Celebrating Jim Dale

Something about his sadly quizzical face here captures the essence of what makes Jim Dale funny

August 15 is the birthday of the great British show biz Renaissance Man Jim Dale (b. 1935). Dale is a major star of every medium in his home country. In the U.S. he’s only truly conquered Broadway, but when you see the sum of his accomplishments, you ought to be floored. I’ve known about him since I was a kid, when he starred in Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973). In high school, I played the title character in Scapino (a role Dale originated at the Young Vic in the early ’70s and then brought to Broadway). Then right after high school, I ran follow spot at a local theatrical production of Barnum, another role Dale had created on Broadway in 1980. So I seemed to keep bumping into his legacy. In later years I became acquainted with much more of his work, and even met him briefly at this 2011 Theatre Museum event.

Dale started out as a professional comedian in his late teens when music halls were still a factor in British show biz. At age 22, he became the first pop star to work with George Martin (i.e., before even The Beatles), who produced several British hits with him in 1957 and 1958. Starting in 1963 he began his long association with the Carry On films, that peculiarly British cinematic institution which we are still due to write about, as we are a huge fan. In 1966 he wrote the lyrics for the award-winning title song of the film Georgie Girl. In 1970 he joined the National Theatre Company under Olivier, which is where he created Scapino, and played numerous other roles. In 1977 he starred in his best known American film Pete’s Dragon, followed by another Disney film Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978). In the ’80s, ’90s and oughts came lots of award-winning stage work, culminating in his recent Broadway show Just Jim Dale (2014). In recent years he has narrated audio books , including seven in the Harry Potter series. Still going strong. Sir, we salute you!