April 23, 1939
Washington, Washington D.C., United States
Actor, Director, Producer, Playwright
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Since his primetime debut in the early 1970s, this handsome, dark-haired TV actor has seemed to be on the brink of superstardom, but has had the ill fortune of never appearing on a hit series. David Birney was the toast of the Dartmouth College drama program and worked extensively in theater before such TV series as "Bridget Loves Bernie" (CBS, 1972-73), "Serpico" (NBC, 1976-77) and "Glitter" (ABC, 1984) gave him a different profile.After military service, Birney joined the Barter Theatre Company in Abingdon, VA, where he made both his professional acting (in Noel Coward's "Hay Fever") and directing ( with Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story") debuts. He went on to appear with various regional theaters, including the Hartford Stage Company, before making his New York debut with Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival in "A Comedy of Errors" in 1967. Birney appeared alongside Stacy Keach and Rue McClanahan in "MacBird" (1967) won praise for his turn in the off-Broadway show "Summertime" the following year. Numerous other stage roles followed, although his theater work became sporadic after 1975 when TV roles became more plentiful. Birney did make a belated Broadway debut in 1983 stepping into the role of Salieri in Peter Shaffer's award-winning play "Amadeus." The actor made his TV series bow as the young lover Mark Elliot on the CBS soap opera "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" in 1968. Two years later, he segued to the ABC daytime drama "A World Apart." But audiences came to recognize Birney for his primetime work beginning as Bernie Steinberg, the Jewish cab driver with writing aspirations married to an Irish-American Roman Catholic bride. "Bridget Loves Bernie" attempted to recreate the "Abby's Irish Bride" and "Cohens and Kellys" successes of the early part of the 20th Century, but the show lasted a mere season. (Birney married his co-star, Meredith Baxter, whose fame was to eclipse his when she starred in "Family Ties" in the 80s. They divorced in 1989.) Birney was an impressive John Quincy Adams in the 1976 PBS miniseries "The Adams Chronicles." Later that year, he stepped into Al Pacino's shoes as "Serpico," but the small screen version only lasted one season. In 1982, Birney was in the original cast of the NBC medical series "St. Elsewhere" as Dr. Ben Samuels, the young doctor who had slept with every woman in the hospital. Conflicts with the producers on the direction and status of his role led to his leaving the series after a year. He hooked up with producer Aaron Spelling with the short-lived "Glitter," as a star reporter for a magazine. A decade later, Birney was the smarmy news anchor on the equally short-lived UPN series "Live Shot" (1995). As a frequent player in TV-movies and miniseries, Birney had better luck demonstrating his range and talent. He made his TV debut playing Brother Martin, hearing the confession of "Saint Joan" in a 1967 NBC "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production. He offered a strong performance as one of the leads in the syndicated miniseries "Testimony of Two Men." His longform star status increased when he played Lyon Burke, the lawyer whose becomes involved romantically with one young woman and professionally with two others, in "Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls 1981." Birney served as executive producer of "The Long Journey Home" (CBS, 1987) and wrote "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," a stage project about relationships he performed with then-wife Meredith Baxter-Birney that was filmed for PBS in 1989. More recently, Birney was Alan Hamel, the husband of Suzanne Somers in the 1991 ABC biopic "Keeping Secrets" and the adoptive father of a confused Stephen Dorff in "Always Remember I Love You" (CBS, 1990). Birney's feature film appearances have been sporadic. He debuted in the low-budget "Caravan to Vaccares" (1974) but is probably better recalled as the advertising executive whose daughter sees the Almighty in "Oh God! Book II" (1980).