American comic actor and magician, most famous for playing Judge Harry Stone on the 1980s sitcom Night Court.
Anderson was born in Newport, RI on Oct. 14, 1952, but spent his youth getting hauled around the United States by his gambler mother (his folks split up when he was very young; his father was a salesman). He picked up a few tricks from the people his mother hung around with; he learned card tricks and conjuring stunts as a child and teenager, and as soon as he graduated from high school in California in 1970, he moved to San Francisco and set himself up as a street magician.
That's a complicated business. You have to be, as they say these days, multiskilled. Harry was a conjurer, a card shark, a comedian, and a bit of a con artist. According to a Disney Magazine profile, he was also a scofflaw: busking and street hustling were illegal, even in the permissive 'Frisco of the early 1970s, and Harry landed in jail more than once.
Harry was a sort of neo-Vaudeville performer, always dressing up for his shows in a trademark borselino hat and using old-style patter to keep audiences laughing and interested.
He moved to New Orleans for a bit. Then up to Oregon, where he fell into theater by helping with special effects tricks at the local Shakespeare festival, doing warm-up gigs, and being a stage extra.
His screen career took off from there, though not meteorically. He got some bit parts on TV shows and a B-movie or two. Kept up with the street act. Lived hand to mouth. Till 1982.
That year, Harry landed a guest role on Cheers as pickpocket and confidence man "Harry the Hat." He was more or less playing himself, but as a crook and ne'er-do-well. The bar gang hated him and audiences loved him.
A whack more appearances as Harry the Hat followed, and then, in 1984, NBC asked him to take on the role of Judge Harry T. Stone.
Once again, Harry was essentially playing himself, as an irreverent, sardonic, scampish night-court judge who was fond of sleight-of-hand tricks and Mel Torme. He was working with John Larroquette, another great comic talent, and the show was a pretty strong success for the network. Night Court ran for eight seasons and has been a fixture in syndication.
It also gave Harry the credibility to do other stuff on TV. He hosted a number of specials on magic and the great history of Vaudeville, appeared in a couple of TV movies (including the adaptation of Stephen King's IT), wrote a few books on magic and street hustling (the best-known of which is Games You Can't Lose: A guide for suckers). After Night Court ended, he starred in Dave's World, a four-year television series loosely based on the life and writing of columnist Dave Barry.
Harry was married to Leslie Pollack for 22 years (1977 to 1999), and has two children, daughter Eva Fay and son Dashiell. He remarried in 2001 and now lives in New Orleans full time, where he runs a magic shop and museum. He appears on TV specials from time to time (often on Penn and Teller shows and similar affairs) and seems to be as happy as a clam.