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December 28, 1952 |
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Harley Venton (born December 28, 1952) is a Canadian actor from Thunder Bay, Ontario. He emigrated with his family in 1965 to Hibbing, on the iron range of northern Minnesota.
In the fall of 1965, he enrolled at Hibbing Junior High School where, in exchange for 20 cents (his lunch money) and, more importantly, to get out of two periods of classes, he went to see something called a 'play'. He was enthralled, enchanted and decided, then and there, that acting was what he wished to do for the rest of his life. He went out for the spring drama club production of Desperate Ambrose a farcical comedy about a greenhorn dandy who goes west, is flattered into taking on the position of sheriff in a Wild West Town and, quite by comedic misadventure, manages to clean up the rough and tumble town. He 'tried out' for this first acting role having studied with some of the finest acting teachers extant: Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Milton Berle, Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye, Jonathan Winters, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and, perhaps most importantly for this particular role, Don Knotts as Deputy Barney Fife. Relying on instinct, he pulled out all the stops and got the leading role his first time out. (How could he not believe that acting was his destiny?) His director, a HJS teacher whose name he has sadly lost to memory, was an excellent practitioner who taught him both the structure of comedic timing but also the fundamental of stagecraft.
His first acting experience occurred in his 8th grade production of Desperate Ambrose, in which he played the lead. In the summer of 1970, the family moved to Jamestown, North Dakota, where Venton spent his high school years at Jamestown High School. He continued to take every opportunity to perform, in theatre, speech contests, and choir. During his senior year, in addition to placing first in the state in the North Dakota State Speech Competition for Humorous Interpretation, he also was awarded the "Joseph Jefferson Award" (given to the outstanding senior actor at Jamestown High School), and won the school's annual talent show with a comedy routine which featured his impressions of various celebrities and political figures. (He liberally 'borrowed' from Hal Holbrook's performance as Mark Twain, and the political impressions of master mimic, David Frye.)
He went on to college at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks which had a small but excellent theatre program peopled by many ex-patriot and/or eventual professional actors and directors. One professor, Patrick Rucker, had a profound effect on the direction of Mr. Ventons' professional life. Professor Rucker encouraged and supervised Mr. Ventons' application the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre prestigious Bush Fellowship Program which provided a full scholarship through an accelerated Master's of Fine Arts followed by a full season at the Guthrie as an Actors Equity Journeyman, securing his official professional status as an actor.
Following the 1976-77 season at the Guthrie, he remained in Minneapolis until 1979 doing local Equity productions including 'Streamers'at the Cricket Theatre and 'Loot' at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre while also participating regularly in the activities of Playwrights Horizons.
In December 1979, he moved to New York City. He spent the spring waiting tables at Mortimers Restaurant on 75th and Lexington while seeking representation. By a happy accident, he walked into an audition for the California Shakespeare Festival(Visalia) under the Artistic Directorship of his mentor and fellow Guthrie Company member, Mark Lamos. He spent the summer with the CSF company playing Marcellus in Hamlet, and more notably, Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Building upon the buzz that Mr. Lamos was enjoying due to his imminent assumption of the Artistic Directorship of the Hartford Stage Company, Mr. Venton renewed his efforts by mail from California to acquire agent representation back in New York City. In the fall of 1980, he interviewed with Monty Silver of the agency of the same name, was signed, and sent out by Mr. Silver on his first audition in New York City for the daytime drama Guiding Light; He booked the job and spent two happy years as earnest, good guy attorney Derek Colby. During his stint on the soap opera, Mr. Venton began doing national commercials and, most notably, auditioned for and was hired to be the male understudy for the two male roles in the Broadway production of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart. Directly following his two years on Guiding Light he took the role of the feckless ex-husband of Susan Saint James on the situation comedy Kate & Allie. With a new focus now on nighttime television work, he went back and forth between New York City and Los Angeles.
In 1983, Venton relocated to California, and shortly thereafter, began making frequent appearances on episodic television programs, either playing very romantic characters with his brown hair and brown eyes (classical tall dark and handsome looks) or as a criminal or "the heavy". He has appeared on Kate & Allie, Murphy Brown, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder, She Wrote, Models, Inc., Ellen, The Practice, Seinfeld and Law & Order, among other series.
In 1983, ABC expressed interest in Venton for the role of David Addison on the comedy-drama series Moonlighting. Venton screen-tested for the role of Addison in September 1984. Cybill Shepherd wanted Venton to play Addison, but producer Glenn Gordon Caron ultimately gave the role to Bruce Willis. Venton was the only other actor to be screen-tested, and that screen test can still be viewed on the DVD copy of the pilot for Moonlighting.
Venton also was signed to star in a pilot for a new series on the then-new Fox Network; titled Blood Ties, it explored the concept of a Transylvanian immigrant community of "good" vampires, living in the western United States. The pilot was not picked up, and the original hour-long pilot, after being buttressed with thirty minutes of previously-edited footage, was instead shown as a "made for TV" movie on May 27, 1991. It was released on DVD in 2002, but is no longer available.