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David Edwin Birney[1] (born April 23, 1939) is an American actor/director whose career has performances in both contemporary and classical roles in theatre, film and television.

David Birney
David Birney 1972.JPG
Birney in 1972
David Edwin Birney

(1939-04-23) April 23, 1939 (age 80)
EducationDartmouth College (B.A., English)
UCLA (M.A., Theatre Arts)
Meredith Baxter
(m. 1974; div. 1989)

Personal lifeEdit

Birney was born in Washington, D.C., the first child of Jeanne (née McGee) and Edwin B. Birney, a special agent for the FBI.[1]

He attended schools in Brooklyn, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in Cleveland. Named to the National Honor Society, he lettered in basketball, football and track. He holds a B.A. degree from Dartmouth College with "High Distinction" in English Literature, English Honors. At UCLA, Birney earned an M. A. in Theatre Arts, acting and directing, studying with Ralph Freud and William Melnitz. He held a teaching assistant fellowship and was honored with a Ph.D (hon.) in Humanities from Southern Utah University.[citation needed]

In 1974, he married actress Meredith Baxter. They had starred together in the 1972-73 TV series Bridget Loves Bernie. During their marriage, she was known as Meredith Baxter Birney. He and Baxter had three children — Kathleen Jeanne ("Kate"; born December 5, 1974) and twins Mollie Elizabeth and Peter David Edwin (born October 2, 1984). He and Baxter divorced in 1989. In 2011 she claimed that Birney emotionally and physically abused her during their marriage.[2]



While in the Army, Birney won an All Army Entertainment contest and received the 'Barter Theatre Award', an Equity contract with the Company for an entire season. He spent the next season with the Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, starring or appearing in fifteen shows, directing two others. In the following two years he went on to perform with a range of companies and productions, Off Broadway and in several regional repertory theatres. His New York debut was with Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival as Antipholus of Syracuse in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

Birney has worked continually in the theatre performing leading roles with some of the most important theatres in the country. His stage credits include starring roles on Broadway in Amadeus, Benefactors, and Man and Superman,[3] and major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, New York's Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre, Princeton's McCarter Theatre, the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival and numerous regional theatres around the country.

Representative roles include: Prince Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Orsino in Twelfth Night, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jack Tanner in Man and Superman, Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World, Young Man in Summertree, Cusins in Major Barbara, Jerry in The Zoo Story, Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, Arthur in Camelot, Higgins in My Fair Lady, Matt Friedman in Talley's Folly, David in Social Security, Andrew in Love Letters, Jamie in Moon for the Misbegotten, Victor in The Price, Jaques in As You Like It, the Dauphin in King John, and Shaw in Dear Liar.


He has recorded numerous audiobook bestsellers, including works by Dean Koontz, Paul Theroux, Annie Dillard, Thomas Kenneally, and Orson Scott Card. His reading of Julie Salomon's The Christmas Tree was honored with the Audie Award, and he has also been the recipient of several AudioFile Magazine Earphone Awards. He played Anakin Skywalker in the radio adaption of Return of the Jedi.


Birney appeared frequently on television, building a career in movies, series and miniseries for television. He has starred in such series as Live Shot, St. Elsewhere, The Adams Chronicles, Glitter, Serpico, Fantasy Island, Hawaii Five-O, McMillan and Wife, Murder She Wrote, and Bridget Loves Bernie, and he starred in the episode "The Nomads" from the 1977 series Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (known in the United Kingdom as Twist in the Tale).[4] Miniseries credits include Valley of the Dolls, Night of the Fox, and Master of the Game.

He has also appeared in leading roles in many television films, including Long Journey Home and The Deadly Game. He also appeared in the soap Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.[5]

Writing and directingEdit

Birney has edited and adapted for the stage a two-character play based on some of Mark Twain’s shorter works and letters. The piece, Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam and Eve, was presented on the PBS series American Playhouse.[6]

Developing the play subsequently for the stage, he has directed and starred in productions for regional theatres such as the Hartford Stage Company (opening the Mark Twain Festival in Hartford), the Capital Repertory Theatre, and on tour in performing arts centers across the country. A second play, A Christmas Pudding, a Christmas Collage of song, story and poetry of the season has been published by Samuel French Inc.

Professional associationsEdit

Birney has served on the Large Theatre Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and is a current board member of the Foundation for Bio-Medical Research. He has also served on the Theatre and Dance Panel of the Jacob Javits Fellowship Foundation. For Dartmouth College he has served as a member of the Board of Overseers for the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts. He initiated and chaired the Class of '61 Legacy: The American Tradition in Performance, helping to create a substantial endowment dedicated to live performance at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.

For five years, Birney co-chaired the American Diabetes Association, speaking and fund raising for the Association. He is an advisor for the Children’s Rights Council, a national nonprofit advocating access to both parents after divorce or separation. His contribution to classical theatre has been recognized with Washington's Shakespeare Theatre's Millennium Award.

Select filmographyEdit


  1. ^ a b Profile; accessed December 18, 2015.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2001). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000. Oxford University Press. p. 284. ISBN 9780195123470 – via Google books.
  4. ^ "Classic Television Archive: Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (1977)". Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  5. ^ Newcomb, Horace (2014). Encyclopedia of Television. Routledge. p. 2121. ISBN 9781135194727 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Rasmussen, R. Kent (2014). Critical Companion to Mark Twain: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Infobase Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 9781438108520.

External linksEdit