David Birney Biography

American actor/directorFor the American Civil War general, see David B. Birney. For the Episcopal bishop, see David Birney (bishop).

David Edwin Birney (born April 23, 1939) is an American actor/director whose career has included performances in both contemporary and cl*ical roles in theatre, film, and television.


  • 1 Personal life
  • 2 Stage
    • 2.1 Audiobooks
    • 2.2 Television
    • 2.3 Writing and directing
    • 2.4 Professional *ociations
  • 3 Select filmography
    • 3.1 Feature films
    • 3.2 Films for television
    • 3.3 Mini-series
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links

Personal life

Birney was born in Washington, D.C., the first child of Jeanne (née McGee) and Edwin B. Birney, a special agent for the FBI.

He attended schools in Brooklyn, Ohio, and graduated from West High School in Cleveland. Named to the National Honor Society, he lettered in basketball, football and track. He holds a B.A. degree from Dartmouth College with "High Distinction" in English Literature, English Honors. At UCLA, Birney earned an M.A. in Theatre Arts, acting and directing, studying with Ralph Freud and William Melnitz. He held a teaching *istant fellowship and was awarded an honorary Ph.D in Humanities from Southern Utah University.

In 1974, he married actress Meredith Baxter. They had starred together in the 1972-73 TV series Bridget Loves Bernie. During their marriage, she was known as Meredith Baxter Birney. He and Baxter had three children — Kathleen Jeanne ("Kate"; born December 5, 1974) and twins Mollie Elizabeth and Peter David Edwin (born October 2, 1984). He and Baxter divorced in 1989. In 2011, she claimed that Birney emotionally and physically abused her during their marriage. Birney published a lengthy statement on his website disputing the allegations made by his ex-wife.

In the December 2017 edition of the Wide Wide World newsletter for Dartmouth College cl* of 1961 alumni, it was disclosed that Birney had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.


While in the Army, Birney won an All Army Entertainment contest and received the 'Barter Theatre Award', an Equity contract with the Company for an entire season. He spent the next season with the Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, starring or appearing in fifteen shows, directing two others. In the following two years he went on to perform with a range of companies and productions, Off Broadway and in several regional repertory theatres. His New York debut was with Joe Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival as Antipholus of Syracuse in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.

Birney has worked continually in the theatre performing leading roles with some of the most important theatres in the country. His stage credits include starring roles on Broadway in Amadeus, Benefactors, and Man and Superman, and major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, New York's Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre, Princeton's McCarter Theatre, the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival and numerous regional theatres around the country.

Representative roles include: Prince Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Orsino in Twelfth Night, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jack Tanner in Man and Superman, Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World, Young Man in Summertree, Cusins in Major Barbara, Jerry in The Zoo Story, Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, Arthur in Camelot, Higgins in My Fair Lady, Matt Friedman in Talley's Folly, David in Social Security, Andrew in Love Letters, Jamie in Moon for the Misbegotten, Victor in The Price, Jaques in As You Like It, the Dauphin in King John, and Shaw in Dear Liar.


Birney has recorded numerous audiobook bestsellers, including works by Dean Koontz, Paul Theroux, Annie Dillard, Thomas Kenneally, and Orson Scott Card. His reading of Julie Salomon's The Christmas Tree was honored with the Audie Award, and he has also been the recipient of several AudioFile Magazine Earphone Awards. He played Anakin Skywalker in the radio adaption of Return of the Jedi.


Aside from his *le role in Bridget Loves Bernie, Birney appeared frequently on television, building a career in TV-movies, regular series and miniseries. He has starred in such series as Live Shot, St. Elsewhere, The Adams Chronicles, Glitter, Serpico, Fantasy Island, Hawaii Five-O, McMillan and Wife, The F.B.I.,Murder She Wrote, and he starred in the episode "The Nomads" from the 1977 series Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (known in the United Kingdom as Twist in the Tale). Miniseries credits include Valley of the Dolls, Night of the Fox, and Master of the Game.

Birney has also appeared in leading roles in many television films, including Long Journey Home and The Deadly Game. He also appeared in the soap Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.

Writing and directing

Birney has edited and adapted for the stage a two-character play based on some of Mark Twain’s shorter works and letters. The piece, Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam and Eve, was presented on the PBS series American Playhouse.

Developing the play subsequently for the stage, Birney has directed and starred in productions for regional theatres such as the Hartford Stage (opening the Mark Twain Festival in Hartford), the Capital Repertory Theatre, and on tour in performing arts centers across the country. A second play, A Christmas Pudding, a Christmas collage of song, story and poetry of the season has been published by Samuel French Inc.

Professional *ociations

Birney has served on the Large Theatre Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts and is a current board member of the Foundation for Bio-Medical Research. He has also served on the Theatre and Dance Panel of the Jacob Javits Fellowship Foundation. For Dartmouth College he has served as a member of the Board of Overseers for the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts. He initiated and chaired the Cl* of '61 Legacy: The American Tradition in Performance, helping to create a substantial endowment dedicated to live performance at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.

For five years, Birney co-chaired the American Diabetes *ociation, speaking and fund raising for the *ociation. He is an advisor for the Children’s Rights Council, a national nonprofit advocating access to both parents after divorce or separation. His contribution to cl*ical theatre has been recognized with Washington's Shakespeare Theatre's Millennium Award.

Select filmography

Feature films

  • Caravan to Vaccares (1974)
  • Trial by Combat (1976)
  • Au revoir à lundi (1979)
  • Oh, God! Book II (1980)
  • Prettykill (1987)
  • Nightfall (1988)

Films for television

  • Ghost Story (TV series) (1972 pilot)
  • Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
  • OHMS (1980)
  • ABC Afterschool Special - "I Think I'm Having a Baby" (1981)
  • The Long Journey Home (1987)
  • Night of the Fox (1990)
  • Always Remember I Love You (1990)
  • Keeping Secrets (1991)
  • The Naked Truth (1992)


  • The Adams Chronicles (1976)
  • Testimony of Two Men (1977)
  • Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1981)
  • Master of the Game (1984)


    External links

    • David Birney at IMDb
    • David Birney at AllMovie
    • David Birney at the Internet Broadway Database
    • David Birney at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
    • The Papers of David E. Birney at Dartmouth College Library
    David Birney