At the tender age of fourteen, Larry landed his first ever role in a Margo Jones production. He would find himself starring in more of the Texas theatre giant’s offerings throughout the remainder of his high school years and time with the Houston Little Theatre…including S.N. Behrman’s Here Today and The Sound Of The Hunting, the latter of which officially opened Houston’s world renowned Alley Theatre. After graduating from Lamar High, Larry attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) for just under a year before enlisting with the United States Marine Corps due to the outbreak of World War II. Before receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, Larry rose to the officer rank of Lieutenant. He went back to school, this time with the University of Houston, from whence he graduated in 1948 with degrees in English and mathematics. During this time, Larry worked at KPHC, a Houston radio station and where he began to demonstrate a penchant for foreign accents and cultures with a well received show called the International Hour. Throughout the hour, Larry would perform as four different DJs introducing the music of their featured native countries, with his accents fluctuating between British, French, and Chinese, among many others. After graduating from the U of H, Larry dabbled in politics, and did campaign work for George Peddy.
In 1948, Larry Blyden traveled to New York City to try to trip the lights fantastic of the Great White Way. In addition to finding further work in radio, Blyden immediately enrolled at the Stella Adler School of Acting, where he would further study the craft of theatre for eighteen months. In 1949, Larry would get his much coveted big break…during a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, Joshua Logan, one of Broadway’s most esteemed director/producers at the time, spotted Larry and decided he would be perfect in his up and coming hit, Mister Roberts, starring Henry Fonda. At first, Larry’s role was only a small one as a Shore Patrol Officer…but over the course of a few months, and with the departure of David Wayne from the production, Larry would take over as Ensign Pulver, and as whom he won the first of several applauses of critical acclaim. Joshua Logan appreciated Blyden’s efforts as much as the general public did and immediately cast him in his next production, titled Wish You Were Here (which would also feature Jack Cassidy and Florence Henderson), in 1952.
Work for Larry, in television (for which he appeared in several of the playhouse and omnibus/anthology shows prevalent then, the two most noteworthy of them, both in 1959, being the TV movie What Makes Sammy Run with Blyden turning in a decadently ruthless portrayal of the title character, Sammy Glick, and the TV musical, George M. Cohan’s Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway, which had Larry co-starring alongside Tammy Grimes) and stage, instantaneously became steady upon Logan’s discovery of him. Hollywood took notice, and came calling. In 1957, Blyden was cast in Paddy Chayefski’s The Bachelor Party, also starring Don Murray and Carolyn Jones, as well as Kiss Them For Me, also starring Cary Grant, Ray Walston, Werner Klemperer, and Jayne Mansfield. Earlier, and while in the midst of such an immensely busy schedule, Blyden managed to meet Carol Haney, famed choreographer and then actress (who won a 1955 Best Featured Actress In A Musical Tony Award for The Pajama Game, but would quit acting due to never quite overcoming stage fright), during a touring production of Oh Men, Oh Women! The two got married in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 14th, 1955. Blyden and Haney would actually work together three years later in Flower Drum Song, the Rodgers and Hammerstein culture clash musical which would see Larry sporting an exquisite use of a Chinese accent as Sammy Fong, and helped him land his first Tony Award nomination (1959 Best Leading Actor In A Musical), as well as Ms. Haney receiving a further nomination (1959 Best Choreographer). The Blydens’ marriage went on to produce two children (Joshua, born in 1957 and named after Joshua Logan, and Ellen Rachel, born in 1960), but ended in divorce in 1962. Two years later, Ms. Haney would die of pneumonia complicated by diabetes and alcoholism. Larry, wanting to keep the family together and vowing to be the best father AND parent his children had ever known, immediately took Joshua and Ellen under his wing.
The 60’s were that much more of a hectic time for Larry Blyden, having to juggle the odd Broadway role or two, numerous beyond numerous television appearances, and being dad to his two quite young children. Because of the latter and its expenses, Larry turned to television even more-so than previously in the 50’s. It was during this time that some of Blyden’s most famous television appearances would occur…including two visits to The Twilight Zone (“A Nice Place To Visit” and “Showdown With Rance McGrew”), Dr. Kildaire (“Take Care Of My Little Girl”), Route 66 (“Like This, It Means Father..Like This, Bitter..Like This, Tiger”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Wally The Beard”), Twelve O’Clock High (“Mutiny At 10,000 Feet”), The Fugitive (“Crack In A Crystal Ball”), and The Man From UNCLE (“The Waverly Ring Affair”). On Broadway and in 1964, Larry found himself starring alongside Bert Lahr in Foxy, and reunited with Rip Torn (who helped Blyden win his role through telling producers he was every bit as Southern as the role required the actor to be) in Blues For Mr. Charlie. 1965 had Larry appear in Mike Nichols’ Luv, which would inadvertently kickstart Blyden’s game show career via his first appearances as a panelist on the highly rated What’s My Line? to promote the production. Mike Nichols found Larry Blyden’s stage presence to be dynamic, and in turn, Larry was cast as the Devil in the 1967 Tony Award Best Musical nominated The Apple Tree (and also starring Alan Alda and Barbara Harris). Later in the spring of 1967, Blyden would be approached by NBC about hosting a then new game show called Personality. He accepted the job, all of which lasted two years, but would lead to further emceeing gigs for the likes of You’re Putting Me On, The Movie Game, and most notably, replacing Wally Bruner on the syndicated/color version of What’s My Line? in 1972.
Until 1972, Larry Blyden’s career sadly entered a small doldrums; after leaving You Know I Can’t Hear You When The Water Is Running in 1968, Larry decided to try his hand at directing again (his first time being a play titled Harold in 1962, which starred Anthony Perkins, and also featured Don Adams and John Fiedler) with a play called The Mother Lover. It ended up being the most dreaded thing in one’s Broadway career - an opening night flop. Apart from a Hollywood commute that saw him in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (which had Larry getting to perform alongside Barbara Streisand) and two television dramas (The FBI - “The Innocents” and The Mod Squad - “Exit The Closer”), Blyden mostly laid low until 1971, when he saw a California repertory theatre production of a musical that would, almost as if by magic, turn his life and career around overnight. The revival of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum could also be called ‘A Terrific Thing Happened To Larry Blyden’ with all it accomplished for the producer and those around him, most particularly Phil Silvers, who took the role of Pseudolus (a role he had rejected previously for the musical’s original 1962 Broadway run) and ran with it to great heights. And oh what great heights Silvers and Blyden (who played Hysterium) hit - with a 1972 Best Leading Actor In A Musical Tony Award for the former and a 1972 Best Featured Actor In A Musical Tony Award for Larry, who remained a workhorse and was one of the on-stage performers at the 1972 Tony Awards (at which Larry entertained with such greats as Hal Linden, Alfred Drake, and Ethel Merman, among others).
After A Funny Thing closed, the remainder of 1972 and beyond had Larry Blyden maintaining a steady television schedule between What’s My Line?, a couple of television dramas (notably Medical Center - “Terror” and Cannon - “The Torch”), and several appearances on other game shows as a panelist (To Tell The Truth and Match Game ’74) and celebrity assistant ($10,000 Pyramid and Blankety Blanks). Larry returned to the stage in 1973 for one evening, March 11th, to participate in the Stephen Sondheim Musical Tribute (the recording of which is affectionately known by fans as ‘the Scrabble album’ due to its cover art), and performed “Love Is In The Air” from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and “Buddy’s Blues” from Follies (with one of his co-stars on the number being Chita Rivera). He would not see stage work again until 1974, when Blyden was asked by Burt Shevelove (who had directed A Funny Thing) to take on the role of Dionysos in a Yale Repertory Theatre production of The Frogs, Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim’s modern retelling of a comedy by Aristophenes. The show would last for eight performances in late May of 1974, and had Larry performing alongside Michael Vale of Dunkin’ Donuts commercial spokesperson fame, and also included a pre-stardom Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver.
In December of 1974, What’s My Line was cancelled after a six year syndication run and a near twenty-five year duration overall, with Larry Blyden having hosted its last two years and several months. Goodson-Todman, the production company behind What’s My Line? and other classic game shows, offered Larry an emceeing slot on an upcoming idea called Showoffs, which was basically a combination of charades and a Beat The Clock-esque format. Meanwhile, Blyden had started the last great stage role of his all too short-lived career: Sidney, in Absurd Person Singular, a British farce also featuring Tony Roberts, Carole Shelley, and Richard Kiley. Larry won the role through a heavy demonstration of his best Cockney accent during the interview and audition, and never dropped the accent at all between entering and leaving the room. It paid off most handsomely, landing Blyden his third Tony Award nomination, for 1975 Best Featured Actor In A Play, as well as also his first and only Drama Desk Award nomination, for 1975 Outstanding Featured Actor In A Play. Remaining one of Broadway’s hardest workers, Larry took on the skit directing and hosting duties for the 1975 Tony Awards and again was one of the on-stage performers (alongside other stars such as co-hosts Bobby Van and Larry Kert). Such duties would be Larry Blyden’s fifth to last ever appearance in anything…his fourth to last being a gala to Joshua Logan (which was recorded and distributed only among private parties) where he reprised his Ensign Pulver role from Mister Roberts, his third being a week on Blankety Blanks (May 12th-16th), his second being the pilot for the aforementioned Showoffs, taped on May 24th, 1975; and his final showing being a Bicentennial Minute segment that aired on CBS on May 31st.. A couple of days after the Showoffs pilot taping, Larry Blyden embarked on a plane for a promised two week vacation in Morocco before the official tapings for Showoffs were to begin later in June. On May 31st, Larry was in a horrific automobile accident between Agadir and Tan-Tan, and sustained significant wounds to his head, chest, and abdomen. Larry underwent surgery, but ultimately succumbed to his injuries on June 6th, just a little over two weeks shy of turning fifty. As well as quite sadly and literally alone, with all loved ones and friends an ocean away, and very tragically ending a most inimitable and still blossoming career and young life all too soon.
Biography courtesy of Caroline Erin "Maven" Smith
29° 42.904, -095° 18.437
Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery