Cliff Bemis grew up on a family dairy farm in rural Elyria, Ohio, located about 30 miles west of Cleveland. At an early age he learned how to milk cows, bale hay, plant and harvest crops. When he was in the fourth grade his father’s health prevented them from staying on the farm, so the family moved to Lorain, Ohio, into the home and greenhouse/florist business his father had grown up in, well known to locals as Bemis Florist.
In 1966, he graduated from Clearview High School, (of which his grandfather Clifford was one of the founding board members) and in 2003 was honored as an inductee into the Clearview High School Distinguished Alumni Group.
Music and acting was always a part of his life. He studied piano beginning at age 6, and began his theatre career at Workshop Players in Amherst, Oh. That experience was what truly “sparked” his interest in theatre.
In the fall of 1966, Cliff entered the Conservatory of Music at Baldwin-Wallace College (now Baldwin-Wallace University) in Berea, Ohio, as a vocal performance major. However, during his freshman year, he was cast as one of the fathers in “The Fantasticks.” That show made him realize his real passion was for the stage, so the following year he switched his major to the theatre department. A few years later, and after many student productions, he graduated from BW in 1970. In 1998, was the recipient of the Alumni Merit Award. He was also a member of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, and was chosen to be inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society.
His college summers were spent in Cooperstown, NY, doing summer stock at the Cooperstown Playhouse. It was a great training ground, as a new show was rehearsed and produced every two weeks during the three month summer season. Attached to the Cooperstown Playhouse was a small nightclub called the Act IV. After the show, actors were invited to perform their own material, as well as performing in JoAnn Miller’s Act IV Revue. The revue was a local hit, and began to receive attention from some NY booking agents. So upon graduation from B-W, Cliff went on the road with the Act IV Revue, playing clubs all over the country, including the now defunct Playboy Club circuit.
After two years on the road, he returned to Cleveland, and began his extensive and varied career, performing musical theatre & opera, as well as the related fields of commercial acting, which included jingle singing, voice-overs, on-camera and industrial films. He was one of the original cast members of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living in Paris, which played for over two years in the State Theatre on Playhouse Square in Cleveland. That show is widely recognized as the show that helped save this historic theatre district. For seven seasons, he was a regular guest artist at The Cleveland Play House, sang with the Cleveland Opera Co., and narrated with The Cleveland Orchestra. He was also a regular singer of the National Anthem for the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Cleveland’s National Air Show.
In 1986, while performing in “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” for the Kenley Players in Akron, Cliff met and became friends with actor Robby Benson (star of One On One, and the voice of The Beast in Beauty and the Beast,) and his wife actress/singer Karla DeVito. They encouraged Cliff to move to LA, which he did, and where he has continued to build upon his career.
In 1992, Cliff became the national spokesperson for the International House of Pancakes, or IHOP restaurants as they are commonly known. Starring in over 30 commercials for the company, his personal appearances for IHOP took him all over the USA and Canada, where he autographed over 75,000 “Cliff at IHOP” pictures. New Year’s Day, 1999, Cliff could be seen waving from high atop the IHOP float to the millions of people around the world who watch the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Cliff has appeared in dozens of TV shows including “Arliss,” “Married With Children”, “Dallas,” “Newhart,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Cheers,” “Coach,” and “Murder She Wrote” to name a few, and was featured in the films World Trade Center, directed by Oliver Stone, Nancy Drew, Billy, The Early Years, Pink Cadillac with Clint Eastwood, Distinguished Gentlemen with Eddie Murphy, and Naked Gun 2 1/2. In the fall of 1999, he costarred in a new sitcom on UPN titled “Reunited” starring Julie Hagerty of Airplane fame. He has appeared with “Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander in several stage productions, including Promises, Promises, as well as starring opposite Lucie Arnaz in the musical Wonderful Town.
Cliff originated the role of Ezekiel Foster in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, which had its World Premier at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 2004, as well as performing in companies on Broadway, Los Angeles, Detroit, Papermill Playhouse, (starring Lorna Luft, daughter of legendary singer and actress Judy Garland). He also spent over a year touring North America in the First National Tour of The Drowsy Chaperone in the role of Mr. Feldzieg.
Cliff balanced out his professional life in Los Angeles with involvement in several different charity organizations that he feels passionately about. A long time supporter of law enforcement, in particular, the California Highway Patrol, he is a Lifetime Member in the CHP 11-99 Foundation. For his song “The Badge of the CHP” Cliff was bestowed the honor of Honorary Member in the California Association of Highway Patrolmen. Cliff wrote, produced, and performed the song in honor of his friend CHP Officer Bruce T. Hinman, killed in the line of duty in 1995. He also supports The Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors, and is an Honorary Deputy Sheriff in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.
For ten years, Cliff did a week of volunteer work at The White House, preparing it for the Christmas holidays. He was honored to have met both Presidents and First Ladies Bush and Clinton on several different occasions.
Cliff now resides in NYC, where he continues his stage work both on Broadway as well as Off Broadway, as well as TV and film.