Lionel Stander

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Lionel Stander
Stander in A Star Is Born (1937)
Lionel Jay Stander

(1908-01-11)January 11, 1908
DiedNovember 30, 1994(1994-11-30) (aged 86)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Years active1928–1994
Lucy Dietz
(m. 1928; div. 1936)
Alice Twitchell
(m. 1938; div. 1942)
Vehanne Monteagle
(m. 1945; div. 1950)
Diana Radbec
(m. 1953; div. 1963)
Maria Penn
(m. 1963; div. 1967)
Stephanie Van Hennick
(m. 1971)

Lionel Jay Stander (January 11, 1908 – November 30, 1994) was an American actor in films, radio, theater and television. He is best remembered for his role as majordomo Max on the 1980s mystery television series Hart to Hart.

Early life[edit]

Lionel Stander was born in The Bronx, New York City, to Russian-Jewish immigrants, the eldest of three children.[citation needed]

During his one year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he appeared in the student productions The Muse of the Unpublished Writer,[1] and The Muse and the Movies: A Comedy of Greenwich Village.


Stander's acting career began in 1928, as Cop and First Fairy in Him by E. E. Cummings, at the Provincetown Playhouse.[2] He claimed that he got the roles because one of them required shooting craps, which he did well, and a friend in the company volunteered him. He appeared in a series of short-lived plays through the early 1930s, including The House Beautiful, which Dorothy Parker famously derided as "the play lousy".[3]

Early film roles[edit]

In 1932, Stander landed his first credited film role in the Warner-Vitaphone short feature In the Dough (1932), with Fatty Arbuckle and Shemp Howard. He made several other shorts, the last being The Old Grey Mayor (1935) with Bob Hope in 1935. That same year, he was cast in a feature, Ben Hecht's The Scoundrel (1935), with Noël Coward. He moved to Hollywood and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. Stander was in a string of films over the next three years, appearing most notably in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) with Gary Cooper, Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) playing Archie Goodwin, The League of Frightened Men (1937), and A Star Is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.[citation needed]

Radio roles[edit]

Stander's distinctive rumbling voice, tough-guy demeanor, and talent with accents made him a popular radio actor. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was on The Eddie Cantor Show, Bing Crosby's KMH show, the Lux Radio Theater production of A Star Is Born, The Fred Allen Show,[4] the Mayor of the Town series with Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead, Kraft Music Hall on NBC, Stage Door Canteen on CBS, the Lincoln Highway Radio Show on NBC, and The Jack Paar Show, among others.

In 1941, he starred in a short-lived radio show called The Life of Riley on CBS (no relation to the radio, film, and television character later made famous by William Bendix). Stander played the role of Spider Schultz in both Harold Lloyd's film The Milky Way (1936) and its remake ten years later, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), starring Danny Kaye. He was a regular on Danny Kaye's zany comedy-variety radio show on CBS (1946–1947), playing himself as "just the elevator operator" amidst the antics of Kaye, future Our Miss Brooks star Eve Arden, and bandleader Harry James.[citation needed]

Also during the 1940s, he played several characters on The Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda animated theatrical shorts, produced by Walter Lantz Productions. For Woody Woodpecker, he provided the voice of Buzz Buzzard, but was blacklisted from the Lantz studio in 1951 and was replaced by Dal McKennon.


Stander espoused a variety of social and political causes, and was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. At a SAG meeting held during a 1937 studio technicians' strike, he told the assemblage of 2000 members: "With the eyes of the whole world on this meeting, will it not give the Guild a black eye if its members continue to cross picket lines?" (The NY Times reported: "Cheers mingled with boos greeted the question.") Stander also supported the Conference of Studio Unions in its fight against the Mob-influenced International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Also in 1937, Ivan F. Cox, a deposed officer of the San Francisco longshoremen's union, sued Stander and a host of others, including union leader Harry Bridges, actors Fredric March, Franchot Tone, Mary Astor, James Cagney, Jean Muir, and director William Dieterle. The charge, according to Time magazine, was "conspiring to propagate Communism on the Pacific Coast, causing Mr. Cox to lose his job".[citation needed]

In 1938, Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn allegedly called Stander "a Red son of a bitch" and threatened a US$100,000 fine against any studio that renewed his contract. Despite critical acclaim for his performances, Stander's film work dropped off drastically. After appearing in 15 films in 1935 and 1936, he was in only six in 1937 and 1938. This was followed by just six films from 1939 through 1943, none made by major studios, the most notable being Guadalcanal Diary (1943).[citation needed]

Stander and HUAC[edit]

Stander was among the first group of Hollywood actors to be subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1940 for supposed Communist activities. At a grand jury hearing in Los Angeles in August 1940—the transcript of which was shortly released to the press—John R. Leech, the self-described former "chief functionary" of the Communist Party in Los Angeles, named Stander as a CP member, along with more than 15 other Hollywood notables, including Franchot Tone, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Clifford Odets and Budd Schulberg. Stander subsequently forced himself into the grand jury hearing, and the district attorney cleared him of the allegations.

Stander appeared in few films in 1944 and 1945. Then, with HUAC's attentions focused elsewhere due to World War II, he played in a number of mostly second-rate pictures from independent studios through the late 1940s. These include Ben Hecht's Specter of the Rose (1946); the Preston Sturges comedy The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) with Harold Lloyd; and Trouble Makers (1948) with The Bowery Boys. One classic emerged from this period of his career, the Preston Sturges comedy Unfaithfully Yours (1948) with Rex Harrison.

In 1947, HUAC turned its attention once again to Hollywood. That October, Howard Rushmore, who had belonged to the CPUSA in the 1930s and written film reviews for the Daily Worker, testified that writer John Howard Lawson, whom he named as a Communist, had "referred to Lionel Stander as a perfect example of how a Communist should not act in Hollywood." Stander was again blacklisted from films, though he played on TV, radio, and in the theater.[5]

In March 1951, actor Larry Parks, after pleading with HUAC investigators not to force him to "crawl through the mud" as an informer, named several people as Communists in a "closed-door session", which made the newspapers two days later. He testified that he knew Stander, but did not recall attending any CP meetings with him.[6]

At a HUAC hearing in April 1951, actor Marc Lawrence named Stander as a member of his Hollywood Communist "cell", along with screenwriter Lester Cole and screenwriter Gordon Kahn.[7] Lawrence testified that Stander "was the guy who introduced me to the party line", and that Stander said that by joining the CP, he would "get to know the dames more"[8] — which Lawrence, who did not enjoy film-star looks, thought a good idea. Upon hearing of this, Stander shot off a telegram to HUAC chair John S. Wood, calling Lawrence's testimony that he was a Communist "ridiculous" and asking to appear before the Committee, so he could swear to that under oath. The telegram concluded: "I respectfully request an opportunity to appear before you at your earliest possible convenience. Be assured of my cooperation." Two days later, Stander sued Lawrence for $500,000 for slander. Lawrence left the country ("fled", according to Stander) for Europe.

After that, Stander was blacklisted from TV and radio. He continued to act in theater roles, and played Ludlow Lowell in the 1952-53 revival of Pal Joey on Broadway and on tour.


Two years passed before Stander was issued the requested subpoena. Finally, in May 1953, he testified at a HUAC hearing in New York, where he made front-page headlines nationwide by being uproariously uncooperative, memorialized in the Eric Bentley play, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been. The New York Times headline was "Stander Lectures House Red Inquiry." In a dig at bandleader Artie Shaw, who had tearfully claimed in a Committee hearing that he had been "duped" by the Communist Party, Stander testified,

"I am not a dupe, or a dope, or a moe, or a schmoe... I was absolutely conscious of what I was doing, and I am not ashamed of anything I said in public or private."

An excerpt from that statement was engraved in stone for "The First Amendment Blacklist Memorial" by Jenny Holzer at the University of Southern California.

Other notable statements during Stander's 1953 HUAC testimony:

  • "[Testifying before HUAC] is like the Spanish Inquisition. You may not be burned, but you can't help coming away a little singed."
  • "I don't know about the overthrow of the government. This committee has been investigating 15 years so far, and hasn't found one act of violence."
  • "I know of a group of fanatics who are desperately trying to undermine the Constitution of the United States by depriving artists and others of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without due process of law... I can tell names and cite instances and I am one of the first victims of it. And if you are interested in that and also a group of ex-fascists and America-Firsters and anti-Semites, people who hate everybody including Negroes, minority groups and most likely themselves... and these people are engaged in a conspiracy outside all the legal processes to undermine the very fundamental American concepts upon which our entire system of democracy exists."[9]
  • "...I don't want to be responsible for a whole stable of informers, stool pigeons, and psychopaths and ex-political heretics, who come in here beating their breast and say, 'I am awfully sorry; I didn't know what I was doing. Please--I want absolution; get me back into pictures.'"
  • "My estimation of this committee is that this committee arrogates judicial and punitive powers which it does not possess."

Stander also denied having been a Communist "now or yesterday." But when asked if he had ever been a party member, he refused to answer, calling it "a trick question."[citation needed]

Stander was blacklisted from the late 1940s until 1965; perhaps the longest period.[9]

Career in independent films in Europe[edit]

After that, Stander's acting career went into a free fall. He worked as a stockbroker on Wall Street, a journeyman stage actor, a corporate spokesman—even a New Orleans Mardi Gras king. He didn't return to Broadway until 1961 (and then only briefly in a flop) and to film in 1963, in the low-budget The Moving Finger (although he did provide, uncredited, the voice-over narration for the 1961 film noir Blast of Silence.)

Life improved for Stander when he moved to London in 1964 to act in Bertolt Brecht's Saint Joan of the Stockyards, directed by Tony Richardson, for whom he'd acted on Broadway, along with Christopher Plummer, in a 1963 production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. In 1965, he was featured in the film Promise Her Anything. That same year Richardson cast him in the black comedy about the funeral industry, The Loved One, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh, with an all-star cast including Jonathan Winters, Robert Morse, Liberace, Rod Steiger, Paul Williams and many others. In 1966, Roman Polanski cast Stander in his only starring role, as the thug Dickie in Cul-de-sac, opposite Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence.

Stander in Stanza 17-17 (1971)

Stander stayed in Europe and eventually settled in Rome, where he appeared in many spaghetti Westerns, most notably playing a bartender named Max in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. He played the role of the villainous mob boss in Fernando Di Leo's 1972 poliziottescho thriller Caliber 9. In Rome he connected with Robert Wagner, who cast him in an episode of It Takes a Thief that was shot there. Stander's few English-language films in the 1970s include The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight with Robert De Niro and Jerry Orbach, Steven Spielberg's 1941, and Martin Scorsese's New York, New York, which also starred De Niro and Liza Minnelli.

Stander played a supporting role in the TV film Revenge Is My Destiny with Chris Robinson. He played a lounge comic modeled after the real-life Las Vegas comic Joe E. Lewis, who used to begin his act by announcing "Post Time" as he sipped his ever-present drink.

Hart to Hart and other roles[edit]

After 15 years abroad, Stander moved back to the U.S. for the role he is now most famous for: Max, the loyal butler, cook, and chauffeur to the wealthy, amateur detectives Jonathan and Jennifer Hart played by Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers on the 1979–1984 television series Hart to Hart (and a subsequent series of Hart to Hart made-for-television films). In 1982, Stander won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film.

In 1986, he became the voice of Kup in The Transformers: The Movie. In 1991 he was a guest star in the television series Dream On, playing Uncle Pat in the episode "Toby or Not Toby". His final theatrical film role was as a dying hospital patient in The Last Good Time (1994), with Armin Mueller-Stahl and Olivia d'Abo, directed by Bob Balaban.

Personal life[edit]

Stander was married six times; Lucy Dietz (1928–1936), Alice Twitchell (1938–1942), Vehanne Monteagle (1945–1950), Diana Radbec (1953–1963), Maria Penn (1963–1967) and Stephanie Van Hennick (1971–1994). All ended in divorce except the last marriage, which ended with his death. He fathered six daughters.[citation needed]

Stander died of lung cancer in Los Angeles, California, in 1994 at age 86. He was buried in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.[10]


Title Year Role Notes
In the Dough 1933 Toots Short, uncredited
The Scoundrel 1935 Rothenstien
Hooray for Love 1935 Chowsky
We're in the Money 1935 Leonidus Giovanni 'Butch' Gonzola
Page Miss Glory 1935 Nick Papadopolis
The Gay Deception 1935 Gettel
I Live My Life 1935 Yaffitz, Bridge Player
If You Could Only Cook 1935 Flash
Soak the Rich 1936 Muglia (kidnapper)
The Milky Way 1936 Spider Schultz
The Music Goes 'Round 1936 O'Casey
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936 Cornelius Cobb
Meet Nero Wolfe 1936 Archie Goodwin
They Met in a Taxi 1936 Fingers Garrison
More Than a Secretary 1936 Ernest
I Loved a Soldier 1936 Unfinished
A Star Is Born 1937 Matt Libby
The League of Frightened Men 1937 Archie Goodwin
The Last Gangster 1937 'Curly'
No Time to Marry 1938 Al Vogel
Professor Beware 1938 Jerry
The Crowd Roars 1938 'Happy' Lane
The Ice Follies of 1939 1939 Mort Hodges
What a Life 1939 Ferguson
The Bride Wore Crutches 1940 'Flannel-Mouth' Moroni
Hit Parade of 1941 1940 Uncredited
Hangmen Also Die! 1943 Banya
Tahiti Honey 1943 Pinkie
Guadalcanal Diary 1943 Sgt. Butch
Fish Fry 1944 Cat (voice) Uncredited
The Big Show-Off 1945 Joe Bagley
The Kid from Brooklyn 1946 Spider Schultz
In Old Sacramento 1946 Eddie Dodge
A Boy, a Girl and a Dog 1946 Jim
Specter of the Rose 1946 Lionel Gans
Gentleman Joe Palooka 1946 Harry Mitchell
The Sin of Harold Diddlebock 1947 Max
Call Northside 777 1948 Corrigan - Wiecek's Cellmate Uncredited
Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven 1948 Bellhop
Wet Blanket Policy 1948 Buzz Buzzard (voice) Short, uncredited
Unfaithfully Yours 1948 Hugo Standoff
Trouble Makers 1948 'Hatchet' Moran
Wild and Woody! 1948 Buzz Buzzard (voice) Short, uncredited
Drooler's Delight 1949 Buzz Buzzard (voice) Short, uncredited
Two Gals and a Guy 1951 Mr. Seymour
St. Benny the Dip 1951 Monk Williams
Blast of Silence 1961 Narrator (voice) Uncredited
The Moving Finger 1963 Anatole
The Loved One 1965 The Guru Brahmin
Promise Her Anything 1966 Sam
Cul-de-sac 1966 Richard
Seven Times Seven 1968 Sam
A Dandy in Aspic 1968 Sobakevich
Beyond the Law (Al di là della legge) 1968 Preacher
Gates to Paradise 1968 The Monk
Once Upon a Time in the West 1968 Barman
H2S 1969 Luigi Pavese
Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence 1969 Don Tosello
Zenabel 1969 Pancrazio
Boot Hill 1969 Mamy
The Naughty Cheerleader 1970 The Admiral
Crepa padrone, crepa tranquillo 1970
Between Miracles 1971 Oreste Micheli
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight 1971 Baccala
We Are All in Temporary Liberty 1971 Lawyer Bartoli
Stanza 17-17 palazzo delle tasse, ufficio imposte 1971 Katanga
Caliber 9 1972 Americano/Mikado
The Eroticist 1972 Cardinal Maravidi
Pulp 1972 Ben Dinuccio
Tutti fratelli nel West… per parte di padre 1972
Don Camillo e i giovani d'oggi 1972 Peppone
Treasure Island 1972 Billy Bones
Sting of the West' 1972 Stinky Manure
The Adventures of Pinocchio 1972 Mangiafuoco
Halleluja to Vera Cruz 1973 Sam 'Tonaca"' Thompson
Pete, Pearl & the Pole 1973 Sparks
Dirty Weekend 1973 General
The Black Hand (The Birth of the Mafia) 1973 Lieutenant Giuseppe Petrosino
My Pleasure Is Your Pleasure 1973 Il marchese Cavalcanti / Il cardinale di Ragusa
Crescete e moltiplicatevi 1973
Viaggia, ragazza, viaggia, hai la musica nelle vene 1973
The Sensual Man 1973 Baron Castorini
Innocence and Desire 1974 Salvatore Niscemi
Di mamma non ce n'è una sola 1974 Elia
La via dei babbuini 1974
Cormack of the Mounties 1975 Doctor Higgins
Mark of Zorro 1975 Padre Donato
La novizia 1975 Don Nini
The Black Bird 1975 Gordon Immerman
San Pasquale Baylonne protettore delle donne 1976 Don Gervasio
The Cassandra Crossing 1976 Max, the Train Conductor
New York, New York 1977 Tony Harwell
Matilda 1978 Pinky Schwab
Cyclone 1978 Taylor
The Rip-Off 1978 Sam
1941 1979 Angelo Scioli
The Transformers: The Movie 1986 Kup (voice)
Bellifreschi 1987 Frank Santamaria
Wicked Stepmother 1989 Sam
Cookie 1989 Enzo Della Testa
Joey Takes a Cab 1991 Joey
The Last Good Time 1994 Howard Singer Final film role

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1937 Lux Radio Theatre Mr. Deeds Goes to Town[11]


  1. ^ McPherson, Garland (February 10, 1927). "Playmakers to Present Three Original Plays". North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Daily Tar Heel. p. 2. Retrieved February 9, 2016 – via open access
  2. ^ "Him Program (1928)". Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  3. ^ Pietrusza, David (2003). Rothstein: the life, times, and murder of the criminal genius who fixed the 1919 World Series (1st Carroll & Graf ed.). New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 403. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3. OCLC 52424140.
  4. ^ Fred Allen's Radio Comedy
  5. ^ Gene Brown, The New York Times Encyclopedia of Film, 1947-1951 (NY: Times Books, 1984).
  6. ^ Thomas Doherty, Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture (NY: Columbia University Press, 2005), 31. ISBN 9780231503273
  7. ^ Michael Freedland and Barbra Paskin, Hollywood on Trial: McCarthyism in Hollywood (London: Pavilion, 2007), 152. ISBN 9781861059475
  8. ^ Victor S. Navasky, Naming Names (NY: Open Road Media, 2013), 349. ISBN 1480436216
  9. ^ a b Belton, John. American Cinema/American Culture. 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill, 2013, p. 309f.
  10. ^ "Lionel Stander (1908 - 1994) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 40, no. 1. Winter 2014. pp. 32–39.

External links[edit]