George Gaynes Dies; ‘Police Academy’ & ‘Punky Brewster’ Regular Was 98

Paramount Pictures

George Gaynes, a character actor whose six-decade career included Tootsie, all seven Police Academy films and more than 85 episodes of Punky Brewster, died Monday in North Bend, WA.. He was 98. 

Born George Jongejans on May 16, 1917, in Helsinki as raised in various Europeans countries, Gaynes got his start in the mid-1950s, guesting on TV series including from The Defenders and Cheyenne. He continued to work through the ’60s and ’70s on such small-screen classics as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo and The Six Million Dollar Man. Gaynes also did some film work during the 1970s, including The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, but was focused on TV.

He co-starred in the 1975 camp classic Trilogy of Terror and, during the late-’70s heyday of the network miniseries, appeared in TootsieRich Man, Poor Man: Book II, Washington: Behind Closed Doors and Scruples. By the early ’80s, he began to score more film roles, including Altered States and two pics for which he would be best remembered by movie buffs. In the 1982 Best Picture Oscar nominee Tootsie, he played a soap opera star with a crush on his new co-star “Dorothy Michaels” — who actually was struggling actor Michael Dorsey, played by Dustin Hoffman in drag. Two years later, he co-starred as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy, a role he would reprise in a half-dozen sequels and a short-lived 1998 TV series.

Also in 1984, Gaynes was cast in the NBC sitcom Punky Brewster, playing the grumpy foster dad of the title character (Soliel Moon Frye) for the show’s three-year run. He went on to recur on NBC’s The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd from 1989-91 and CBS’ Hearts Afire in 1992-93 and did an arc on Chicago Hope in 1996. He also appeared in the 1990s features The Fantastic Four and Wag the Dog.

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