Tall and bulky (he was 6’5”), with a large, long head, and frequently bespectacled, Mr. Herrmann was an imposing, patrician presence who used his physicality in service of both joviality or menace, depending on the role, but mainly played souls that veered toward the kind. His rich, plummy voice and noble bearing was well suited to the authority figures, wealthy titans and Englishmen he often portrayed, as well as the many documentaries and commercials he narrated throughout his long career. (He was the confidence-instilled voice behind the commercial for Stratton Oakmont, the reckless brokerage depicted in the film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”)
His physical and vocal assets were particularly useful in his communicating the vigorous personality of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the television movie “Eleanor and Franklin” in 1976 and its sequel “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years.” Mr. Herrmann was nominated for Emmy Awards for both programs, which were so widely viewed that for many years afterward he was very closely associated with Roosevelt. He reprised the part in the 1982 film of the musical “Annie." And in Ken Burns’ recent multi-part documentary “The Roosevelts,” he voiced FDR again in the same fluid, flavorful tones.
In the ‘00s, he became familiar to a new generation as Richard Gilmore, the Yale-educated, insurance executive father and grandfather of the two title women in the television series “The Gilmore Girls,” which ran from 2000 to 2007. He also had recurring roles in “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Oz” and “The Good Wife.”
Born in Washington, D.C., he landed his first important theatre credit there, in the 1971 world premiere of Michael Weller’s ‘60s-era, coming-of-age comedy Moonchildren. When the play moved to Broadway, he moved with it and made his Broadway debut. Staying in New York, he appeared in David Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He would remain professionally linked to Joe Papp through much of his early career, acting in NYSF productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (at Lincoln Center), David Hare’s Plenty (both Off-Broadway and on Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony), Michael Hastings’ Tom and Viv, as T.S. Eliot, and as Cassius in a 1988 mounting of Julius Caesar directed by Stuart Vaughan.
His greatest triumph with Papp was a 1976 staging of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, presented at Lincoln Center where that non-profit was briefly under the guidance of Papp. He played the title character’s lover Frank Gardner alongside actors Lynn Redgrave, Philip Bosco and Milo O’Shea. In addition to winning the Tony for Feature Actor in a Play, he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. He was also a novelist slumming as a society reporter in a 1980 Broadway revival of The Philadelphia Story, directed by Ellis Raab. Nearly two decades later, he appeared opposite Blythe Danner in Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.
He and Danner were frequently co-stars, primarily at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where he was a mainstay through much of the ‘80s. The shows they shared at the Massachusetts summer non-profit included Uncle Vanya (with Mr. Herrmann as Astrov) and Molnar’s The Tale of the Wolf, both in 1984; Pinero’s Twelawny of the “Wells” in 1982; Shaw’s Arms and the Man (Bluntschli), and The Greeks, a collection of stories by Euripides, Aeschylus, Homer and Sophocles (Apollo), both in 1981; and Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Shaw’s Candida (Rev. James Morrell), in 1980.
That he did well in classic English and European plays aligned neatly with his artistic convictions, which were much more in tune with English, rather than American styles of acting. Method actors, he once said, are ''convinced that whatever they feel inside is appropriate for the character, and that's lunacy. The English have a philosophy of acting that goes: 'It's the function of the actor to satisfy the audience, elicit a response and serve up the text.' It's an arrogant way of saying shut up and do your job.’’
Also at Williamstown, Mr. Herrmann played Walter Burns in a 1980 production of The Front Page, Elwood P. Dowd in a 1990 staging of Harvey, and the professor is a 2001 mounting of Educating Rita.
His film credits tended to be less impressive, though he played significant supported roles in “The Paper Chase,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Betsy,” “Nixon,” “Reds,” “Mrs. Soffel,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Big Business,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” and “The Aviator.”
Born in D.C., and raised in Michigan, he began acting at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. He did early work at the Dallas Theater Center in Texas. He spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in the late ’60's at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
An enthusiast of classic and rare cars, he owned and restored several automobiles over his years, and hosted the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, a tony California car show. His passion for cars was nurtured during his upbringing in suburban Detroit. “You ingest the automobile in the very air of Detroit,” he told the New York Times in 2010. ”Or at least you did in the 1940s and 1950s. I thought cars were essential ingredients of life itself. And the old cars especially. If you had seen the Bugatti Royale in its single spotlight at the end of two rows of polished classics in the vast teak-floored hall of the Henry Ford Museum, you would know what I mean. Electric.”
Edward Herrmann was first married to screenwriter Leigh Curran in 1978. His second wife, wed in 1992, was Star Hayner. She survives him, as do two daughters, Ryan and Emma, and a stepson, Rory.
He once told the Times that he believed not only the actor, but the audience has ''an inner life that needs to be released. They don't go to the theater not to applaud, not to laugh. What we actors do is—Oh, God, it may be too secret to say. It's sharing glory, it's being alive. That's what acting is for."