Sad news from The Hollywood Reporter: Harold Gould, one of the finest character actors of the 1970s, passed away on September 11 of prostate cancer. Gould, born Harold Goldstein, is one of those guys you probably don’t know by name but would recognize instantly by sight. He’s best known for playing the father of the title character on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff “Rhoda” but I’ll remember him as a supporting performer in two of my my all-time favorite films, 1973’s “The Sting” (pictured above) and 1974’s “The Front Page.”
Gould’s gentlemanly presence and crisp diction perfectly suited the period of both films, roughly the late ’20s and early ’30s. “The Sting” came first, where he played opposite Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Robert Shaw as conman Kid Twist. Redford and Newman dominate the film, of course, but Gould held his own, stealing scenes with his wry, knowing smile. TCM.com has a great clip (sadly not embeddable) of Gould’s Twist and Ray Walston’s J.J. worming their way into a guy’s office in order to steal his identity and then scam Shaw’s Doyle Lonnegan. The scene shows off Gould’s flexibility as an actor, from blue collar worker to sleazy businessman, with a brief stopover in the middle as grifter supreme.
Gould plays another character who wears many faces in Billy Wilder’s eternally underrated remake of “The Front Page” (1974). As the major of Chicago, he’s the picture of gentility as long as the press are around. As soon as they run off to chase a story, he drops the charade and mutates into a cigar-chomping, power-mad tyrant. Gould had a knack for suave refinement and he looked great in old suits, but he could play a convincing scoundrel too. Once again he shared a film and some very memorable scenes with a legendary acting duo; in this case Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
I vaguely remember Gould as Betty White’s longtime boyfriend on “The Golden Girls,” and he had a healthy run of grandfather roles in recent movies like “The Master of Disguise” and the remake of “Freaky Friday.” But those two performances from “The Sting” and “The Front Page” will forever remain etched in my mind. And no wonder. For a man like Gould, whose credits stretched into the triple digits over a five decade career, playing those kind of chameleons were extremely relatable roles.