Tall (6’4”), agile, and ever-so-confident as both actor and singer, especially on the award-winning Broadway stage, Barry Bostwick possesses that certain narcissistic poise, charm, and 'elan that reminds one instantly (and humorously) of a Kevin Kline - both were quite brilliant in their respective interpretations of the Pirate King in The Pirate of Penzance. Yet, for all his diverse talents (he is a Golden Globe winner and was nominated for the Tony Award three times, winning once), Barry is indelibly caught in a time warp. Even today, 45 years after the fact, he is still associated with the role of nerdy hero Brad Majors in the midnight movie phenomena The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While it is extremely flattering to be part of such a cult institution, Barry’s acting legacy deserves much more than this.
Barry Bostwick was born February 24, 1945 in San Mateo, California. Barry is one of two sons to Elizabeth “Betty” Defendorf and Henry “Bud” Bostwick, a city planner who after his retirement did some acting himself in San Francisco. A student at San Mateo High School, Barry and his elder brother Peter use to put on musical puppet shows for the neighborhood kids. Bostwick attended San Diego’s United States International University in 1967, and switched from music to drama during the course of his studies. He subsequently moved to New York and attended the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University.
In 1970, Bostwick was a member of the pop group called The Klowns, assembled and promoted by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose members performed wearing stylized clown makeup and costumes. Their sole album, released in 1970, was produced by Jeff Barry and generated a minor Billboard hit single, “Lady Love”.
Making his stage debut at the age of 22 in a production of Take Her, She’s Mine, with Walter Pidgeon, Barry performed in a number of non-musical productions of War and Peace (1968) and The Misanthrope (1968) and made his 1969 Broadway debut in Cock-a Doodle Dandy, which ran in tandem with Hamlet, in which he was featured as Osric and the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father for The APA Phoenix Repertory Company, but it was his portrayal of swaggering, leather-jacket wearing '50s “bad boy” Danny Zuko in 1972's Broadway high school musical smash Grease that put Barry’s name prominently and permanently on the marquee signs. Originating the role, he was nominated for a Tony but lost out that year to the older generation (Phil Silvers for A Funny Thing Happened…)
In the midst of all this star-making hoopla, Barry was also breaking into films with a minor role in Jennifer on My Mind (1971) and leading parts in Road Movie (1973) and the comedy spoof The Wrong Damn Film (1975). It all paled after winning the role as Susan Sarandon’s simp of a boyfriend in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) which featured a delicious Tim Curry camping it up as a transvestite monster-maker. The movie, based on the 1973 British stage musical The Rocky Horror Show, packed the midnight movie houses with costumed fans replicating every move and word offering puns and props aplenty in recapturing the insanity of the show.
While the Rocky association hit like a tornado, Barry ventured on. He created sparks again on Broadway, garnering a second Tony nomination for the comedy revival They Knew What They Wanted in 1976. He finally took home the trophy the following year for the musical The Robber Bridgegroom (1977), which relied again on his patented bluff and bravado as a Robin Hood-like hero. Following top roles in the musicals She Loves Me and The Pirates of Penzance, Barry turned rewardingly to film and TV.
In 1981, Bostwick starred in the TV series adaptation of the 1978 movie Foul Play, with his role modeled after Chevy Chase’s and co-star Deborah Raffin in Goldie Hawn’s part. The following year, he starred in Megaforce, which has since become a cult classic. Bostwick starred, along with Carl Weintraub, as Rick Armstrong in the short-lived ABC sitcom Dads during the 1986-87 season. The two-part feature Movie Movie (1978), which played like an old style double feature, was a great success, performing alongside esteemed actor George C. Scott. Barry excelled in both features, but especially the musical parody. He fared just as well on the smaller screen in TV movies, playing everything from historical icons (George Washington) to preening matinee idols (John Gilbert), and winning a Golden Globe for his role as a military officer in the epic miniseries War and Remembrance (1988). A variety of interesting roles followed in glossy, soap styled-fare, farcical comedies, and period dramas.
A welcome return to Broadway musicals in the form of Nick and Nora (he as sleuth Nick “The Thin Man” Charles) was marred when the glitzy production folded only after nine performances. Instead, the prematurely grey-haired actor found steadier success in sitcoms as a smug comedy foil to Michael J. Fox playing Mayor Randall Winston for six seasons in Spin City (1996). He later enjoyed a recurring role as a dauntless attorney on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (1999). Then again, Barry could be spotted pitching items in commercials or in family-oriented Disney-esque entertainment in The Parent Trap and 101 Dalmations mold.
In 1997, Bostwick was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 10 days later had his prostate removed. The operation was successful and in 2004, he won the Gilda Radner Courage Award from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Just a year earlier, he appeared on an episode of Scrubs as a patient also having prostate cancer. Barry married somewhat later in life. For a brief period, he was married to actress Stacey Nelkin but has since become a father of two, Brian and Chelsea, with second wife Sherri Jensen Bostwick, a jewelry and home accents designer and entrepreneur.
Bostwick served as host of the nationally televised annual Capital Fourth celebration on The National Mall in Washington, D.C. for five years. In 2001, Bostwick was also seen in a Pepsi Twist commercial. In an episode of Cold Case titled “Creatures of the Night”, in which Bostwick is the main suspect, the theme of the episode revolves around The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is among his best-known performances to date. In 2006, Bostwick replaced Peter Scolari as Mr. Tyler, the father of Amanda Bynes’ and Jennie Garth’s lead characters on What I Like About You. In 2008, he appeared in an episode of the hit TV series Ugly Betty as an attorney to the Meade family. In 2007, among many other animated voice jobs, Bostwick gained a recurring role, as Grandpa Clyde Flynn on the animated television series, Phineas and Ferb. Bostwick was also the spokesperson for Optimum Voice. In June 2009, he played Father Jimmy, the ineffective exorcist in the independent horror-comedy The Selling, written by Gabriel Diani and directed by Emily Lou. Other television credits include guest appearances on Charlie’s Angles, Hawaii Five-O, The Golden Palace, Grace Under Fire, and Las Vegas, among others.
In 2011, Bostwick portrayed a small-town sheriff in the John Landis-produced thriller Some Guy Who Kills People. In October 2010, Bostwick also appeared in the Rocky Horror-themed Glee episode. Since 2009, Bostwick has had a recurring role as Roger Frank on the sitcom Cougar Town, which stars Courtney Cox and in season 3 we learned that Bostwick’s character has become mayor of the town the comedy is set in, Gulf Haven. In 2015, he starred Darren Lynn Bousman’s segment of the anthology film, Tales of Halloween, which was his second time acting under Bousman after The Devil’s Carnival.
Around this time Bostwick also appeared in Alleluia, the comedy-horror film FDR American Bad Ass, and Helen Keller vs Nightwolves. In 2015, he portrayed Collin Winthrop, father of the Gig Harbor Killer, in the season-ending CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode “The End Game”. In 2016, Barry continued to do voice work with an appearance on American Dad in 2016 as well as the role of Grandpa Longneck in The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave. During this time Barry also stepped into the role of everyone’s favorite host, Milt Hamilton of Inside the Extras Studio.
In 2018 Barry popped up as guest star in the revived NBC hit Will and Grace, and even battled Krampus as Santa himself in Slay Belles. Later that year Barry stepped into the mayor role once again but this time for the animated sequel, Pixar’s The Incredibles 2. Even Rob Zombie himself wanted to utilize the golden voice of Barry’s by casting him as the narrator in 2019’s 3 From Hell. Bostwick also gave a nod to his Rocky Horror days in NBC’s The Goldbergs, playing Professor Majors in their 2019 Halloween episode. In 2021, Barry can be seen as Tom Shelly in The Outlaw Johnny Black as well as Grandpa Davis in the TV series, The Potwins.
When not acting, Bostwick has spent much of his time becoming an accomplished ceramic artist and potter. That journey started with an extension at UCLA 28 years ago and has grown into a major avocation, donating many pieces to charities and selling privately. Working out of his new studio in Florida, he is constantly challenging himself to grow in many directions but is always grounded from his early training in the forms that comprise the Japanese historical aesthetic.