Dan Frazer has spent so many years playing police officers and detectives that it's been suggested he should qualify for a departmental pension from the New York Police Department. Most familiar to television audiences for his portrayal of Captain Frank McNeil, the superior to Telly Savalas' Lt. Theo Kojak on the series Kojak, Frazer has also played police officers in dozens of other television shows and movies, although the full range of his work is far more vast, in a career dating back to the late '30s.
Born in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York (west and north of Times Square) during the early '20s, Dan Frazer was one of ten children. He was drawn to acting at a relatively early age, and made his professional debut at 14 with the WPA's Federal Theatre Project. Following his appearance in the play Three Steps Down, he was offered a screen test at MGM, but the outbreak of World War II intervened. Frazer served in the army and was fortunate enough to be placed in Special Services, where he got some exposure to theatrical writing and directing. Frazer (whose name was sometimes misspelled in credits as "Don Frazier") resumed his career after the war and made his Broadway debut in the play Christopher Blake; he subsequently appeared in Who Was That Lady I Saw You With, Once More With Feeling, Goodbye Charlie, The Grass Is Always Greener, and A Stone for Danny Fisher. Frazer's television career dates from the end of the 1940s, when he portrayed Louie, the wheelchair-bound chess-playing G.I. in an installment of the 1949 ABC documentary series Crusade in Europe. He appeared on Lux Video Theatre and other anthology shows during the 1950s, and could be seen in episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, The Untouchables, and McHale's Navy. His defining television performance, however, was probably in the Car 54, Where Are You? episode "Change Your Partner" as Chief Bradley, the well-meaning NYPD departmental chief who is flabbergasted by the duration of the successful partnership of patrolmen Toody and Muldoon.
During the 1960s, in between appearances on programs such as Route 66, The F.B.I., and My Favorite Martian, and on the few remaining anthology series such as Kraft Suspense Theater, Frazer also moved into motion picture work. He was among the favorite actors of filmmaker Ralph Nelson, playing prominent roles in two of the director's best films, Father Murphy in Lilies of the Field (1963) and Ira Jackson in Tick...tick...tick (1970), as well as his lesser known Counterpoint (1968). Lilies of the Field remains one of the films of which Frazer is proudest, although he has recalled, with some amusement, that United Artists balked at putting up the budget requested by Nelson; almost everyone involved with the film seems to have kicked in something to get it made, but UA's management said that if the film could be re-written as a vehicle for Steve McQueen instead of Sidney Poitier, the distributor would double the proposed budget. Frazer also had prominent roles in George Axelrod's satire Lord Love a Duck (1966), Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run (1969) and Bananas (1971), and a little-known 1972 feature starring Jackie Mason entitled The Stoolie.
It was his performance as Lt. Byrnes in the 1972 crime thriller Fuzz, however, that brought Frazer his most visible part -- the producers of the upcoming series Kojak were examining a clip from the movie, looking at the idea of casting another actor as one of the squad room detectives; they rejected the actor they were thinking of but spotted Frazer as the harried squad commander and suddenly realized they had found their Captain Frank McNeil. For the next five years, he was seen weekly in the role of Kojak's superior officer and friend, and became something of a celebrity in his native New York (though the show itself was filmed almost entirely in Hollywood), mentioned in the television gossip pages and interviewed by journalists. His film appearances became relati