Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle (Wikipedia)

One of Mel Brooks’ best pieces of shtick was a scene in his horror spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) when the crazed scientist, played by Gene Wilder, appears on stage with his creation, wearing top hat and tails, in a song’n’dance number Puttin’ on The Ritz. The Monster, who hilariously attempts to sing and keep in time, while manipulating a black cane, was played by Peter Boyle, who has died aged 71.

Although the forever-bald Boyle became a household name in the US as the irascible Frank Barone in the popular TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005), his era par excellence was the 1970s. It was during this decade that he became a familiar face in several counter-culture movies, and once hosted the irreverent Saturday Night Live. He also became close friends with Jane Fonda, and participated with her in protests against the Vietnam war.Advertisement

Born in Northtown, Pennsylvania, of an Irish-American Catholic family, Boyle started acting at high school. After a brief spell in the army, during which he suffered a nervous breakdown, he became a monk in the Christian Brothers order. When he turned to acting in the late 1960s, he retained a monkish hairstyle – closely cropped back and sides, bald pate.

Among his first acting jobs was a role with the Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago. After this he moved to Hollywood, where he made brief uncredited appearances in The Group (1966), The Virgin President (1968) and Medium Cool (1969).

Then came Joe (1970), in which he scored a notable success as a foul-mouthed, blue-collar, redneck bigot who turns to extortion. Boyle displayed a manic intensity that transformed a mediocre movie into something of an event. (A sequel, Citizen Joe, followed 17 years later.) Coincidentally, Boyle also played New York racketeer Joe Gallo in Crazy Joe (1974), and the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy in a 1977 TV movie, Tail Gunner Joe.

Boyle was rather concerned about the support that some audiences gave to the anti-black and anti-hippie views expressed by his character in Joe and, in 1971, he refused the Gene Hackman role in The French Connection because he felt the film glamorised violence. So he turned his hand to comedy. In Young Frankenstein, he has an amusing scene between himself as the Monster, and Hackman as the blind hermit, almost a shot-by-shot replica of the similar scene in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Boyle was in full make-up as the Monster when he was interviewed by Loraine Alterman, a reporter for Rolling Stone. She introduced him to Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and the four became good friends; the former Beatle was best man at Boyle and Alterman’s wedding in 1977.

Boyle stole many a scene as an embarrassingly bad small-town entertainer in Slither (1972) and as Robert Redford’s opportunistic campaign manager in The Candidate (1972). He also contributed deft and witty cameos as a philosophical cab driver and an ineffectual private eye in Taxi Driver (1976) and Hardcore (1979) respectively. During the 1980s, the quality of his movies declined. He appeared in some dire comedies, such as In God We Tru$t (1980), Yellow Beard (1984) and Johnny Dangerously (1984), in which Boyle was encouraged to pull outrageous faces.

Much better were his more serious roles as the ruthless station-master in Outland (1981), the “High Noon in space” drama, and in Wim Wenders’ Hammett as the friend of the detective novelist. (Boyle replaced Brian Keith during production, but the big overcoat and hat make it impossible to see that it is Keith in certain long shots.) Boyle was back to comedy in The Dream Team (1989), as the senior member of a quartet of mental patients on the loose in New York. He was impressively deadpan as a man who thinks he is Jesus Christ.

Boyle suffered a stroke in 1990 and could not speak for six months, before resuming his career. Television took up a great deal of his time in the 1990s, and he appeared in five episodes of NYPD Blue, and in an early X-Files episode as an insurance salesman who can see dimly into the future. He won an Emmy for outstanding guest actor in a drama series for the latter. But his biggest success was in Everybody Loves Raymond, as the hero’s interfering father whose catch phrase was “Holy Crap!”

In 1999, Boyle suffered a heart attack on the set of the hit show, and had emergency angioplasty surgery. He returned to the series and made more films, including The Monster’s Ball (2001) – although he did not appear as the Monster.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

· Peter Lawrence Boyle, actor, born October 18 1935; died December 12 2006

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