Reel Dad: Remembering George Segal with seven favorite movie moments

George Segal and Jane Fonda in

George Segal and Jane Fonda in "Fun With Dick and Jane."

IMDb / Contributed photo

He could be funny and tragic, confident yet afraid, always approachable, forever human.

On screen, for more than 50 years, George Segal portrayed characters filled with promise, anxiety and resilience, bringing a sense of humor that defined his optimistic view of the world.

While today’s audiences may know him better for his work on the small screen, here are seven of my favorite moments this world-class actor created for the big screen before his death, at age 87, on March 23.

David in “Ship of Fools” (1965)

After regularly working on television in the early 1960s, Segal caught the attention of movie fans as Moss Hart’s friend in “Act One” in 1963 and as a prisoner of war in “King Rat” in 1965. That same year, he made the most of his limited screen time in Stanley Kramer’s shipboard epic as an artist searching for a better life. He was touching, funny and accessible.

Nick in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)

Director Mike Nichols casted Segal as the young husband adjusting to the complexities of marriage in this Oscar-winning adaptation of Edward Albee’s Broadway drama. Playing opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Segal commanded the screen by daring to reveal the character’s vulnerabilities. He received an Oscar nomination.

Morris in “No Way to Treat a Lady” (1968)

Segal’s personality on screen first came through in this hit thriller about a detective chasing a serial killer. As a busy man trying to figure out the case, deal with his girlfriend and listen to his domineering mother, the actor introduced the natural approach to comedy that would define much of his later work.

Felix in “The Owl and the Pussycat” (1970)

The actor’s first film with superstar Barbra Streisand was this movie version of the Broadway hit comedy about a prostitute and a writer who try to save each other. Playing against type, as a withdrawn man without personality, Segal brought surprising depth to a character who could have been a one-note foil.

Steve in “A Touch of Class” (1973)

In a traditional romantic comedy that was a surprise nominee for the Best Picture Academy Award, Segal was at his most charming as a businessman who dares to have an affair with a crisp British lady (played by Glenda Jackson who won an Oscar). The actor is funny, touching and fresh, spontaneously conveying the challenges of adultery.

Bill in “California Split” (1974)

Working with legendary director Robert Altman, Segal turned to the dark side of his congenial on-screen manner to explore the challenges of a life focused on gambling. Working within Altman’s technique to overlap dialogue, opposite Elliot Gould, encouraged Segal to reach beneath the surface to reveal the anxieties this man brings to every game he plays.

Dick in “Fun with Dick and Jane” (1977)

Segal was perfectly cast as a would-be robber in this romantic comedy best known, at the time, for bringing Jane Fonda back to the big screen. The two perfectly blend in a story that certainly exaggerates the despair people feel when financially challenged. While the premise is without humor, the end result is fresh and entertaining.

Segal continued to offer strong performances in film, including supporting roles with Bette Midler in “For the Boys’ in 1991 and, again, with Barbra Streisand in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” in 1996. He then turned to television where he enlivened shows such as “The Goldbergs,” “Entourage” and “Just Shoot Me.”

No matter the medium or the character, he was always someone we enjoyed, a man we knew, and a soul we could believe in.

Rest in peace, George Segal.