Harold Gould dies at 86; veteran character actor


Harold Gould, a veteran character actor who played con man Kid Twist in the 1973 movie “The Sting,” Valerie Harper’s father on TV’s “Rhoda” and Betty White’s boyfriend on “The Golden Girls,” has died. He was 86.

Gould, who also was known for his stage work, died Saturday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement community in Woodland Hills of prostate cancer that had metastasized, said Leah Gould, his daughter-in-law.

A former university drama teacher who launched his career in front of the camera in the early ‘60s, Gould appeared in movies such as “Harper,” the 1974 remake of “The Front Page,” “Love and Death,” “Silent Movie,” “Freaky Friday” and “Patch Adams.”


Over the last five decades, he made scores of guest appearances on TV shows such as “Route 66,” “Perry Mason,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Big Valley,” “Soap,” “Spencer” and, most recently, “ Nip/Tuck.”

On television, Gould may be best remembered for playing Martin Morgenstern on the 1974-78 situation comedy “Rhoda” and Miles Webber on the 1985-92 sitcom “The Golden Girls.”

“He was such a fine actor and such a lovely man,” White said in a statement to The Times on Monday. “He will be sorely missed.”

In his role as her “long-suffering, adoring dad” on “Rhoda,” Harper said Monday, “Harold brought an extraordinary humor, class, grace and a twinkle to create the character of Martin Morgenstern,” which began on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Describing Gould as “a friend as well as a co-worker,” Harper told The Times that “he was one of the loveliest gentlemen — and so funny and so good at what he did.”

Gould was nominated for five primetime Emmys: In 1975 for an episode of “Police Story;” in 1978 for an episode of “Rhoda;” in 1980 for “The Scarlett O’Hara War;” in 1986 for “Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry” (opposite Katharine Hepburn); and in 1990 for an episode of “The Ray Bradbury Theater.”


He also played the father, Howard Cunningham, in a 1972 segment of “Love, American Style,” titled “Love and Happy Days,” which led to the long-running hit series “Happy Days.” But during a delay before the series went into production, Gould went abroad to do a play.

“While I was there,” he told the Post-Standard newspaper of Syracuse, N.Y., in 2008, “I got a call telling me to come back because they were ready to start shooting [‘Happy Days’]. Well, I always honor a commitment. Also, I had a beard that would need shaving off, so I told them no, and they put Tom Bosley into the part.”

Despite his extensive television credits, theater was Gould’s greatest love.

On Broadway, he appeared in Neil Simon’s “Fools,” Jules Feiffer’s “Grown Ups,” Tom Stoppard’s “Artist Descending a Staircase” and Richard Baer’s “Mixed Emotions.”

Off-Broadway, he originated the role of Artie Shaughnessy in John Guare’s play “The House of Blue Leaves,” and he won an Obie Award in 1970 playing Dr. Eduard Huml in Vaclav Havel’s “The Increased Difficulty of Concentration.”

Gould continued to do stage work across the country, more recently starring in productions of “Viagra Falls” and “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

“I’ve always worked in the theater,” he told the Record newspaper in New Jersey in 1996. “That’s where the inner satisfactions come, the discoveries within yourself that are allowed over a period of time, with rehearsals and performances.”

Born Harold V. Goldstein on Dec. 10, 1923, in Schenectady, N.Y., and raised in Albany, Gould loved the theater at an early age but was encouraged by his parents to get into something with a more stable income.

After serving in the Army during World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching in 1947 from what is now the University at Albany, State University of New York. He then earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in theater from Cornell University, where he taught drama, speech and literature from 1948 to 1953.

Gould also taught at what is now Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., and at UC Riverside, from where he took a one-year leave of absence in 1960 to follow his passion for acting.

“I was only 60 miles from Los Angeles, so I left my wife in Riverside, where she taught school,” he told the Palm Beach Post in 2007. “I gave myself a year. All of my colleagues would say, ‘What are you doing? You’re crazy to leave teaching.’ But I had to try. I had to take the leap.”

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Lea; his children, Deborah Gould Harris, Joshua Gould and Lowell Gould; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is pending.