Jeffrey Tambor made his Broadway debut as George C. Scott’s manservant in Sly Fox, co-starring Trish Van Devere, Jack Gilford, Gretchen Wyler, Hector Elizondo, Bob Dishy, and John Heffernan. He had three lines—okay, one line, said three times—and, when he’d leave the Broadhurst, stagedoor seekers would greet him with the same three little words that now adorn his autobiography: Are You Anybody?
It has taken Tambor 70 of his nearly 73 years to become Somebody—to reach that lofty plateau where you can look back in memoir-form at where you’ve been. He didn’t get there via the stage. Though trained at Milwaukee Rep (with his once and future fictional wife, Judith Light), he only did one other Broadway show—the 2005 Glengarry Glen Ross—and again got lost among the stars; plus, there was this misbegotten pass at a musical turn in La Cage aux Folles, but he bailed before bowing. Similarly, he mostly marked time in more than 60 movies, while never wandering far from the smaller screen.
Television has made Tambor an authentic household face and name. He suspected something was up when he got recognized as “that guy from TV” three years after his short-lived series, The Ropers, expired. But it was as Garry Shandling’s narcissistic sidekick on The Larry Sanders Show that he clicked into the public consciousness and began garnering Emmy nominations—four for that character and two more for the Bluth brothers, George Sr. and Oscar, on Arrested Development. On his seventh time at bat, as the late-blossoming Maura Pfefferman (formerly Mort Pfefferman) on Amazon’s Transparent, he nabbed two consecutive Emmys (so far)—plus the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award.
All he needed was a little “attaboy” along the way, he now tells us. Ego-impaired by a mother who berated him as “shtick drek,” Tambor grew up with low self-esteem and, of course, gravitated toward a career where insecurities were the norm: acting.
Inevitably, he is hard on himself, but at least his angst is self-contained and doesn’t spill on others. He exits from two of his three marriages without explanation. Then there’s that grimacing scene of bumping into Harvey Fierstein in a grocery store shortly after the La Cage debacle.
Happily, life provided Tambor a redemptive third act. He’s made it through some pretty storm-tossed seas to a safe shore with his Transparent triumph. He earned it.