Walter Willison

Walter Willison
Born (1947-06-24) June 24, 1947
Monterey Park, California, USA
Years active 1968–present
Awards Theatre World Award (1971)
A Special William Inge Award (1987)

Walter Willison (born June 24, 1947) is an American stage actor. He received a Tony Award nomination and Theatre World Award for his Broadway musical debut in Richard Rodgers' and Martin Charnin's Biblical musical Two by Two.[1]


Walter Willison is an award winning actor, singer, writer, director and producer. He garnered a Tony Award nomination and Theatre World Award for Richard Rodgers' and Martin Charnin's Two by Two and also starred on Broadway in Norman, Is That You?, the title role in Pippin , Wild and Wonderful, the Tony Award winning landmark Grand Hotel; as The Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Schwartz's Mass at the inaugural production at The Kennedy Center; A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden; Anyone Can Whistle : Live at Carnegie Hall; Off-Broadway in the title role of Robert Wright & George Forrest's Kean ; and created the role of Alan A. Dale in the workshop of Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan & Peter Sipos' Robin Hood: The Final Adventure. He also starred in films, including: Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women, for which he was personally chosen by Irving Berlin to croon his iconic "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" as Frank Carter, Harry and Walter Go To New York, and he wrote the lyrics for the songs he sings in Fantasies, starring Bo Derek. On TV he starred in the NBC series McDuff, The Talking Dog, Days Of Our Lives, and as Clyde Griffiths, the tragic hero (portrayed on the big screen by Montgomery Clift) in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy on PBS' The Great Novelists.

Willison made his theatre debut in the West Coast premiere of Here's Love at the California Theatre in San Bernardino, California in 1964, and toured in the national company of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the national and San Francisco company of Your Own Thing, and starred in Once Upon a Mattress at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. Other notable stage appearances include Lt. Joseph Cable in South Pacific, The 25th Anniversary Concert in New York and at the St. Louis Municipal Opera, Prince Charming in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and he has starred in numerous productions of Fiddler On The Roof as Perchik, Carousel as Billy Bigelow, Carnival as Paul Bertholet, The Fantasticks as El Gallo, including The First International Japan Tour with creators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.

Working with Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Jerome Lawrence and Margaret Goheen he helped to create The William Inge Festival, which annually honors our greatest living American playwrights, composers and lyricists in William Inge's hometown of Independence, Kansas, writing and directing tributes to Robert Anderson, William Gibson, and appearing in tributes to Jerome Lawrence, Garson Kanin, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. He has written and directed plays and musicals from San Diego's Old Globe Theater to Off-Broadway, including directing the West Coast Premiere of The Grass Harp starring Susan Watson, and he co-wrote, with Douglas Holmes, the new book and directed the 1997 Revival of Frank Loesser's Greenwillow which received unanimous critical praise. He has directed Special Events including the 2005 and 2006 Theatre World Awards at Studio 54, for which he also wrote special material for Liza Minnelli, and in 2013 he co-directed, co-wrote and co-starred with alumni from the original casts of Grease, Nine and Grand Hotel in Kathi Moss' Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong Reunion! for The Actors Fund. He has produced and/or can be heard on 28 CDs.

In 2014 he directed Steve Ross & Karen Oberlin in Cheek To Cheek: The Songs of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, and premiered his solo show Jolson, My Dad & Me for The Ziegfeld Society of New York City. Most recently, Mr. Willison wrote, directed and costarred with Liliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers and other fellow original Broadway cast members in the critically acclaimed Grand Hotel: The 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert at 54 Below in May 2015. He costars with a cast of Broadway Legends in Rick McKay's new documentary Broadway: Beyond The Golden Age, released in 2016.

Selected Appearances



Willison's films include Ricky McKay's BROADWAY: BEYOND THE GOLDEN AGE, for release in 2011; Mike Frankovich's Emmy Award winning ZIEGFELD: THE MAN AND HIS WOMEN, directed by Buzz Kulik, for which he was personally selected by Irving Berlin to play Ziegfeld star Frank Carter, and croon Berlin's classic "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody"; HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK, directed by Mark Rydell with uncredited musical staging for the operetta sequences, in which Willison appears opposite Lesley Ann Warren, by his Broadway mentor Joe Layton; THE INITIATION, SOMEBODY HELP ME, EDWARD II, and he wrote the lyrics, to music by Jeffrey Silverman, for the four songs he sings in the "cult classic" FANTASIES, directed by John Derek, which marked Bo Derek's screen debut in 1980 and was released on DVD in 2005.


On television, he played Dr. Calvin Campbell in NBC's McDuff, the Talking Dog, the hit series in which he starred during 1976-1977, Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy episode of The Great Novelists series on PBS, and Dr. George "Buck" Wheaton on Days of Our Lives. He has also guest starred on The Today Show, The David Frost Show, Celebrity Revue, The Dating Game, NBC'S Sunshine Saturday, and many other talk shows and telethons.

Writing and directing

Also active as a writer and director, his many credits include directing the West Coast Premiere of The Grass Harp (starring Susan Watson and introducing a then six-year-old Christina Applegate); Your Own Thing at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. He wrote the book & lyrics, directed and costarred in two musical revues which received rave reviews from the critics, one for each coast: Front Street Gaieties : Dodge City's Hottest Revue, starring Susan Watson and Charles Ward, which had its World Premiere at The Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, California in 1980, and Broadway Scandals of 1928, starring Shelley Bruce, which had its World Premiere Off-Broadway at Upstairs O'Neal's Times Square in 1982, both with music by Jeffrey Silverman. He wrote the lyrics for Wonderful Life !: The Musical, with music by John Kroner and a book by Douglas Holmes, commissioned in 1987, which had been presented annually around the US since then. He also collaborated with Mr. Holmes on the new book for the critically acclaimed 1997 revisal of Frank Loesser 's Greenwillow : The Musical Folktale [which Variety headlined was "redeemed by its new book"], and also directed the World Premiere tryout in Sarasota, Florida. In 2005 he contributed the book and staged the West Coast touring production of Hollywood Canteen: The New 1940s Musical Revue, with choreography by A Chorus Line's Kay Cole.

Most recently Mr. Willison conceived, wrote and directed Grand Hotel (musical) : The 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert at 54 Below in New York City on May 24th, 2015.

Twenty years after winning Broadway's coveted Theatre World Award, Mr. Willison was honored to collaborate with John Willis as Associate Editor for seven books; three editions of his legendary Theatre World books, chronicling each years theatre season on Broadway and around the US: volumes #42, 43, and 44, and four volumes of Screen World, which cover each year in films: #37, 38, 39, and 40.


Mr. Willison is currently Associate Artisic Director, and serves on the board of ""The Ziegfeld Society"" of New York City. Willison served as Vice-President of Theater World Awards Board of Directors from 2004 to 2006, directed The 61st Annual Theatre World Awards at Studio 54 in June, 2005, starring such TWA luminaries as Lucie Arnaz, John Cullum, Tim Daly, Pat Suzuki, and he directed The 62nd Annual Theatre World Awards at Studio 54 in June, 2006, starring Lucie Arnaz, Harry Connick, Jr., Ralph Fiennes, Harry Groener, Andrea McArdle, Ken Page, John Rubinstein, and contributed special material for guest star Liza Minnelli.


Willison now has over 25 recordings in release on CD, as producer or performer or both. These include performing on the original cast or studio cast recordings of TWO BY TWO, GRAND HOTEL, BROADWAY SCANDALS OF 1928, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Anyone Can Whistle: Live at Carnegie Hall, UNSUNG SONDHEIM, LOST IN BOSTON I, LOST IN BOSTON II, UNSUNG IRVING BERLIN; producing and performing on Robert Wright & George Forrest's ANASTASIA: THE MUSICAL and PREMIERE RECORDINGS OF WRIGHT & FORREST SONGS FROM GRAND HOTEL*AT THE GRAND*BETTING ON BERTIE & KEAN (Judy Kaye, Len Cariou, Regina Resnik, Walter Willison, George Lee Andrews, Steve Barton, Simon Jones, Marcia Lewis, Donna Lee Marshall, Eric Riley and others), A BAG OF POPCORN AND A DREAM: AN INTIMATE BIGSCREEN REVUE (Karen Akers, Lucie Arnaz, Jeff Calhoun, Geoffrey Holder, Simon Jones, Judy Kaye, Marcia Lewis, Kathi Moss, Karen Murphy, Ashley Rose Orr, Walter Willison and others), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: A GOTHIC MUSICAL (starring Robert Cuccioli, Melly Garcia, Brooks Almy, Bryan Batt, Timothy Jerome, Walter Willison, Christine Boger, Bonnie Simmons; and as producer, MARCIA LEWIS: NOWADAYS, Maltby & Shire's restored CYRANO & THE GRAND TOUR, and NEVA SMALL: MY PLACE IN THE WORLD. Willison also wrote booklet notes for the above CDs which he produced, and has contributed notes for several other booklets, as well, including those for Martin Charnin's MATA HARI and Bob Merrill's BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S.

Willison continues to develop new projects as a writer, to direct, to perform, and to appear on tour with Heather MacRae in concerts and clubs around the US, in NIGHT OF YOUR NIGHTS: A CELEBRATION OF BROADWAY'S GOLDEN AGE.

Willison is proud to serve on The National Advisory Board of The Annual William Inge Festival, an event he helped to create, along with playwright Jerome Lawrence and founder Margaret Goheen, more than a quarter of a century ago. Since 1982, IngeFest, which takes place in the late playwright William Inge's hometown of Independence, Kansas, has honored our greatest living American playwrights and theatre composers and lyricists. In 2006, he appeared in "PENN AVENUE TO BROADWAY: A 25 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE" created and directed by Mike Wood; in 2007, in "TO LIFE!: A TRIBUTE TO JERRY BOCK AND SHELDON HARNICK" created and directed by Peter Ellenstein. In 2008, he returned to celebrate honoree Christopher Durang, and to present a seminar on his most recent work-in-progress, WILLIAM INGE: THE INTERVIEW—A PLAY ON REALITY based on interviews with and writings of William Inge. In 2009 he returned to IngeFest to celebrate the careers of William Inge Distinguished Achievement in The American Theatre Award winners, Broadway Legends and creators of The Fantasticks, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.



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