," and appeared on a Comedy Central behind-the-scenes special that was done in connection with the Friars Club Roast of Rob Reiner in New York City. He then appeared in director Christine Lahti's debut feature "My First Mister" (2001) and co-starred in the Comedy Central series "Primetime Glick" (2001; starring Martin Short). He also hosted the audio commentary track for the “Little Nicky” (2000) DVD and wrote the introduction for “This Is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion” (2001), which won a DVD Exclusive Award for Video Premiere Award - Best DVD Audio Commentary.
Along with Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser and Christopher Guest, McKean was featured on the audio commentary track for the Criterion DVD release of “Sullivan's Travels” (1941) in 2001. Afterward, he had a supporting role in the fifty-something romantic comedy "Never Again" (2002) and starred in writer-director Harry Shearer's ensemble corporate retreat comedy "Teddy Bears' Picnic" (2002). He also wrote, directed and starred in the Independent Film Channel's Image Campaign titled "Independent Film: A Documentary" (2002). A member of the Actors Branch of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, McKean served as a presenter at the 29th Student Academy Awards on June 9, 2002.
In 2003, McKean co-starred in the satire "The Guru" and was featured with Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy in the Guest-directed pseudo-documentary "A Mighty Wind." For the film, he also contributed the song "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," which he co-wrote with his wife Annette O'Toole. The song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. It also won a Grammy for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, a Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics Choice Award for Best Song, and a Seattle Film Critics' Best Music. Along with the film's cast members, McKean was nominated for a Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Ensemble Acting and won a Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Ensemble Cast.
From early May to early October 2004, McKean starred in the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Hairspray." On September 20 of that same year, he played the role of Claude's dad in The Actors Fund benefit performance of the 1960s rock musical "Hair" at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. He would later raise money for the Fund again by appearing as a guest reader in "Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words," a comedy show held at New York's Triad Theater on February 25th and March 17th of 2008.
In November 2004, McKean played Phil Wellman in an original play titled "A Second Hand Memory," which was written and directed by Woody Allen at the Atlantic Theater Company, in New York City. The next month, he taped a "Working In The Theatre" seminar titled "Humor In Performance" with Judy Kaye, Julie Halston and Mario Cantone. During this time, McKean also appeared in a TV commercial for Sierra Mist Free with Fred Willard.
McKean received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Newport International Film Festival in 2005, during which time he performed with Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest and with wife Annette O'Toole joining him onstage. That same year, he performed the cabaret act "No Standards" with wife Annette O'Toole and stepdaughter Nell Geisslinger at the Feinstein's At the Regency nightclub in New York City. He also appeared as Zangler in the Tom Stoppard play, "On the Razzle," at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, in Williamstown, MA, and played a prison trustee in the movie musical "The Producers" (2005), which was based on the stage musical by Mel Brooks.
In 2006, McKean was reunited with Guest to play a screenwriter in the film "For Your Consideration" and played Vernon Hines in the hit Broadway musical revival of "The Pajama Game" (February 23, 2006 - June 17, 2006) by Richard Adler, Jerry Ross, George Abbott, and Richard Bissell. After passing on the recurring character of Dean Cyrus O'Dell of Hearst College on "Veronica Mars" (2004), he played Harry in the European premiere of John Kolvenbach's romantic comedy "Love Song" at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London's West End.
Afterward, he co-starred with Sam Rockwell in the Sundance-screened "Joshua" (2007), performed in “An Evening With Michael McKean: Reality At Arm's Length,” a one-man show at Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of Berkeley in Berkeley, California, as part of the "Strictly Speaking" series, and played Luther Billis, opposite Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell, in "South Pacific In Concert" at the Hollywood Bowl in August 2007.
McKean recently played the role of Sam in the Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming" (December 16, 2007 - April 13, 2008). He also appeared in a special performance of "The Homecoming" for The Actors Fund on April 6, 2008, and hosted the annual National Corporate Theatre Fund's Chairman's Awards Gala with Jerry Herman, Theresa Rebeck, and Phylicia Rashad in New York on April 14, 2008.
From June 19 through August 17, 2008, McKean played Arthur, the owner of a rundown donut shop located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, in "Superior Donuts," a new play by Tracy Letts of "August Osage County" fame. On the big screen, he could be seen alongside Ari Gold in the adventure comedy movie written and directed by Gold, "Adventures of Power" (2008). He will son complete filming on his upcoming project, "Whatever Works," a romantic comedy by writer/director Woody Allen in which he will co-star with Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson.
Newport International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005
Grammy: Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media, "A Mighty Wind," 2004
Florida Film Critics Circle: Best Ensemble Cast, "A Mighty Wind," 2004
Broadcast Film Critics Association: Critics Choice Award - Best Song, "A Mighty Wind," 2004
Seattle Film Critics: Best Music, "A Mighty Wind," 2003
DVD Exclusive: Video Premiere Award - Best DVD Audio Commentary, "This Is Spinal Tap," 2001