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Vic Tayback: A Look Back at the Life and Career of the Famed "Alice" Actor From "Mel's Diner" on TV and at the Movies

Herbie J Pilato

Photo bythe Classic TV Preservation Society


In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a recognizable face on television and at the movies. In 1974, he was cast as Mel Sharples in Martin Scorsese's iconic feature film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Two years later, he reprised the role in that movie's small-screen Alice sitcom adaptation. His name was Vic Tayback, and he died of a heart attack in 1990.

A Closer Look

Vic Tayback was born of Syrian Arabic heritage on January 6, 1930, in New York City, New York, to Najeeb James and Helen Tayback.

In 1949, he attended and graduated from Burbank High School in Burbank, California around the same time as legendary actress Debbie Reynolds (who graduated one year later from the same school).

When he was 25, and before he began his career in the entertainment industry, Tayback served in the United States Navy.

During his days as an aspiring actor, he worked for various temporary employment agencies between acting gigs, including the Kelly Corporation.

With fellow thespians Richard Chamberlain (soon to be TV's Dr. Kildare), and Sally Kellerman (who played Hot Lips in the M*A*S*H movie before Loretta Swit did so in the M*A*S*H TV show), Tayback founded the theatre group Company of Angels in Los Angeles.

He went on to land many supporting roles in movies, including Bullitt (1968), and to make countless guest appearances on TV. Then came his most famous role as Alice, the comedy series starring Linda Lavin in which he starred from 1976 to 1985.

The role of Mel Sharples on that show earned Tayback two Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy Award nomination.

Tayback continued to make TV and movie appearances including lending his voice to the 1989 animated feature film, All Dogs Go To Heaven.

As fate would have it, he appeared in both the first "The New Man" (1984) and last "Basher Malone" (1988) episodes of the heralded TV anthology series, Tales From the Darkside.

On May 25, 1990, Tayback succumbed to heart failure, and he was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles.

He was previously married to Sheila McKay Barnard. His son Christopher Tayback graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1985 and Harvard Law School in 1989. He was a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County from 1989-1991, then served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California, Criminal Division. In 2010, he was hired as a trial lawyer with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in Los Angeles.

Tayback's brother Joe had a career in radio and owned am station KAZM, which was, for several years, the only radio station in Sedona, Arizona (the same state in which the Alice sitcom was based).

[Note: Certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including Britannica.com, History.com, HollywoodReporter.com, IMDb.com, Variety.com, and Wikipedia.org.]

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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