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September 15, 2010

Actor Mark Gordon Dies at 84

The versatile stage, film and television performer was an important figure in the development of contemporary American improvisational theater.

Mark Gordon, an actor with roots in improvisational theater who went on to work extensively in film and television — including a classic episode of one of TV’s most beloved comedies — died August 12, 2010, of lung cancer in New York. He was 84.

Gordon is best known for roles in the Woody Allen films Take the Money and Run, Don’t Drink the Water and Sleeper, appearances in daytime dramas such as The Edge of Night and As the World Turns and an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which he played Chuckles the Clown.

He also served as a visiting professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, Finch College and Columbia University and was an acting coach at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He taught private classes for more than 20 years.

Gordon first gained recognition as an actor and workshop director of the Compass Players, the Chicago-based progenitor of Second City. His collaborators included Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Barbara Harris and his wife of 52 years, Barbara Glenn Gordon.

He later moved to New York, where he and May performed at the Premise, an improvisational company that included Peter Boyle and Louise Lasser.

His other collaborations with May included a lead role in her off-Broadway hit Adaptation/Next, which opened in 1969, and a role in the 1971 film A New Leaf, which May wrote and directed.

Gordon appeared in many other Broadway productions, including Of Mice and Men, The Devils, Compulsion and Desire Under the Elms. His Off-Broadway credits included The Iceman Cometh.

He also toured with many regional productions and appeared in such films as The Nickel Ride and The Ninth Configuration and television series including Hawaii Five-O, Cannon and Starsky & Hutch.

Gordon was one of three actors to play Chuckles the Clown on Mary Tyler Moore. The character was not seen in the classic episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” from 1975, in which Moore cannot restrain herself from laughter and then sobbing during the clown’s funeral.

Gordon’s survivors include his son, director-writer Keith Gordon, and sister Rose Gordon Vachio.

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