Peter Gallagher Biography


Born August 19, 1955, in New York, NY; son of Tom (an advertising executive) and Mary (a bacteriologist) Gallagher; married Paula Harwood (a music video producer), 1983; children: James, Kathryn. Education: Earned degree in economics from Tufts University, mid–1970s; attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California—Berkeley.


Agent —Steve Alexander, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Website .


Actor in television, including: Skag, 1980; Private Contentment (movie), 1982; Terrible Joe Moran (movie), 1984; A Different Twist (movie), 1984; Long Day's Journey Into Night (movie), 1987; Private Eye, 1987; The Murder of Mary Phagan (miniseries), 1988; The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (movie), 1988; The Big Knife (movie), 1988; I'll Be Home for Christmas (movie), 1988; Love and Lies (movie), 1990; An Inconvenient Woman (miniseries), 1991; Fallen Angels, 1993; White Mile (movie), 1994; Titanic (movie), 1996; Path to Paradise: The Untold Story of the World Trade Center Bombing (movie), 1997; Homicide: Life on the Street, 1998; Superman (voice), 1998; Host (movie), 1998; Brave New World (movie), 1998; The Secret Lives of Men, 1998–99; Brotherhood of Murder (movie), 1999; Cupid & Cate (movie), 2000; The Last Debate (movie), 2000; Anne Rice's The Feast of All Saints (miniseries), 2001; Family Guy (voice), 2001; Double Bill (movie), 2003; The O.C., 2003—. Film appearances include: The Idolmaker, 1980; Summer Lovers, 1982; Dreamchild,

Peter Gallagher
1985; My Little Girl, 1986; High Spirits, 1988; sex, lies, and videotape, 1989; Tune in Tomorrow, 1990; The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez, 1991; Late for Dinner, 1991; Milena (also known as The Lover ), 1991; Bob Roberts, 1992; The Player, 1992; Malice, 1993; Short Cuts, 1993; Watch It, 1993; The Hudsucker Proxy, 1994; Mother's Boys, 1994; Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, 1994; While You Were Sleeping, 1995; The Underneath, 1995; Cafe Society, 1995; To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, 1996; Last Dance, 1996; The Man Who Knew Too Little, 1997; Johnny Skidmarks, 1998; American Beauty, 1999; The House on Haunted Hill, 1999; Other Voices, 2000; Center Stage, 2000; Perfume, 2001; Lunar Girl, 2001; Protection, 2001; Mr. Deeds, 2002; How to Deal, 2003. Writer of screenplays, including: The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez, 1991. Stage appearances include: Grease, 1977; A Doll's Life, 1982; The Corn Is Green, 1983; The Real Thing, 1984; Long Day's Journey into Night, 1986; Guys and Dolls, 1992; Noises Off, 2001. Also performed with the Boston Shakespere Company, and at the Priscilla Beach Theatre, Whitehorse Beach, MA, and Long Wharf Theatre, Connecticut.


Theatre World Award, for A Doll's Life, 1982; Clarence Derwent Award, for The Real Thing, 1985.


Peter Gallagher became a familiar presence to an entirely new generation of viewers as beleaguered dad Sandy Cohen on the hit Fox Television series that debuted in 2003, The O.C. A veteran actor who started out as Danny Zuko in the Broadway musical Grease, Gallagher had endured sporadic career highs, and a few lows, in the 25 years since. Handsome to the point of distraction, he seemed the victim of his own looks, with Hollywood usually typecasting him in the role of cad or shark. In The O.C., Gallagher took the role of a do–gooder for a change. "I generally play really ambitious people, cutthroat and conniving and all that stuff," he told Daily News writer Bob Strauss. "But I'm completely inept. I've scratched my way to the middle after all these years."

Like Cohen, his O.C. character, Gallagher's roots are in the New York City borough of the Bronx. He was born during a storm at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, and it was a difficult delivery. As he wrote in a biography that appeared on his official website, the doctor came in to see his mother during it, "offered her a drink and a cigarette, informed her that the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, and that they had done all they could. Things looked bad. The doctor suggested that my mother have a drink and a smoke and pray. She managed all three and I arrived intact." Gallagher was the last of three born to Mary, a bacteriologist, and Tom Gallagher, an outdoor–advertising executive. The family lived in Yonkers, just outside of New York City, before relocating to suburban Armonk.

Gallagher appeared in high school plays in Armonk, but claimed that he was anything but a heartthrob during his teens. "I had fat lips, glasses and big eyebrows," he told InStyle writer Mark Morrison. "If I'd had a designer bag I would've put it over my head." Both parents tried to instill middle–class values in their children, Gallagher recalled in an interview with the New York Times 's Patrick Pacheco. "My mother had always told us that her father had been a kindly grocer during the Depression," he said. "But I later found out that he'd run a speakeasy and was a bartender in the Bronx. There was a great desire to measure up and not bring your backward ways with you." Thus the performing arts were not on his career agenda, Gallagher noted, when he entered Tufts University in Boston as an economics major. "My father was paying for my education, so I wanted him to get his money's worth," he explained in an interview with People writer Michael A. Lipton, adding, "I was scared to study acting because I was afraid I'd lose my passion for it."

For three years, Gallagher performed with the Boston Shakespeare Company, and spent summers working at the Priscilla Beach Theatre in Whitehorse Beach, Massachusetts. Before starting his senior year, he took some courses in non–Western economic thought at the University of California's Berkeley campus, and returned to Boston dismayed. He realized he had little interest in business or economics as a career path. "I resolved to finish school and give myself six or seven years to make a living onstage," he recalled on his Web site.

Moving to New York, Gallagher began attending open–call auditions for Broadway musicals. "You get there around dawn, sign up and then stand in line for about eight hours before you go in and sing a few bars of a song," he explained in the web biography. "In both cases, there were well over a thousand people ahead of me." But success came almost immediately: he was offered a plum role in a 1977 Broadway revival of Hair, the hit hippie musical, but before it opened a casting director offered him a part in the touring version of another top Broadway show, Grease, as the lead, Danny Zuko. Leaving Hair before it opened, Gallagher made his Broadway debut in Grease in 1978.

Within a year he was signed to appear in an NBC television series and as the lead in a movie. The series was Skag, and Gallagher was cast as one of the sons of a Pittsburgh steelworker played by Karl Malden. The series debuted in early 1980, but was not renewed for a new season. By then, however, Gallagher was already pegged as a big–screen up–and–comer for his part in The Idolmaker. The movie musical was loosely based on the life of Bob Marucci, who helped make Frankie Avalon and Fabian stars in the 1950s. Gallagher played a Bronx busboy discovered by Vinnie Vacarri (Ray Sharkey), who christens him Caesare and grooms him for stardom. The Idolmaker tanked at the box office. Years later, the New York Times 's Pacheco noted that the massive hype surrounding Gallagher's film debut "seemingly came out of an old M–G–M publicity manual," he wrote, "replete with chest–hair waxings and posters of his smoldering features plastered across buses. 'Caesare is coming,' they announced."

Gallagher's famously bushy eyebrows earned their first press mention in Janet Maslin's New York Times review of The Idolmaker, and he admitted years later that he was indeed sent for a body wax. He recalled in the InStyle interview with Morrison that the aesthetician "ripped the strip off, and I almost went into cardiac arrest. Afterward, I sat in my car and wept." He was subject to the same treatment for his many shirtless scenes in Summer Lovers, his next film, which co–starred him opposite a pre– Splash Daryl Hannah. The two played young Americans vacationing on a freewheeling Greek island for the summer, but their romance is threatened by his affair with a French woman. Soon, all three are caught up in the island's intoxicating atmosphere. Again, it earned dismal reviews.

Gallagher returned to the New York stage for the next few years, taking only the occasional film role that came his way. On Broadway, he appeared in A Doll's Life, the 1982 season's ill–conceived musical sequel to the Henrik Ibsen classic, A Doll's House. Two years later he originated a lead in The Real Thing, a new Tom Stoppard play, but considered quitting acting altogether for a time. In 1985 he was seen in Dreamchild, a forgotten film about the life of Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll that was the work of the legendary British television writer Dennis Potter. The film later became a cult classic, a term that would generally not be applied to most of the films Gallagher made during the rest of the decade. He did earn a Tony nomination and outstanding reviews—including one from the New York Times ' notoriously candid theater critic at the time, Frank Rich—for his part in the Eugene O'Neill revival, Long Day's Journey into Night, at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1986.

Gallagher seemingly reappeared out of nowhere in 1989 in the surprise indie film hit, sex, lies, and videotape. The work of an unknown 26–year–old filmmaker named Steven Soderbergh, it won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and went on to become one of the first independent films to make a killing at the box office. Gallagher played an odious Louisiana lawyer named John, married to Andie MacDowell's repressed Southern belle, Anne. John's friend from college, Graham (James Spader) comes to visit, and Graham's odd hobby of interviewing women on camera about their private lives serves to unleash a series of events that exposes John's affair with Anne's reckless sister Cynthia, played by Laura San Giacomo. The ensemble cast won rave reviews for their performances, which were culled out of them by Soderbergh's insistence on run–through rehearsals more commonly used in the theater world. Unfortunately, when the film was released nationwide in the United States, Gallagher's role as the slick, vacuous John went unmentioned in the publicity blurbs. Irate, the actor called those responsible, he told Pacheco in the New York Times interview, "and said, 'What are you guys trying to do to me?' And they said, 'We couldn't find anything nice.' And I screamed, 'That's because I was playing the jerk. If I hadn't played this guy so well, this picture wouldn't have been so successful!'"

Gallagher's career seemed to falter again during the 1990s, save for two well–reviewed appearances in films by Robert Altman, The Player in 1992 and Short Cuts a year later. He had small parts in The Hudsucker Proxy, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, and the 1995 Sandra Bullock comedy While You Were Sleeping. He was cast somewhat against type as a grieving widower in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, and played Bill Murray's brother in The Man Who Knew Too Little in 1997. After another short–lived television series, The Secret Lives of Men on ABC, Gallagher returned to the big screen once again and stunned audiences in another role as a loathsome cad: Buddy Kane, the real–estate king in the Academy–Award–winning American Beauty.

Not surprisingly, Gallagher was again cast in such a part by a director with far more experience in theater than Hollywood. American Beauty was the work of British stage director Sam Mendes, and the 1999 film, with its bleak yet funny portrayal of placid suburban life gone awry, swept the Academy Awards the following year, including taking the best–picture statuette. Kevin Spacey played Lester Burnham, a mid–career schlump whose wife and teenage daughter openly disdain him. Rose–and status–obsessed spouse Carolyn (Annette Bening) judges him against her local house–selling rival, Gallagher's Kane, and is swept into a torrid extramarital affair.

Gallagher returned to Broadway in a revival of the farce Noises Off in 2001, and played the man out to steal Mr. Deeds 's fortune in the 2002 Adam Sandler film. His role as Mandy Moore's disc–jockey father in the 2003 teen romance, How to Deal, was a foreshadowing of his next part: that of Sandy Cohen, the ultra–liberal public–defender dad in the television program, The O.C. Set in Orange County, California, the large swath of suburban communities that stretch south of Los Angeles, down the Pacific coast, the series proved to be an immediate hit with viewers. Gallagher's intensely idealistic Cohen married into wealth, but chafes against the rules at times. His character is originally from the Bronx, and feels sympathy for some of the young troublemakers who wind up on his caseload. In the first season, he brings one of them home to live, installing him in the pool house of the lavish Newport Beach estate he shares with wife, Kirsten (Kelly Rowan), and son, Seth (Adam Brody). The series earned strong critical plaudits as well as high ratings during its first season. Entertainment Weekly critic Carina Chocano wrote, "Somewhere in all the high–stakes soapiness and often deft and subtle drama, there is a pretty wicked satire of baby–boomer values. Gallagher, in particular, is sublime as the Bronx–raised, [BMW]–driving fairy godfather whose moral compass is stuck on do–gooder even when he is headed in the opposite direction."

Unlike the caddish screen roles of his past, Gallagher asserts that the role of Sandy Cohen is far closer to his real persona. He married Paula Harwood, a classmate from Tufts, in 1983, and they have two children. Gallagher has resolutely resisted relocating to California for much of his career, and commutes to the set of The O.C. from New York and Connecticut, where he and his family have homes. His young son was wary when he heard about the new TV role, Gallagher confessed to Eric Messinger in InStyle, and asked if he would be playing "another bad guy." Gallagher was indifferent to the opinion of non–family members, however, when it came to his career. "Whatever the role, I've tried to be in films that I like and respect," he told Messinger. "This philosophy has served me well. I have a career I'm not only proud of but still excited about. In a way, I feel like I'm just coming into my prime."



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television, volume 28, Gale Group, 2000.


Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), October 27, 1996, p. L3.

Entertainment Weekly, October 1, 1993, p. 36; October 25, 1996, p. 94; September 17, 1999, p. 49; November 9, 2001, p. 101; August 15, 2003, p. 61.

InStyle, December 1997, p. 107; August 1, 2003, p. 252.

National Review, May 29, 1995, p. 64.

New Leader, October 2, 1989, p. 20.

New Republic, September 4, 1989, p. 26.

Newsweek, May 1, 1995, p. 70.

New York Times, November 14, 1980, p. C8; October 24, 1993, pp. H16–17; September 15, 1999; June 28, 2002; July 18, 2003.

People, August 18, 2003, p. 73.

Time, April 27, 1992, p. 65.


"Background," Peter Gallagher Official Website, (March 3, 2004).

Carol Brennan

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