Friday, December 28, 2012

Harry Carey Jr.: 1921-2012

Harry Carey Jr. (1940s)
Harry Carey Jr.  (1970s)

At the risk of this becoming more of an "obituary column", I must report the death of another of the great character actors. Harry Carey Jr. died December 27th at the age of 91. The son of actors Harry Carey and Olive Carey, Carey Jr.'s career spanned more than a half-century of active work on the screen. Though his last acting work was in 1997, he did make many appearances in documentary work and at film festivals where he would discuss his family; director John Ford; John Wayne; and film-making during the golden age. He is reported to be the last member of the so-called John Ford Stock Company of actors. His Ford films include The Searchers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, 3 Godfathers, Wagonmaster, The Long Gray Line, Mister Roberts, Two Rode Together and Cheyenne Autumn. He worked with John Wayne numerous times, in addition to those listed he also appeared with Duke in Red River, Big Jake, and Cahill US Marshal. His television work included many of the top western series, including episodes of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun-Will Travel, Wagon Train, Laramie, The Rifleman, and Branded. In the mid to late 1950s, Harry was a regular on the "Spin & Marty" segment of Disney's Mickey Mouse Club. He wrote a memoir in 1994 and entitled it "A Company of Heroes: My Life As an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company". In 1944 he married the daughter of fellow character player Paul Fix; he and Marilyn had been married 68 years at his death. He is also survived by 3 children; 3 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Harry was part of film history; a link to the earliest days because of his parents; a link to the golden days of Hollywood because of his association with Ford and Wayne; a link to the halcyon days of tv westerns with his work from the early 1950s; and finally, as a living historical treasure as he worked with today's directors, doing films like Mask, Gremlins, Back to the Future: Part 3 and Tombstone... those directors were able to listen to his stories as he shared his experience with them. Thanks Harry, for sharing 66 years in show business.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New DVDs This Week: Dec. 25, 2012

John Abbott
Jan Arvan
John Davis Chandler
Willis Bouchey
Bernard Fox
Barbara Morrison
There's not much being released by the major labels with the holidays falling on "new release Tuesday". But I did notice several from Universal's Vault Series listed as being released on December 25.

 They are available at  apparently at $17.95 each. I won't go through all of the titles, but here are a few that I would classify as "a character actor lover's dream"... The Brass Bottle (1964) starring Tony Randall and Barbara Eden also has Richard Erdman, Edward Andrews, Parley Baer, Ann Doran, Philip Ober, Howard Smith, Alex Gerry, Herb Vigran, Robert P. Lieb, Nora Marlowe, Jan Arvan, Robert Carricart, Bill Erwin, Johnny Silver, Alan Dexter and Guy Wilkerson in support... 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962) is a Tony Curtis vehicle that also has on view Edward Andrews, Tom Reese, Ford Rainey, Gregg Palmer, Hallene Hill, and the extras Bess Flowers and Kenner Kemp among others... Gambit (1966) stars Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine, but also has Roger C. Carmel, Arnold Moss, John Abbott, Maurice Marsac, Richard Angarola, Jan Arvan, Than Wyenn and longtime extra Paul Bradley... Shoot Out (1971) is a little seen Gregory Peck western that also has Jeff Corey, Arthur Hunnicutt, James Gregory, John Davis Chandler, Paul Fix, Lane Bradford, Arthur Space, Elizabeth Harrower, and in one of his last appearances, Willis Bouchey...List of Adrian Messenger was directed by John Huston and stars George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas along with a lot of star cameos. But you can also get a glimpse of Marcel Dalio, Ronald Long, Alan Caillou, Bernard Fox, Barbara Morrison, Richard Peel and Dave Willock among of some of those mentioned appear above in order to put name to the face...

Cliff Osmond: 1937-2012

Longtime character actor and acting teacher Cliff Osmond passed away on  the 22nd of December after suffering from pancreatic cancer for some time. He was 75 years old. Cliff was a familiar presence in the 1960s and 1970s, especially on television. He worked four times with the great director Billy Wilder (Irma la Douce, Kiss Me Stupid, The Fortune Cookie and his remake of The Front Page). Other film work included How the West Was Won, Oklahoma Crude, Joe Panther, Hangar 18, and two Disney films, North Avenue Irregulars and Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, among others. Osmond could play both evil and sympathetic characters and his large size often belied a certain tenderness in many of his characterizations. His television work consists of many credits from 1962-92, including The Rifleman, Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, Laredo, Hogan's Heroes, Batman, It Takes a Thief, Ironside, Land of the Giants, The Odd Couple, Here's Lucy, All in the Family, Emergency!, Bob Newhart Show, Kojak, Rhoda, Vega$, Knight Rider, Murder She Wrote, Bodies of Evidence, and maybe some of his best work, six episodes of Gunsmoke (check out the episodes "The Victim" from 1968; "Roots of Fear" from 1969 and "Celia" from 1970). He also did a little scriptwriting (including a Streets of San Francisco) and he wrote and directed the feature film The Penitent in 1988. His Cliff Osmond Acting Studio is what kept his really busy over the last 20 years as he began to appear in front of the camera less and less. The photographs above show Cliff Osmond about thirty years apart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Charles Durning: 1923-2012

With his death on Christmas Eve, obituaries are calling Charles Durning "prolific" and the "king of the character actors", and of course, I wouldn't dispute that. But what I marvel in is that I don't believe Durning ever gave a weak performance. He was simply one of those journeymen actors that was good in everything he did. He did both comedy and drama with what appeared to be relative ease. He most enjoyed the stage, but did scores of films and television shows over the last forty years. He was able to dance despite a size that would keep other men sedentary. And he had a personality that was hard to dislike, no matter what the role. You combine these facts with heroic military service (three Purple Hearts and the Silver Star from WWII as he was in the first wave on Omaha Beach on D-Day), and a tough childhood (he lost his father and five sisters at a young age) and it's hard to deny Charles Durning was not only one hell of an actor, but he was one hell of a man as well. His first big break came in 1962 when he began a long association with Joseph Papp, who eventually cast him in some 35 plays (he did do a few films between 1962 and 1972). His performance in the play That Championship Season led to his being cast as a corrupt policeman in the the film classic The Sting in 1973 and in the forty years since, Durning has never looked back. Lumet's  fantastic 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon showcased Durning as the police hostage negotiator dealing with Al Pacino in one of his greatest roles. But there were more, he romanced Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie; was himself a hostage as the President of the United States in Twilight's Last Gleaming (a particular favorite of mine); he captained The Hindenburg; chased outlaws in the western Breakheart Pass; he was a football coach in North Dallas Forty; and a corrupt power broker in True Confessions (he dances an Irish jig in this one). Speaking of dancing, he made quite a showing in the tv movie Queen of the Stardust Ballroom co-starring Maureen Stapleton and both were nominated for Emmy Awards. He was one of the highlights of the film adaption of the musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, his dance number in this film garnered Durning his first of two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated the next year for playing a Nazi Colonel in Mel Brooks' remake of To Be Or Not To Be. But the list goes on and on, and that's what I mean about his career, a smile comes to my face as I think about each of these roles. And there were others... the villain in the original Muppet Movie; the unlikable newspaperman in Wilder's remake of The Front Page; The Fury; The Choirboys; Starting Over; Home for the Holidays; Mass Appeal; Beatty's Dick Tracy; and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. He played Santa Claus at least four times and roles as diverse as the Pope and JFK's father. He was good to television as well, he co-starred on Burt Reynolds' series Evening Shade as the town doctor and received two of his total nine Emmy Award nominations. He was also nominated for the short-lived sitcom The Cop & The Kid; for the min-series Captains & The Kings; Death of a Salesman; Attica; as well as for his role as Denis Leary's ex-firefighter father in Rescue Me and guest apperances in Homicide and NCIS The stage was Durning's first love and he was awarded a Tony for his performance as Big Daddy in the revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway in 1990. He also appeared in such notable plays as The Gin Game; Gore Vidal's The Best Man; Inherit the Wind; Third and others. In 2008 Charles Durning was given the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, which was presented by his old friend Burt Reynolds. It was an emotional presentation. It appears that Durning continued to work almost until the last, with a couple of films still to be released at this writing. Separated from his second wife, he is survived by three children and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting tribute to a "hero", both as an actor and a man who served his country.