Actor Bob Balaban

Robert Elmer Balaban, known as Bob Balaban nicknamed Balbs (born August 16, 1945) is an American actor, author, producer, comedian and director. He was one of the producers nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for Gosford Park (2001), in which he also appeared.

Balaban is most known for his appearances in the Christopher Guest comedies Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006) and in the Wes Anderson films Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Isle of Dogs (2018). Balaban’s other film roles include the drama Midnight Cowboy (1969); the science fiction films Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Altered States (1980), 2010 (1984), the comedy Deconstructing Harry (1997), and the historical drama Capote (2005).

Balaban has directed three feature films, in addition to numerous television episodes and films. He is also an author of children’s novels.

Early life and education

Balaban was born to a Jewish family in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Eleanor (née Pottasch) and Elmer Balaban, who owned several movie theatres and later was a pioneer in cable television. His mother acted under the name Eleanor Barry. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Russia to Chicago, while his mother’s family was from Germany, Russia, and Romania.

His uncles were dominant forces in the theatre business; they founded the Balaban and Katz Theatre circuit in Chicago, a chain which included the Chicago and Uptown Theatres. Balaban’s father, Elmer, and uncle, Harry, founded the H & E Balaban Corporation in Chicago, which operated its own movie palaces, including the Esquire Theatre in Chicago. They later owned a powerful group of television stations and cable television franchises. His uncle Barney Balaban was president of Paramount Pictures for nearly 30 years from 1936 to 1964. His maternal grandmother’s second husband, Sam Katz, was a vice president at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer beginning in 1936. Sam had been an early partner of Bob’s uncles Abe, Barney, John, and Max in forming Balaban and Katz. Sam served as president of the Publix theatre division of Paramount Pictures.

Balaban began his college career at Colgate University where he joined Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and then transferred to New York University. He studied acting at HB Studio under Uta Hagen

Acting career

One of his earliest appearances in film was in Midnight Cowboy (1969). Prior to that, he created the role of Linus in the original off-Broadway production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1967.

Among his early roles in the 1970s were those of Grady Garrett on an episode of Room 222, Orr in Catch-22, Elliot the Organizer in The Strawberry Statement, and the interpreter David Laughlin in the 1977 Steven Spielberg science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1979 he received a Tony Award nomination for his role in The Inspector General. During the 1980s he appeared in films including Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980) and the 1984 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel 2010 (as Dr Chandra, the creator of HAL 9000). He also directed the Randy Quaid horror comedy film Parents, and the Armin Mueller-Stahl drama film The Last Good Time (1994).

Balaban had supporting roles in films such as Absence of Malice, Bob Roberts, Deconstructing Harry, Ghost World, The Majestic, Lady in the Water, and Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration.

Balaban appeared in Miami Vice as reporter Ira Stone. In the 1990s, Balaban had a recurring role on the fourth season of Seinfeld as Russell Dalrymple, the fictional president of NBC. He also played Warren Littlefield, a real-world NBC executive, in The Late Shift, about the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman for NBC’s The Tonight Show. His tie to Littlefield continued in 2012 when he read the audiobook of Littlefield’s autobiography, Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. In 1999, Balaban made a guest appearance in the sitcom Friends as Phoebe Buffay’s father Frank in “The One With Joey’s Bag”. In 2010, Balaban appeared as Judge Clayton Horn, the real-life judge who presided over the obscenity trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore in the movie Howl.

In 2001, Balaban produced Gosford Park, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. He also appeared in the movie as Morris Weissman, a Hollywood producer. He appeared in an episode of Entourage as a doctor known for writing prescriptions for medical marijuana. He directed the film Bernard and Doris (2006), starring Susan Sarandon; and also the biopic Georgia O’Keeffe (2009), starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. He has directed several episodes of the Showtime series Nurse Jackie.

In September 2011, he was featured with Morgan Freeman and John Lithgow in the Broadway debut of the play, ‘8’—a staged reenactment of the federal trial that overturned California’s Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage—as Judge Vaughn Walker. The production was held at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre to raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

In January 2016, Balaban appeared in the short play Milton Bradley by Peter Sagal, for Playing On Air, a non-profit organization that “records short plays [for public radio and podcast] written by top playwrights and performed by outstanding actors.”

In early 2021, Balaban provided the voice as the narrator in the episode The Dad-Feelings Limited in the TV series The Simpsons

Writing career

Balaban wrote a series of six children’s novels featuring a bionic dog named McGrowl. He also co-authored Spielberg, Truffaut & Me: An Actor’s Diary with Steven Spielberg and The Creature from the Seventh Grade: Sink or Swim (Creature from the Seventh Grade, #2) which Andy Rash illustrated.

Personal life

Balaban is married to Lynn Grossman; they have two daughters, Mariah and Hazel. He resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, New York.



Year Title Role Notes
1969 Midnight Cowboy The Young Student – New York
1969 Me, Natalie Morris
1970 The Strawberry Statement Elliot
1970 Catch-22 Capt. Orr
1971 Making It Wilkie
1974 Bank Shot Victor Karp credited as Robert Balaban
1975 Report to the Commissioner Joey Egan credited as Robert Balaban
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind David Laughlin
1978 Girlfriends Martin
1980 Altered States Arthur Rosenberg
1981 Prince of the City Santimassino
1981 Absence of Malice Elliott Rosen
1981 Whose Life Is It Anyway? Carter Hill
1984 2010: The Year We Make Contact Dr. Chandra
1987 End of the Line Warren Gerber
1989 Dead Bang Elliot Webly
1990 Alice Sid Moscowitz
1991 Little Man Tate Quizmaster Uncredited
1992 Bob Roberts Michael Janes
1993 Amos & Andrew Dr. R.A. ‘Roy’ Fink
1993 For Love or Money Ed Drinkwater
1994 Greedy Edward “Eddie” Ault
1994 City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold Dr. Jeffrey Sanborn Uncredited
1995 Pie in the Sky Paul Entamen
1996 Waiting for Guffman Lloyd Miller
1996 Conversation with the Beast Webster
1997 Clockwatchers Milton Lasky
1997 Deconstructing Harry Richard
1999 Cradle Will Rock Harry Hopkins
1999 Jakob the Liar Kowalsky
1999 Three To Tango Decker
2000 Best in Show Dr. Theodore W. Millbank, III
2001 The Mexican Bernie Nayman
2001 Ghost World Mr. Coleslaw
2001 Gosford Park Morris Weissman Also producer/writer
2001 The Majestic Elvin Clyde
2002 The Tuxedo Winton Chalmers Uncredited
2003 A Mighty Wind Jonathan Steinbloom
2004 Marie and Bruce Roger
2005 Capote William Shawn
2005 Trust the Man Tobey’s Therapist Uncredited
2006 Lady in the Water Harry Farber
2006 For Your Consideration Philip Koontz
2007 Dedication Arthur Planck
2007 License to Wed Jewelry Store Clerk Uncredited
2007 No Reservations Therapist
2009 Rage Mr. White
2010 Howl Judge Clayton Horn
2011 Thin Ice Leonard Dahl
2011 A Monster in Paris Inspector Pâté Voice only: English language version
2012 Moonrise Kingdom Narrator
2012 Girl Most Likely Mr. Duncan
2013 Fading Gigolo Sol
2014 The Monuments Men Pvt. Preston Savitz
2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel M. Martin
2015 Hitchcock/Truffaut Narrator
2016 Mascots Sol Lumpkin
2016 I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House Mr. Waxcap
2018 Isle of Dogs King Voice only
2018 An L.A. Minute Shelly
2021 The French Dispatch Uncle Nick


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Hank Harvey Episode: “Will The Real Harvey Wheatley Please Stand Up?”
1969 Room 222 Grady Garrett Episode: “Father & Sons”
1971–1972 The Mod Squad Walter / Tony 2 episodes
1971 Love, American Style Nick Episode: “Love and the Fuzz”
1976 Maude Ambrose Riley Episode: “Maude’s Ex-Convict”
1985–1986 Miami Vice Ira Stone 2 episodes
1987 Amazing Stories Jo-Jo Gillespie Episode: “Gershwin’s Trunk”
1990 The Face of Fear Ira Preduski Television movie
1992–1993 Seinfeld Russell Dalrymple 5 episodes
1995 Legend Harry Parver 2 episodes
1996 The Late Shift Warren Littlefield Television movie
1998 Friends Frank Buffay Sr. Episode: “The One With Joey’s Bag”
1999 Swing Vote Justice Eli MacCorckle Television movie
1999 Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist Himself (voice) Episode: “Expert Witness”
2000 The West Wing Ted Marcus Episode: “20 Hours in L.A.”
2000 Now and Again Frederick Lizzard Episode: “Lizzard’s Tale”
2002 The Education of Max Bickford Dr. Lowell Sherman Episode: “I Never Schlunged My Father”
2006 Tom Goes to the Mayor Walt Pickle (voice) Episode: “The Layover”
2007 Entourage Doctor Episode: “The Dream Team”
2008 Recount Ben Ginsberg Television movie
2011 Web Therapy Ted Mitchell Episode: “Shrink Rap”
2011–2012 The Good Wife Gordon Higgs 2 episodes
2013 Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight Lawyer Television movie
2013 Family Tree Melvin Schmelff / Tumbleweed Tim Episode: “Cowboys”
2013–2015 Girls Mr. Rice 3 episodes
2014 Alpha House Senator Elliot Robeson 2 episodes
2015–2016 Broad City Arthur Wexler 2 episodes
2015 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Himself (as mascot of the ATF) Episode: “Paid Family Leave”
2015 Show Me a Hero Judge Leonard Burke Sand 4 episodes
2016 Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Crazy Walter Episode: “Auto Lending”
2016 Pitch Frank Reid 3 episodes
2016 Graves Secretary Burns Episode: “Nothing Can Come From Nothing”
2017 Wormwood Dr. Harold A. Abramson 4 episodes
2018-2020 Condor Reuel Abbott Main cast, 20 episodes
2018 Animals. Himself (voice) 2 episodes
2019 The Politician Keaton Hobart Main role
2021 The Simpsons Narrator (voice) Episode: “The Dad-Feelings Limited”
2021 Summer Camp Island Gerald (voice) Episode: “Hark the Gerald Sings”


Year Title Notes
1983 Tales from the Darkside Episode: “Trick or Treat (Pilot)”
1983 The Brass Ring Television movie
1985 Amazing Stories Episode: “Fine Tuning”
1987 Invisible Thread Television movie
1989 Parents
1991–1992 Eerie, Indiana 3 episodes
1993 My Boyfriend’s Back
1994 The Last Good Time
1995 Legend Episode: “Revenge of the Herd”
1997 Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground Television movie; segment: “The 5:24”
1998 Oz Episode: “Great Men”
1999 Strangers with Candy Episode: “Jerri Is Only Skin Deep”
2000 Now and Again Episode: “Lizzard’s Tale”
2000 Deadline Episode: “Perception”
2001 Dead Last 2 episodes
2002–2003 The Twilight Zone 2 episodes
2005 The Exonerated Television movie
2008 Bernard and Doris Television movie
2008 Swingtown Episode: “Go Your Own Way”
2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Television movie
2011–2012 Nurse Jackie 4 episodes
2013–2014 Alpha House 3 episodes
2016 Graves 2 episodes


Year Title Role Venue
1968 Plaza Suite Borden Eisler/Bellhop Plymouth Theatre, Broadway
1977 Some of My Best Friends Lawrence Mumford Longacre Theatre, Broadway
1978 The Inspector General ÔSipp Circle in the Square Theatre, Broadway
1988 Speed-the-Plow Charlie Fox Royale Theatre, Broadway
2011 8 Judge Vaughn Walker Eugene O’Neill Theatre, Broadway
2014 A Delicate Balance Henry John Golden Theatre, Broadway


Year Title Role Notes
2018 Wolverine: The Long Night Joseph Langrock

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Project Result
2001 Academy Awards Best Picture Gosford Park Nominated
2001 British Academy Film Awards Outstanding British Film Won
2009 Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Bernard and Doris Nominated
2008 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Recount Nominated
Outstanding Television Movie Bernard and Doris Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie Nominated
2010 Georgia O’Keeffe Nominated
1979 Tony Awards Best Featured Actor in a Play The Inspector General Nominated
2001 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture Gosford Park Won
2005 Capote Nominated

Further reading

  • Balaban, David. The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz, Arcadia Publishing, 2006
  • Balaban, Bob. Spielberg, Truffaut & Me: An Actor’s Diary, Titan Books, 1978 (revised 2002)
  • External Links

    Actor Bob Balaban – Wikipedia

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