By Ernest Kearney — Early Thursday morning, February 27, 2020, noted character actor Gene Dynarski shuffled off his mortal coil in a Studio City rehabilitation center where he had been residing for the last month. He thought he was recuperating from a mild heart episode.


So did I.


I had visited Gene only a few days prior, he seemed his old self, ranting on about me finding him a lawyer to sue the rehab-center; claiming he had picked up bedbugs there. I could tell by the glances of the staff passing by his room that Gene had managed to piss them off.


Dynarski had a genius for pissing people off. And generally, the very last people whom an actor in Hollywood should piss off.


If the name Gene Dynarski doesn’t ring a bell, check his IMDB credits which rival War and Peace in length.


In Mudd’s Women, one of the most beloved episodes from the original Star Trek, he played the miner Ben Childress, on Seinfeld he played Izzy Mandelbaum Jr., the son of Izzy Mandelbaum (Lloyd Bridges) and in an episode of The X-Files — the show’s creator Chris Carter wrote specifically with him in mind— Gene fell victim to a monstrous bat creature.


Hill Street Blues, Batman, The A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, Starsky and Hutch, Kung Fu, Kojak, Bonanza, The Monkees… frankly it’s difficult to find a TV show Gene wasn’t on.


In Steven Spielberg’s 1971 TV movie Duel, starring Dennis Weaver as a motorist pursued by a malevolent entity behind the wheel of a big rig, Dynarski portrayed a trucker in a roadside café. He is confronted by the psychologically-thumped Weaver who has mistaken Gene for the murderous driver.


Spielberg recognized Dynarski’s talents and used him a second time in his sci-fi epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In one of the film’s best scenes, Dynarski played the supervisor who sends Richard Dreyfuss to investigate the mysterious blackouts.


And here’s a good example of Dynarski pissing off the wrong people.

He pissed off Spielberg.


Pissed him off to the point where, after its 1977 debut, Spielberg cut Dynarski out of all the film’s subsequent releases. It wasn’t until the release of the 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition that included the 1977 edition that Dynarski’s performance could be seen again.


Dynarski had roles in other films, Earthquake, All the President’s Men, and Airport just to name a few, constantly turning in superb performances and generally managing to put himself on the wrong side of people.


I was not impervious to Dynarski’s abrasive and harsh diatribes, but was better armored for them, knowing his history.


Gene was born on September 13, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York to Polish parents who came to the United States bringing with them the attitudes and prejudices of the “old country.”


As World War II raged, Gene’s father, a leather upholsterer by trade, arranged a job for his ten-year-old at the local bowling alley as a “pin monkey.” Before such tasks were automated, Gene sat in a pit at the end of a lane, placed the thrown ball in a rack that he manually cranked, to return it to the bowlers before he reset the pins by hand.


For the next six years, after school, Gene rushed home for dinner, then worked at the bowling alley until midnight. He dutifully handed his weekly pay over to his mother, but he kept the tips that bowlers gave him. When his mother found this out and demanded them as well Gene balked, lied about his age and joined the navy.


Later in life, when his elderly parents were in ill health, he moved them out to live with him in Los Angeles. His father died soon after, and Gene and his mother lived in the same house passing by each other days on end without either uttering a word to the other. Shortly before his mother died, Gene resolved to try and discuss their strained relationship.


“In my entire life,” he confronted her, “you never once told me that you loved me.”


She looked at him and coldly replied, “I know.”As is often the case, Gene’s gruff and arrogant deportment was a desperate attempt at disguising his own insecurity and withered self-esteem.


After leaving the navy, Gene was at a San Diego bar, when he overheard a conversation about someone studying to be an actor. Gene never suspected you could “study” acting, and immediately enrolled in a local college where he demonstrated his natural talents as a thespian. One of his classmates was then dating Lynn Stalmaster, the biggest casting director in Hollywood, to whom she sang the praises of this “guy in her class.”


Stalmaster told her to have Gene make an appointment to see him and when she excitedly conveyed this amazing opportunity to Gene his response was “What the hell for?”

He had no idea who Stalmaster was. Gene did meet with Stalmaster and started working immediately out of college. Gene was getting one role after another, but resented that Stalmaster wasn’t getting him bigger roles.

Convinced that he could do better on his own, Gene “fired” Lynn Stalmaster.
It took Gene a month to realize his mistake. Calling Stalmaster he told him he wanted to be his client again. Stalmaster passed. Gene had pissed him off.


In the late 1970’s Gene decided it would help his career if he owned a theater and so he rented a former waterbed store near the corner of Sunset and Western and set out to build one entirely by himself.


Shortly after he began the work a young actor by the name of Ed Harris stuck his head in and was amazed by what he saw under construction – a full proscenium arch stage, huge dressing rooms, a state of the art light booth.
The future star of The Right Stuff and Pollack immediately asked when the theater would be ready to rent for a show?


“Three months,” Gene determined.


Every three months for the next three years Harris returned to the unfinished structure to hear Gene repeat the same estimate for its completion.


Once, before I knew any better, I asked Gene if he could help me at my house over the weekend to throw up some shelves in a room I wanted to make into a library. Gene, a meticulous craftsman, showed up with blueprints.


Over the next six months we tore up the room’s floor because it wasn’t level enough for Gene, replaced a wall because he wanted a larger window; put in two sixteen foot rows of hand crafted shelves, then ripped them out and redid them because Gene was unsatisfied with the work. Throughout the process he constantly told me to just get out of his way because I handled a hammer like a chimp.


He built me a beautiful library, and we didn’t talk for a year afterwards.


One day back at the theater in 1979, Harris simply showed up and began unloading a set from the back of a truck. Pushing passed Gene he grumbled, “Screw yourself, Dynarski, I’m putting up my show.”


And so The Gene Dynarski Theatre opened with Harris as Chance in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth. Others followed, Elizabeth Shue, Jerry Stahl, John Densmore, Tom Hanks all anxious to do a production at the most beautiful equity waver house Los Angeles has ever known, the Gene Dynarski Theatre.


Gene and I met working at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble where my play Among the Vipers was produced and Gene appeared as Stalin in Master Class; a performance that won the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award. Years later, he was hired to reprise the Russian dictator in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert by someone who had seen the play and never forgotten Gene.


For a while, I was a member of a company that Gene formed. He planned to produce O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, with me in the role of Jamie and Gene as the elder Tyrone. We were in the office arguing over the name he’d selected for the company with me trying to convince him that “The Gene Dynarski Theatre presents a production by the Gene Dynarski Company starring Gene Dynarski” was a bit much when the phone rang.


It was the building’s owners calling to tell Gene they had sold the property and to give him the shortest notice to vacant they legally could. He had pissed them off too.


A production of my Grand Guignol piece The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters had the dubious honor of being the last play performed at the Gene Dynarski Theatre. Today the site is the parking lot for Home Depot.


Like I said, Gene was someone who pissed a lot of people off.


But it was also Gene who, while drinking at the Alpine Room, met this old homeless guy and immediately offered to let him live at the theater in exchange for cleaning up after the shows. Gene put a couch bed in one of the dressing rooms and for five years Nick was a fixture at the theater. Then one Sunday Gene arrived at the theater to invite Nick to breakfast and found he had peacefully passed away while sleeping. Gene paid for the funeral.
It’s hard to stay pissed at a guy like that.


Still, if a “Heavenly Kingdom” awaits us, I’m pretty sure that Gene has probably succeeded in pissing off the good Lord by berating the workmanship on the Pearly Gates.

_______________________________


Gene is survived by his two daughters.

______________________________

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

Latest comments
    • AvatarAvatar

      I directed Dynarski in a leading Role (effectively the leading Role) in “Rhinoceros,” my MFA performance project at UCLA. He also had the title role in “Lazarus Laughed”
      There. Your Failing to acknowledge these major stage achievements makes him seem just a movie and TV supporting PLayer–and he was much more than that.

      • ernest kearneyernest kearney

        Well what can I say. I noted his performance in “Master Class,” of which he was very proud. He never told me of performing in “Rhinoceros” or in “Lazarus Laughed.” He did however often express a great disregard for the directorial projects at UCLA, after we endured a dreadful staging of “Genet’s the Balcony” there. Perhaps he never mentioned the two shows you refer to because he didn’t regard them as “major stage achievements.”

        • AvatarAvatar

          Possibly. Or perhaps he didn’t want to speak of backdated roles that called upon the full range of his acting TALENT unlike nearly everything else in his Career.everyone who saw them at UCLA expected he would become a major American actor if not a star. That’s why I mentioned them I’m sorry you never saw them.

          • ernest kearneyernest kearney

            I saw Dynarski in Martin Sherman’s Messiah (the father), Hedda Gabler (Judge Brack), Nicolas in One For the Road, and John Proctor in the Crucible, which Dynarski thought was his “role,” and he was probably right about that.
            I was always being surprised by what Gene had done. Once we were walking out of Cantor’s late one night and passed this old homeless guy sitting out on the street. He made an appeal for “loose change,” I shot him a “Sorry, man,” and kept on going. Gene went over to give him a buck and suddenly the guy is yelping “Doctor Jed! Doctor Jed!” And for about a ten minutes the guy’s rattling off, “Oh Victoria, she was a bitch, man, she done ya cold. Ya knew her and Randolph had screwed befor’ when ya operated on him, didn’t ya? And when yer car went over the cliff, Man!” After a bit Gene gave him another buck and we continued on our way.
            “What the hell was that about?” I asked.
            Gene somewhat sheepishly mumbled, “I did a year on General Hospital.”
            Most of the tv stuff was to support his theatre and that was about it. But he manager to do some nice work nevertheless. The roles I touch in the article. He was staggering good in the tv movie Guilty or Innocent: The Sam Sheppard Murder Case, and as Boots Kowalski in Then Came Bronson but those are never seen.
            He also did a two-parter on Run for Your Life which he should have got mileage outa – but he pissed off Ben Gazzara.
            You are right though that his realm was the stage. I guessing he played Jean in Rhinoceros. Would have loved to seen it.

  • AvatarAvatar

    Gene was my (much older) cousin, so I (obviously) reached out to him when I decided to start acting as a Tween. He came over for dinner and my dad said, “Gene, Kristen is following in your footsteps.” Gene said, “Oh, She’s becoming a professional pain in the ass?!” Needless to say, everyone agrees that this obituary is spot on. 😉

    Gene graciously volunteered to work with me on my monologues, lines, timing, tone, accents, etc. He was there whenever I was in a show. And although I’m no longer acting, I credit him with teaching me to appreciate and understand theatre. Gene took my passion seriously when others laughed me off, and it made me feel like a REAL artist. I’m a better actor, and a better person, because of it.

    Happy to come across this article. Thank you.

    • Ernest KearneyErnest Kearney

      Kristen,
      Thank you for sharing that. Gene spoke very little about his family, I knew he had “a” brother and I believe two sisters. My understanding was they had all passed. Family, sadly, was a very painful topic for Gene. On that topic, you wouldn’t have any contact info on his eldest daughter would you? I know she was married and living up in the bay area. Gene went up there to help when she was opening a diner there. Par for the course, he pissed her off. One reason I wrote the obit was in hopes of her hearing about her father’s passing. Thank you again for reaching out. ek

      • AvatarAvatar

        Yes, my dad sent her the HW article that cited your blog. Thank you so much for letting us know. Send me an email (I think it should be provided with my comment, but let me know if it’s not) and I’ll put you in touch.

        • Ernest KearneyErnest Kearney

          Hi Kristen,

          I send you an email with my contact into. did you get it?

  • AvatarAvatar

    well written article

    • Ernest KearneyErnest Kearney

      THANK YOU SO MUCH….. THOUGH i WISH I HADN’T HAD NEEDED TO WRITE IT.

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