Edward Herrmann, a stalwart American actor of patrician bearing and earnest elocutionary style who became familiar across a spectrum of popular entertainment, from movies and television shows to plays, audiobooks and advertisements, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 71.
The cause was brain cancer, his son, Rory, said.
Well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and, especially in later years, hefty, Mr. Herrmann could be formidable or friendly, authoritative or milquetoast, insistent or obsequious. He was often cast in the role of an affluent or privileged personage; he played lawyers, judges, headmasters, executives, a lot of millionaires.
More often than most actors, he had a tuxedo — or at least a suit — as a costume, but his characters could be comic or dramatic, as likely to be stuffed shirts as genuinely commanding men.
He played Nelson Rockefeller in the 1995 Oliver Stone film “Nixon.” Early in his career his best known role was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a pair of television movies in the 1970s, “Eleanor and Franklin,” about Roosevelt’s courtship of his distant cousin (played by Jane Alexander), and “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years.” He played President Roosevelt again in the 1982 movie version of the musical “Annie,” directed by John Huston, and he was the voice of Roosevelt in the recent Ken Burns documentary, “The Roosevelts; An Intimate History.”
But he might be better known lately — especially for younger television viewers — as Richard Gilmore, the doting, upper-crust grandfather of the Connecticut Gilmores on the popular series “Gilmore Girls.” Mr. Herrmann himself lived in Salisbury, Conn.
Individual roles aside, Mr. Hermann had a career of astonishing volume, testament to a workingman’s enthusiastic temperament and a reliable set of actorly gifts. He had an “Oh yeah, that guy” kind of ubiquity, having appeared in well over 100 movies and television shows, including recurring roles in “St. Elsewhere,” “The Practice,” “Oz,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Harry’s Law” and “The Good Wife.”
And his voice — mellifluous, clear, teacherly but never overbearing — was seemingly everywhere. He was a host or narrator for myriad documentaries on the History Channel. He narrated the public broadcasting mini-series “Liberty! The American Revolution” (1997). He was the voice of Dodge automobile commercials for most of the 1990s.
He also recorded dozens of audiobooks, including “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller “Unbroken,” David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and Roger Ebert’s memoir “Life Itself.”
Edward Kirk Herrmann was born in Washington on July 21, 1943. His mother was the former Jean O’Connor; his father, John Anthony Herrmann, was an engineer who worked for automobile and railroad companies. He grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, and later graduated from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where he indulged an incipient Anglophilia, conceived a passion for 17th-century British playwrights and poets, and began acting. He later spent three years in Texas, at the Dallas Theater Center, which he once called a kind of “medieval guild” where everyone was responsible for every aspect of a production.
“You could make all kinds of mistakes and it wouldn’t damage you irreparably, like it would in New York,” he said.
Mr. Herrmann made his Broadway debut in 1972 in “Moonchildren,” a bitter comedy by Michael Weller whose cast also included James Woods, Jill Eikenberry, Kevin Conway and Christopher Guest. Set in a university town in the mid-1960s, it was described by Clive Barnes in The New York Times as “the first Broadway generation gap comedy that is seen from the young side of the gap.”
In 1976, Mr. Herrmann won a Tony award as a featured actor in George Bernard Shaw’s early work of social criticism, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” playing Frank Gardner, a young man socially entangled with the title character, a prostitute turned madam (played by Ruth Gordon), and her daughter (Lynn Redgrave).
“Edward Herrmann, though physically wrong for Frank, gives a stunning performance,” the critic John Simon wrote in The Times, “his movements a model of sardonic poise, his timing and intonations always surprising — but surprising with their idiomatic rightness.”
Mr. Herrmann appeared on Broadway a handful of other times, including in a 1980 revival of “The Philadelphia Story,” in which he played opposite Blythe Danner; and “Plenty” (1983), David Hare’s drama about disillusionment in postwar Britain seen through the lens of a withering marriage, for which he was nominated for a second Tony.
Among his better known films are “The Paper Chase” (1973), about first year Harvard law students; “The Great Gatsby” (1974), starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, in which he played Klipspringer, one of Gatsby’s eccentric, mooching guests; Warren Beatty’s “Reds” (1981), about the early 20th-century journalist and radical sympathizer John Reed, in which Mr. Hermann played Reed’s friend and editor, Max Eastman.
He also appeared in Woody Allen’s Depression-era fantasy, “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), about a character walking off a movie screen into the real world; “Overboard” (1987), in which Mr. Herrmann played the rich husband of an heiress (Goldie Hawn) who falls off a boat and suffers a bout of amnesia; “Richie Rich” (1994), about the richest kid in the world (Macaulay Culkin), in which Mr. Hermann played the father, Richard (of course) Rich; and “The Emperor’s Club” (2002), the story of a prep schoolteacher (Kevin Kline) and his students; Mr. Herrmann was the headmaster.
His first marriage, to Leigh Curran, ended in divorce. In addition to his son, Mr. Herrmann is survived by his wife, the former Star Lynn Hayner, whom he married in 1994; two daughters, Ryen Alaire Herrmann and Emma Madison Herrmann; a brother, John; and a granddaughter.
Besides his acting, Mr. Herrmann was an avid collector of military memorabilia and a restorer of classic automobiles.