April 6, 1916
New York City, New York, United States
August 16, 1998
Los Angeles, California, United States
Actor, Comedian, Peanut vendor
Durable character actor Phil Leeds began his career as a stand-up comedian and went on to appear in dozens of films, television programs and stage productions throughout his 60 years in show business. With a face that was far more memorable than his name, he was a familiar presence on TV, racking up numerous guest appearances in his later years. Leeds was raised in the Bronx, NY and worked as a peanut vendor in nearby Yankee Stadium and Manhattan's Polo Grounds. The comedian started a stand-up career in his early twenties, and soon made his Broadway debut in 1942 opposite Betty Garrett in the musical "Of V We Sing" before going off to serve in the US Army Special Services during World War II. While stationed in the Pacific, Leeds continued to hone his craft, entertaining the troops. He resumed stand up upon his return to New York, opening for the likes of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Harry Belafonte, and Barbra Streisand through the 1950s and 1960s while continuing to work on Broadway. Among his better known stage appearances were those opposite Peter Ustinov in "Romanoff and Juliet" (1958) and Robert Preston in "Nobody Loves an Albatross" (1963). Other theatrical credits include a successful 1973 San Francisco production of "The Sunshine Boys" co-starring Jose Ferrer. and the tour of the New York Shakespeare Festival musical "Two Gentleman of Verona." Settling in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Leeds found regular work in films and on TV. He had already played Dr. Shand in 1968's creepy "Rosemary's Baby" and went on to be cast as the Chief Monk in Mel Brooks' "The History of the World Part I" (1981) before making several scene stealing appearances in features like "Beaches" (1988), "Enemies, A Love Story" (1989), "Ghost" (1990), "Frankie and Johnny" and "Soapdish" (both 1991).In 1949, Leeds began his considerable television career as a regular on "Front Row Center," a musical revue program presented on the DuMont network featuring guests from Broadway theater productions. He guested on CBS' "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in 1962, appeared in "All in the Family" and did several episodes of ABC's police comedy "Barney Miller" throughout its eight season run. More recently, Leeds was a regular on the 1995 CBS series "Double Rush," playing 'The Kid', a crafty elderly messenger in Manhattan who made up for his lack of speed with his knowledge of all the city's shortcuts. The busy actor had a recurring role on the short lived NBC comedy "Singer & Sons" (1990), but was probably best known for his guest spots on more successful comedies, his stable of off-beat characters including over the hill comedians, wacky neighbors and certifiable judges. He played these and many other types on nearly every well-known sitcom from "Dream On" and "The Larry Sanders Show" to "Night Court" and "Mad About You," "Roseanne" and "Coach" to repeat appearances on "The Closer" and "Dave's World." The actor proved adept at dramatic work as well as evidenced by his guest stints on "ER, "Nothing Sacred" and "Civil Wars." One of his last recurring roles was as especially trying jurist in episodes of "Ally McBeal." In May 1998, just months before his death in August, Leeds guest starred in four shows that aired on the same night: the season finales of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS) and "Ally McBeal" (Fox) and the series finales of "Murphy Brown" (CBS) and "Ellen" (ABC).