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Harold Gould, actor known for role in ‘The Sting’

Harold Gould had recurring roles on television’s “The Golden Girls’’ and “Rhoda.’’ Above, Valerie Harper (left), Julie Kavner, and Harold Gould on the “Rhoda’’ set. Harold Gould had recurring roles on television’s “The Golden Girls’’ and “Rhoda.’’ Above, Valerie Harper (left), Julie Kavner, and Harold Gould on the “Rhoda’’ set. (CBS via Photofest/ File)
By Emma Brown
Washington Post / September 15, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Harold Gould, a dapper, white-haired character actor best known for playing the swindler Kid Twist in the 1973 movie “The Sting’’ and for recurring roles on the popular television sitcoms “Rhoda’’ and “The Golden Girls,’’ died Sept. 11 of prostate cancer at a nursing home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 86.

Mr. Gould, a former college drama professor, was nominated five times for Emmy Awards in a television career spanning a half-century.

Beginning in the 1960s with series such as “The Twilight Zone’’ and “I Dream of Jeannie,’’ he appeared in more than 100 television programs in small roles, invariably playing well-groomed, elegant men of a certain age.

His most memorable parts included the archetypal Jewish father of Valerie Harper’s Rhoda Morgenstern on “Rhoda,’’ which aired on CBS in the mid-1970s, and the former mobster boyfriend of Rose Nylund, played by Betty White, on the NBC show “The Golden Girls’’ in the late 1980s.

Mr. Gould received one of his Emmy nominations for his supporting performance opposite Katharine Hepburn in the CBS television movie “Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry’’ (1986). He played a Jewish doctor wooing a Protestant widow.

His other Emmy nominations were for supporting roles on the series “Police Story’’ and “Rhoda’’ and as a guest actor in the drama series “The Ray Bradbury Theater’’ in 1985. He also was nominated for his portrayal of Hollywood studio chief Louis B. Mayer in the TV movie “The Scarlett O’Hara War’’ (1980). In a review of that production, Associated Press writer Bob Thomas called Mr. Gould “a bit tall but forceful.’’

On screen, Mr. Gould had small roles in films such as “Inside Daisy Clover’’ (1965) with Robert Redford and “Harper’’ (1966) with Paul Newman before winning a supporting role opposite both actors in “The Sting,’’ a wildly popular movie about con men in the 1930s.

Mr. Gould went on to land roles in Mel Brooks’s “Silent Movie’’ (1976) and Woody Allen’s “Love and Death’’ (1975), a satire of Russian literature. Mr. Gould traveled to Budapest for the film, in which he played Allen’s romantic rival.

“I remember sitting in the cold at 6:30 in the morning at some fire built out in the forests, freezing and holding plastic coffee cups,’’ he told the Bergen Record in 1996. Allen “would look dolefully at me and say, ‘Tough dollar, huh?’ ’’

More recently, Mr. Gould appeared alongside Robin Williams in “Patch Adams’’ (1998) and Lindsay Lohan in “Freaky Friday’’ (2003).

Although television and movie gigs paid his bills, Mr. Gould maintained that his first love was the stage. He won an Obie award for his portrayal of a social scientist beleaguered by tangled romantic interests in Vaclav Havel’s “The Increased Difficulty of Concentration’’ (1969). Two years later, he played the lead role of an irrepressible bumbler in John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves,’’ which won an Obie for best American play.

Mr. Gould continued to appear in theater productions throughout his career. In 2008, he costarred in “Viagara Falls,’’ a comedy about two aging men seeking one last fling with a much-younger call girl.

Harold Vernon Goldstein was born Dec. 10, 1923, in Schenectady, N.Y. After serving in World War II, he graduated from the old Albany Teachers College in New York and received a master’s degree and a doctorate in theater from Cornell University.

While in graduate school, he met Lea Shampanier, whom he married in 1950. In addition to his wife, he leaves three children and five grandchildren.

In the 1950s, Mr. Gould taught drama at RandolphMacon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in southwestern Virginia and at the University of California at Riverside before deciding in his late 30s to try acting full time.

Mr. Gould often spoke about the role that got away. He had appeared as hardware store owner Howard Cunningham in a 1972 episode of “Love, American Style.’’ The producers of that ABC comedy anthology show saw potential for a spinoff called “Happy Days’’ and asked Mr. Gould to appear in a pilot, reprising the Cunningham role.

Mr. Gould had to decline, having committed to perform abroad in a musical about Karl Marx. “Of course, I couldn’t abandon the company,’’ Mr. Gould later said. The part on “Happy Days’’ went to Tom Bosley, and the series became a hit that ran for a decade.

“Those are painful decisions,’’ Mr. Gould said in 2006. “On the other hand, I probably would have shot myself after two years. I need variety in my work.’’