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Jan Leighton

jan leighton, jan leighton actor
Jan Leighton December 27, 1921 - November 16, 2009 was an American actor and model who appeared in more than 3,000 roles He specialized in portraying historic characters, but also worked as a voice actor and hand model He was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records with having played more roles than any other actor


  • 1 Life and career
    • 11 Early years
    • 12 Stage and television actor
    • 13 Portrayal of historic characters
    • 14 Hand model and voice actor
    • 15 Representative roles
    • 16 Author
    • 17 Family and death
  • 2 References

Life and career

Early years

Leighton was born in The Bronx, New York as Milton Lichtman in 1921 He would later change his professional name to Jan Leighton in 1949 to de-emphasize his Jewish heritage in order to get more work His father owned a fleet of taxis, and his mother was a housewife He attended Aviation High School, but left school at age 17 to work as a mechanic for an aeronautics firm He joined the US military during World War II, working as a physical training instructor He briefly attended the University of Mexico in Mexico City after the war, but moved to El Paso, Texas after six months While living in Texas, he received government funding to attend an acting workshop in New York

Stage and television actor

Leighton began his acting career appearing in live television dramas and in theater He was described as "a large, broad-shouldered man with an amiable face" He won a small role in the Broadway production, Home Is Tomorrow and roles in the television series, Robert Montgomery Presents, Kraft Television Theater, Studio One and Man Against Crime In 1960, he appeared on Broadway with Lucille Ball in Wildcat

Portrayal of historic characters

Leighton later developed a career as an impersonator of historic characters in numerous media—television and print advertisements, industrial and training films, radio, personal appearances and at least one feature film To prepare for a role, Leighton read biographies on the subject and studied any available reproductions of the subject's appearance and voice

In 1988, Leighton told The New York Times that "getting" the voice was the key to unlocking the rest of the personality He said, "By adjusting my face, body and voice, I can be anyone in history It's my calling" Leighton also created his own costumes He maintained a prop and wardrobe collection arranged by character and period in his crammed Manhattan apartment; the collection included 121 pairs of shoes, 203 wigs, 197 hats, 71 pairs of glasses, 36 pipes, ten togas, and three inkwells

He was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the actor who had played the most roles In 1988, Guinness credited him as the man with the most disguises, having played 1,200 famous people in television and print advertisements, and 1,800 more on radio At a gathering of 32 Guinness record-holders in 1988, Leighton appeared in full costume as General George Patton

In May 1989, New York magazine published a feature story on Leighton, calling him the "Man of a Thousand Faces" He told the magazine that he avoided costume parties:

"I never go to costume parties That's a busman's holiday Heaven for me is to lie in bed stark naked with no costume -- living in my own face and not someone else's -- and luxuriate in my own skin"

By the end of his career, Leighton had reportedly professionally portrayed 3,372 historic notables In its obituary of Leighton, The New York Times called him the "Actor Who Played Everyone"

An acting publication, SAGWatch, wrote of Leighton: "You'd never know it from his IMDB page, but the Guinness Book of Records says Jan Leighton played more different roles than any other actor in history He was known as an actor who would go anywhere to do any role, in any medium His website noted 'If you call Jan Leighton at 10 in the morning from New York City, he can show up and play the person before lunch–in full costume!'"

Hand model and voice actor

In addition to his work portraying historic figures, Leighton also worked as a hand model and voice actor His hands were transformed into the Ford logo in a long-running advertisement for the automobile company He was also the trilling voice of the "R-r-r-olling Wr-r-r-iter" pen He also provided the voice for a talking Spalding golfball, "I'm a Spalding dot and this guy can hit me a helluva long way if he wants to"

Representative roles

The historic and fictional figures he portrayed included Thomas Edison, George Patton, Benjamin Franklin, Sherlock Holmes, George Washington, Saddam Hussein, Margaret Thatcher, Ludwig van Beethoven, William Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Inspector Clouseau

A sampling of Leighton's 3,000-plus roles include the following:

  • As Albert Einstein in the 1982 motion picture "Zapped!";
  • As Leonardo da Vinci and Henry Kissinger on covers of New York magazine;
  • As Uncle Sam on the cover of Time magazine;
  • As William Shakespeare in a skit on Late Night with David Letterman;
  • As Confucius and others on the jacket of Gore Vidal's book "Creation";
  • As Fidel Castro, lighting a cigar, in a commercial for Bic lighters;
  • As Alexander Hamilton in a commercial for Cheerios;
  • As Mr Whipple's twin in a commercial for Charmin toilet paper;
  • As Johann Sebastian Bach in a beer commercial;
  • As Albert Einstein in a commercial for a California Toyota dealership;
  • As Dracula in a commercial for a mobile telephone company;
  • As Frankenstein's monster in a commercial for cough syrup;
  • As John Wayne on the 1981 hit disco single "Get Tough" by Kleeer;
  • As Abraham Lincoln in a commercial for a Minnesota bank;
  • As Robert E Lee in a commercial for an Arizona department store; and
  • As Clark Gable, Groucho Marx, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, complaining about check charges, in a series of commercials for a bank


Leighton and his daughter, Hallie, co-authored the book Rare Words and Ways to Master Their Meanings: 500 Arcane But Useful Words for Language Lovers in 2003, and a 2008 sequel titled Rare Words II and Ways to Master Their Meanings Charles Osgood called the first book "both rare and well done" The books' publisher also issued a series of flash cards, "Rare Fare," with words and rhymes from Rare Words II

Family and death

Leighton was married four times, including actress/Emmy-award winning writer Lynda Myles, his co-star in "The World Turned Upside Down" His first marriage ended with an annulment, and the others ended in divorce In November 2009, Leighton died due to complications from a stroke at age 87 Leighton was survived by a daughter, Hallie Leighton, and a son, Ross Leighton


  1. ^ Weber, Bruce 2009-11-28 "Jan Leighton, Actor Who Played Everyone, Dies at 87" The New York Times 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Bernice Kannner 1989-05-29 "Man of a Thousand Faces: Jan Leighton, Master of Disguise" New York magazine, pp 20-21 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Among Records, A Record Holder" The New York Times 1988-05-11 
  4. ^ "Jan Leighton" IMDB Retrieved 2009-11-28 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Bruce Weber 2009-11-27 "Jan Leighton, Actor Who Played Everyone, Dies at 87" The New York Times 
  6. ^ a b "Jan Leighton Home Page" Jan Leighton Retrieved 2009-11-28 
  7. ^ "HIS RECORD MAY NEVER BE BROKEN" SAGWatch 2009-11-28 Retrieved 2009-11-29 
  8. ^ "Full cast and crew for "Zapped"" imdbcom 
  9. ^ Jan Leighton & Hallie Leighton Rare Words and Ways to Master Their Meanings: 500 Arcane But Useful Words for Language Lovers Levenger Press ISBN 978-1-929154-12-8 
  10. ^ Jan Leighton & Hallie Leighton 2009 Rare Words II II and Ways to Master Their Meanings Levenger Press 
  11. ^ The comment by Osgood is contained on the back cover of the book, which is linked above
  12. ^ "Rare Words II and Rare Fare Cards" Levenger Press Retrieved 2009-12-02 

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