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Jewish Journal

In the ‘Company’ of Kline

by Michael Aushenker

January 17, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Richard Kline

Richard Kline

"Come and knock on my door,"began the jingle on the popular '70s ABC sitcom "Three's Company." These days, opportunity knocks on the door of actor Richard Kline.

Kline, who played smarmy bachelor Larry Dallas on the quintessential sitcom, returns this week as director of KNBC weatherman Fritz Coleman's new one-man show, "The Reception." Coleman's humorous meditation on marriage follows his and Kline's collaboration on Coleman's first production, the autobiographical "It's Me! Dad!"

Kline's reception in Hollywood following the 1977-1984 run of "Three's Company" was the typical typecasting tale. He was in demand for a roster of annoying-neighbor roles, including Jefferson on Fox's long-running "Married With Children." He declined the role, sans regret.

"It was too sleazy," Kline says. "I know that sounds funny coming from the guy playing Larry. But it's a question of degree."

Instead, Kline veered into a succession of dramatic guest shots: "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," "L.A. Law." He recently returned to situation comedy on NBC's canceled "Inside Schwartz," and appears on an upcoming episode of WB's "The Gilmore Girls."

Kline caught the acting bug as a youth in summer camp. Descended from Hungarian-Russian stock, he grew up in New York, where his father sold Israel Bonds, and his mother worked for Jewish Welfare Board. While serving as a first lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles division during the VietnamWar, Kline recalls, "My mother would send over these Passover and Chanukah packages -- matzah ball soup, gefilte fish."

Kline still maintains a Jewish connection. He belongs to Stephen S. Wise Temple. His daughter Colby, 18, is finishing up Milken High School. In fact, Kline will be the master of ceremonies at a Milken fundraiser next week.

And while he still enjoys acting, it isn't everything to him. After "Three's Company," he got into theater under the tutelage of an icon, Burt Reynolds, who later employed Kline's directorial services on his own sitcom, "Evening Shade." Reynolds broke Kline into directing at his Jupiter, Fla., playhouse with projects such as "Social Security," a play by Andrew Bergman ("Honeymoon in Vegas").

Directing for the stage has become Kline's prime passion. He has helmed numerous local productions, including Neil Simon's "Rumors," and Noel Coward's "Present Laughter," for which he won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award.

So did his "Three's Company" lech-about-town persona hurt him while dating?

"I didn't really do any dating," Kline says, amused. "I was married throughout the run of the show. It's a great question, but it didn't even apply."

"The Reception" runs at the Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, from Jan. 19 to Feb. 24. Call (818) 841-5421 for tickets.

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