Russell Nype, Two-Time Tony-Winning Actor, Dies at 98
Posted June 4, 2018 6:28 p.m. EDT
Russell Nype, a singer and actor who won two Tony Awards in the 1950s, one for a role alongside Elaine Stritch in “Goldilocks” and another for his part in “Call Me Madam,” which included a rousing, show-stealing duet with Ethel Merman, died on May 27 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was 98.
His death, at a care facility, was confirmed by his son, Russell.
With his close-cropped hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Nype looked like a clean-cut academic, albeit with an ebullient baritone. His Broadway debut came in Marc Blitzstein’s opera “Regina” in 1949, the year before he appeared in the original production of “Call Me Madam.” He continued acting into the 1990s and singing until recent years.
“Call Me Madam,” a comedy about the American ambassador to a fictional European country, had a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and music by Irving Berlin, and was directed by George Abbott. Reviewing the show for The New York Times on its opening in 1950, Brooks Atkinson said it was one of Berlin’s “most enchanting scores, fresh, light and beguiling.”
Nype played Kenneth Gibson, the young, meek press attaché to Merman’s character, the ambassador. Kenneth falls in love with a princess, and Nype’s duet with Merman, “You’re Just in Love,” became the show’s centerpiece.
“As a timid grind fresh out of college he does not look very promising in the early scenes,” Atkinson wrote. “But eventually it turns out that Mr. Nype can also sing. When Miss Merman and he sing ‘You’re Just in Love,’ which is Mr. Berlin’s top achievement for the evening, ‘Call Me Madam’ throws a little stardust around the theater and sets the audience to roaring.”
In 1951, Nype won the Tony for best featured actor in a musical for his performance. His second Tony, also for best featured actor, came at the end of the decade, for his part in “Goldilocks,” a musical directed by Walter Kerr. It also starred Don Ameche and had music by Leroy Anderson, dances staged by Agnes De Mille and a book by Jean and Walter Kerr. It opened in 1958 and closed the next year.
Russell Harold Nype was born on April 26, 1920, in Zion, Illinois, to William and Elizabeth (Huisinga) Nype. His father worked for the Otis Elevator company; his mother was a homemaker.
As a youth, Nype sang in the choir of his Baptist church. He received a bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, and served in the Army during World War II before moving to New York in the late 1940s.
He worked as a ballroom dance instructor at one of Arthur Murray’s dance studios and sang in downtown nightclubs in the evenings before being cast in “Regina.”
Nype was also a popular singer and dancer in clubs like the Persian Room in New York and the Mocambo in Hollywood.
His first movie came relatively late in his career, as the Harvard Law School dean in the smash hit “Love Story” (1970), starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. He also appeared in the Village People movie “Can’t Stop the Music” (1980), television shows like “Fantasy Island,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Who’s the Boss,” and televised productions of musicals like “One Touch of Venus” and “Kiss Me, Kate.”
On Broadway he appeared in the short-lived original production of “The Girl in the Freudian Slip” and revivals of “Carousel,” “Brigadoon” and “Morning’s at Seven.” He appeared onstage with Merman again in 1970, when they both joined the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” as replacements during the last year of its lengthy original run.
In 1953, Nype married Diantha Lawrence. She died in 2015. In addition to his son, he is survived by a stepson, Richard Mander; a stepdaughter, Melanie Mander; and two grandchildren.