James Lipton had a truly unique effect upon modern pop culture, one like no other. From humble beginnings growing up with a single mother, to a brief service in the military and then moving into Law of course none of these would stick with him. In the end he would accidentally fall into the entertainment industry and here he would make a sui generis mark.
Lipton originally got into acting to fund his education but as with most things in life, it just evolved into something totally unexpected. He would work on Radio, Stage, Television and even in the movies taking time out to write a book that has been in publication since 1968. But none of those are why we know him best.
Premiering in 1994 Inside The Actors studio would run for a total of 22 seasons. Though since his death the show is set to continue, I think he would have wanted this. The original idea for the show was that it could be a “televised craft seminar” for students of the Actors Studio Drama School. Legendary actor Paul Newman, a former Actors Studio president would fittingly be its first guest. After this it would quickly go on to become one of Bravo’s flagship programs.
I think most of the shows success was down to it’s relaxed and slow pace. Unlike most shows once Lipton sat down to interview someone he would simply and casually chat with them. In many ways he would turn his actors into teachers. This produced a truly unique style of series. For me there where always two hallmarks of a James Lipton interview. the first was his index cards, where his team was able to dig up all sorts of information even being able to find Sir Anthony Hopkins exact address where the former had been born and raised in Wales, this caused the man to turn to the audience and remark, “He’s a detective, you know.”
The second hallmark of a James Lipton interview where the 10 questions. This usually came at the end f an interview and where originated by French television personality Bernard Pivot on his show Apostrophes.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
What turns you off?
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
What is your favorite curse word?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What profession would you not like to do?
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
In his time he has interviewed countless award nominees and even won a few himself but of course nothing shows how enduringly popular and important he was than the fact that he was parodied in so many ways, The Simpsons, MAD TV and SNL to name a few, plus his recurring role on Arrested Development as the Warden helped introduce him to a whole new generation.
He was a teacher and I honestly hope people never forget that. A truly wonderful and warm person he will be missed.