Jowly character player who honed his skills with San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre before making his film debut in "Alex in Wonderland" (1970). After several small film roles, Lerner gained notice for his performance as Katz, the Machiavellian lawyer, in Bob Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
and as World Series "fixer" Arnold Rothstein in John Sayles' Eight Men Out (1988)
Lerner has since made a name for himself in TV movies, portraying real-life characters Pierre Salinger, in "The Missiles of October" (1974); Jack Ruby, in "Ruby and Oswald" (1978); film mogul Jack Warner, in "Moviola: This Year's Blonde" (1980); Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, in "Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess" (1983); and impresario Oscar Hammerstein, in "Melba" (1989). His big-screen portrait of crass, fictitious film mogul Jack Lipnick, in the Coen brothers satire Barton Fink (1991), earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. His subsequent film roles (e.g., "Newsies" 1992; "No Escape" 1994) did not fully take advantage of his abilities. In 1996, Lerner was cast as the lawyer father of a young Beverly Hills teen in the ABC sitcom version of the big screen hit "Clueless" (inheriting the role created by Dan Hedaya); however, when the show switched networks to UPN and was revamped for the 1997-98 season, Lerner's character was dropped.