Before 'Murphy Brown,' Charles Kimbrough starred at Milwaukee Repertory Theater

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Before he became famous as comical anchorman Jim Dial on the TV sitcom "Murphy Brown," actor Charles Kimbrough was a mainstay of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater acting company from 1966 into the early 1970s.

Kimbrough died Jan. 11 in Culver City, California, at age 86. His death was announced recently and confirmed in news reports by his son John.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kimbrough grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. He studied music and theater at Indiana University, then earned a master's degree in theater at the Yale School of Drama, where he met his first wife, Mary Jane.

In 1964, Kimbrough performed in "Little Me" at Melody Top, Milwaukee's summer stock theater. Then he joined the Milwaukee Repertory Theater acting company for the 1966-'67 season. In the ensuing seasons, he would sometimes perform with Mary Jane in Rep productions.

Milwaukee Journal critic Walter Monfried complimented Kimbrough's "booming voice and a nice balance of arrogance and weakness" in Sophocles' "Electra." Later that season, Milwaukee Sentinel critic Jay Joslyn had equally kind words for Kimbrough's performance in Noel Coward's comedy "Design for Living," praising it as the actor's "finest role of the season, carries off the Luntian charm and style."

At the end of that season, the Kimbroughs told Milwaukee Journal reporter Douglas D. Armstrong that they had become Milwaukee residents and plan to stay "until a New York producer can offer us as attractive a life as Milwaukee has provided this last year."

That statement turned out somewhat prescient. He took a leave from the Rep to perform on Broadway in the 1970 production of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Company"; Kimbrough earned a Tony nomination for his performance as the recovering alcoholic Harry.

Coincidentally, the original "Company" cast also included Beth Howland, who would become Kimbrough's second wife in 2002. (Howland also played Vera on the TV sitcom "Alice.")

Kimbrough made his big move to New York in 1973. He performed in the original Broadway production of Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" in 1984.

He performed throughout the run of the original "Murphy Brown" (1988-'98) on CBS as the pompous TV anchor, who called Candice Bergen's title character "Slugger"; he also appeared in several episodes of the 2018 reboot. Dial earned an Emmy nomination in 1990 for his work on the show.

Kimbrough's movie appearances included "The Front" (1976), "Starting Over" (1979) and as the voice of Victor the gargoyle in Disney's animated "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996).

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Repertory Theater gave TV's Charles Kimbrough his start