He wasn’t on the list, I suppose because I was pretty unfamiliar with his pre-Inside the Actors Studio career. And not just that I hadn’t realized he wrote An Exaltation of Larks, a book I’ve been meaning to buy for years. Or that he claimed to have been “a procurer of prostitutes in Paris,” as Wikipedia so delicately and alliteratively puts it. Or any number of the weird and silly details I’ve discovered while looking this up—he did his own research, for example, which automatically endears him to me. But it turns out he had a fine career of his own before heading the Actors Studio.
For example, did you know he was Dan Reid on the Lone Ranger radio show? That’s the Lone Ranger’s nephew. He spent ten years on The Guiding Light. He even choreographed a ballet for the American Ballet Theatre, and they don’t let just anyone off the street do that. He wrote and produced and acted and composed, and in a way, it’s kind of sad that mostly people know him for sitting on a stage and asking more famous people what their favourite word was.
Though of course the show was a delight regardless; I’m amused by the depressed and disheartened way Mark Wahlberg asked if “Marky Mark” counted as a word when asked what his least-favourite word was. (Which is part of my “you shouldn’t take a stage name you wouldn’t mind having at eighty” evidence.) He did, as I said, do all the work researching questions himself, which apparently took him two weeks an episode.
So okay, the Actors Studio is connected with Method acting, which has a bad reputation, but I can’t imagine that Lipton would have approved of its worst excesses; I’m sure he wanted Jared Leto to knock it off, too. Lipton, from what I can tell, believed that acting was something you should take seriously, and I don’t believe that’s wrong. The famous questions he asked may have been joked about, but there are worse ways to get to know someone and get to know how they think.
It’s amazing to me how long some people work—Lipton only retired from active duties at the Actors Studio in 2018, and he died today at the age of 93. And yet it’s only today that I discover that he’d written, decades ago, an unsuccessful musical version of The Man Who Came To Dinner. There’s now a soundtrack recording, which I doubt would’ve happened without the Actors Studio. Legacy can be very strange, sometimes.