LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ann Savage, who earned a cult following as a femme fatale
in 1940s pulp-fiction movies, most notably as the ruthless villain in “Detour,”
died on Dec. 27. She was 87.
The cause was complications of a series of strokes, said her manager, Kent
Ms. Savage’s Hollywood career had largely been over since the mid-1950s, but in
the last year she had a starring role in a film by the Canadian filmmaker Guy
Maddin, “My Winnipeg.”
Starting with her 1943 debut in the crime story “One Dangerous Night,” she made
more than 30 films through the 1950s, including westerns (“Saddles and
Sagebrush,” “Satan’s Cradle”), musicals (“Dancing in Manhattan,” “Ever Since
Venus”) and wartime tales (“Passport to Suez,” “Two-Man Submarine”).
In “Detour,” her best-known film, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in 1945, she played
a woman blackmailing a stranger, played by Tom Neal.
“It’s actually a showcase role,” Mr. Adamson said. “Neal and Savage really
reversed the traditional male-female roles of the time. She’s vicious and
predatory. She’s been called a harpy from hell, and in the film, too, she’s very
sexually aggressive, and he’s very, very passive.”
Decades later, “Detour” and Ms. Savage gained a new audience on television and
Mr. Adamson said Mr. Maddin had been a longtime fan of “Detour” when he cast Ms.
Savage to play his mother in “My Winnipeg,” a documentary, drama and memoir
about his native city.
She did some television in the 1950s, including “Death Valley Days” and “The
Ford Television Theater,” then left Hollywood for New York, where she appeared
In 1986, Ms. Savage returned to acting with an appearance in the drama “Fire
December 13, 2008
The New York Times
By ALJEAN HARMETZ
Van Johnson, a film actor whose affable charm and boyish good looks helped
turn him into a major Hollywood star during World War II, died Friday in Nyack,
N.Y. He was 92.
His death, at the Tappan Zee Manor assisted living facility, was announced by a
spokesman, Daniel Demello, of Shirley Herz Associates in New York.
Mr. Johnson won praise in his first dramatic role, as the pilot whose story is
told in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944). He drew good notices for his work in
“The Caine Mutiny,” Edward Dmytryk’s 1954 adaptation of the Herman Wouk novel,
in which he played the naval lieutenant who is compelled to relieve the erratic
Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) of command while at sea. And critics liked him
as well the following year in Dmytryk’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel “The
End of the Affair,” he which Mr. Johnson played an illicit lover opposite Sarah
But it was his wartime film career that catapulted Mr. Johnson to fame, and it
gave him a boy-next-door image that he could never live down. He was the
red-haired, freckle-faced soldier, sailor or B-25 bomber pilot who used to live
down the street in a dozen MGM movies between 1942 and 1946. He attracted hordes
of bobby-soxers during the war years. Indeed, the numbers of screaming teen-aged
girls who swooned for Mr. Johnson were second only to those who threw themselves
at Frank Sinatra.
Mr. Johnson got his big break in “A Guy Named Joe” (1943), playing a young
fighter pilot who acquires an older pilot (Spencer Tracy) as his guardian angel
after the older man is killed in a crash.
In real life, it was Mr. Johnson who was almost killed in an automobile accident
that occurred midway through the movie’s production. It was obvious by then that
his charming, likable screen presence would make him a star. During the months
Mr. Johnson was hospitalized, both Tracy and his co-star, Irene Dunne, refused
to allow the studio to recast the part.
Mr. Johnson had supporting roles in movies like “The War Against Mrs. Hadley”
(1942) and “Madame Curie” (1943), but “A Guy Named Joe” gave him two things: a
lot of publicity and a steel plate in his head that kept him from being drafted
at a time when major MGM stars like Robert Taylor, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable
were joining the armed services. The film was a huge box-office success.
In 1944, a time when actors worked under contract in a studio caste system, Mr.
Johnson was promoted from featured player to MGM’s official star list. He was
paired with Miss Williams in “Thrill of a Romance” (1945) and with Lana Turner
in “Weekend at the Waldorf” (1945). At studio premieres and parties, he wore red
socks with his tuxedo, a trademark.
By 1945, Mr. Johnson was second behind Bing Crosby on the list of the Top 10
box-office stars chosen yearly by the nation’s theater owners. In 1946, he was
third. Then Hollywood’s bit male stars came back from the war, and he dropped
off the list.
Like many MGM stars of that era, including June Allyson, with whom he starred in
four films, Mr. Johnson did not find his contract burdensome. He was never known
to have asked for a raise or turned down a part he was told to play.
In 1985, he said of his years at MGM: “It was one big happy family and a little
kingdom. Everything was provided for us, from singing lessons to barbells. All
we had to do was inhale, exhale and be charming. I used to dread leaving the
studio to go out into the real world, because to me the studio was the real
Mr. Johnson said he wasn’t even upset when the studio head L.B. Mayer learned
that he was living with a young actress and insisted that he move out: “That was
the way of the studio.”
MGM dropped Mr. Johnson in 1954, after he appeared as the drunken novelist
opposite Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” based on F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited,” and in the film version of the
Broadway musical fantasy “Brigadoon,” as one of two American tourists (Gene
Kelly played the other) visiting an enchanted Scottish village.
In his 12 years at the studio, Mr. Johnson had acted and mostly starred in
nearly 50 movies. But as he once asked a reporter rhetorically: “How long can
you go on being the boy next door?”
He was born Charles Van Johnson on Aug. 25, 1916, in Newport, R.I. His mother,
an alcoholic, deserted the family when he was a boy, and he was dutifully but
coldly raised by the dour Swedish-American father, a plumber, for whom he was
named. According to his stepson, Ned Wynn, when Mr. Johnson became a star, he
invited his father to California and proudly took him to the famous Chasen’s
restaurant. Charles Johnson refused to eat anything but a tuna fish sandwich.
“Van was devastated,” Mr. Wynn wrote in a memoir, “We Have Always Lived in
Beverly Hills.” “He had wanted to show his father that now, after years of a
gray, loveless, miserly life, he was a star, he could afford steak. And the old
bastard had beaten him down one more time.”
As soon as he graduated from high school in 1935, Mr. Johnson fled to New York.
He sang, danced and played the violin, and after several months got a job
touring New England as a substitute dancer. He first set foot on a Broadway
stage in the successful revue “New Faces” in May 1936.
After “New Faces” closed, his career was a mosaic of chorus boy jobs, resort
hotel gigs and finally, nightclub work in “Eight Young Men of Manhattan” at the
Rainbow Room, an act built around Mary Martin.
He was an understudy to Desi Arnaz and Eddie Bracken in George Abbott’s Broadway
musical “Too Many Girls,” which earned him a small role in Abbott’s “Pal Joey,”
which earned him two trips to Hollywood. Columbia didn’t like his screen test,
but Warner Bros. offered him a contract at $300 a week, gave him the leading
role of a cub reporter opposite Faye Emerson in “Murder in the Big House (1942),
and dropped him after six months.
He was on his way back to New York when Lucille Ball, whom he knew from his
years of bouncing around the East Coast, took him to the MGM casting director
Billy Grady. He made his debut as a young soldier in the Clark Gable-Lana Turner
drama “Somewhere I’ll Find You” (1942). He was the pilot who survived in “Pilot
No. 5” (1943), the soldier who died in William Saroyan’s “Human Comedy” (1943)
and the sailor who had his choice of June Allyson or Gloria DeHaven in “Two
Girls and a Sailor.”
He also replaced Lew Ayres in the successful Dr. Kildare series, which was
renamed the Dr. Gillespie series for the co-star, Lionel Barrymore, after Ayres
announced he was a conscientious objector. Mr. Johnson shocked MGM and dismayed
his fans in 1947 when he stole the wife of his best friend, the MGM character
actor Keenan Wynn. But by the time he married Evie Wynn, he was too big a star
for the studio to punish. They had a daughter, Schuyler, in 1948, separated in
1962 and were divorced in 1968. Mr. Johnson did not remarry.
The actor’s screen image was all laughter and sunshine. “Cheery Van,” he later
defined himself ironically. Actually, the deprivations of his childhood cast
long shadows, and he was, by nature, moody and morose. “His tolerance of
unpleasantness was minuscule,” his stepson wrote. “If there was the slightest
hint of trouble with one of the children, or with the house, the car, the
servants, the delivery of the newspaper, the lack of ice in the silver ice
bucket, the color of the candles on the dining room table, Van immediately left
the couch, the dinner table, the pool, the tennis court, the party, the
restaurant, the vacation, and strode off to his bedroom.”
Long after World War II was over, Mr. Johnson was still fighting it: in
““Command Decision” (1948) as a staff sergeant; as a happy-go-lucky private in
William Wellman’s excellent recreation of the Battle of the Bulge,
“Battleground” (1949); and as a prejudiced army lieutenant in charge of a group
of Japanese-American soldiers in “Go For Broke” (1951).
He also co-starred with Janet Leigh (“The Romance of Rosy Ridge” 1947), with
Judy Garland (“In the Good Old Summertime” 1949), and most often with Esther
Williams and June Allyson.
After floundering for more than a decade after he left MGM, Mr. Johnson made the
mistake of turning down the Eliot Ness role in the television series “The
Untouchables” — Robert Stack got the role — but he found frequent work on
television all the same for decades, making guest appearances on a wide range of
shows, from “Batman” in the ’60s (he played The Minstrel) to “Murder, She Wrote”
in the ’80s. He also had a small part in Woody Allen’s 1985 film “The Purple
Rose of Cairo.”
Mr. Johnson had lived at Tappan Zee Manor, an assisted living facility, for the
last seven years. Before that he lived at 405 East 54th Street in Manhattan. He
had been estranged from his daughter for many years, his spokesman, Mr. Demello,
said, adding that he had no other information on survivors.
In the 1970s Mr. Johnson began a second career in summer stock and dinner
theater. When he turned 60, he told a reporter that he had beaten cancer twice
and was so booked up with summer theater jobs that he never got home to his
Manhattan penthouse and his two cats.
At 69, he went back to New York and Broadway to replace Gene Barry as Georges in
“La Cage aux Folles,” playing the role for a year. At 75, with his red hair
turned white and his figure grown rotund, he toured as Captain Andy in “Show
“These are supposed to be my September years,” Mr. Johnson told an interviewer.
“I’m supposed to be at home enjoying them, but I still love to tour.”
Spencer Tracy had given him two pieces of advice: to take up painting as a hobby
and never to read reviews. He traveled everywhere with a paint box and with his
embroidery, a hobby he chose for himself.
When Mr. Johnson was a few years shy of 80, he mused: “Maybe Garbo and Crawford
and Marlene had the right idea. Get out of the damned spotlight while you can
still be remembered for your earlier glories, not as some old relic.”
September 27, 2008
Filed at 10:32 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
WESTPORT, Conn. (AP) -- Paul Newman, the Academy-Award winning superstar who
personified cool as the anti-hero of such films as ''Hud,'' ''Cool Hand Luke''
and ''The Color of Money'' -- and as an activist, race car driver and popcorn
impresario -- has died. He was 83.
Newman died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near
Westport, publicist Jeff Sanderson said. He was surrounded by his family and
In May, Newman had dropped plans to direct a fall production of ''Of Mice and
Men,'' citing unspecified health issues.
He got his start in theater and on television during the 1950s, and went on to
become one of the world's most enduring and popular film stars, a legend held in
awe by his peers. He was nominated for Oscars 10 times, winning one regular
award and two honorary ones, and had major roles in more than 50 motion
pictures, including ''Exodus,'' ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' ''The
Verdict,'' ''The Sting'' and ''Absence of Malice.''
Newman worked with some of the greatest directors of the past half century, from
Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston to Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and the Coen
brothers. His co-stars included Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Tom Cruise, Tom
Hanks and, most famously, Robert Redford, his sidekick in ''Butch Cassidy'' and
He sometimes teamed with his wife and fellow Oscar winner, Joanne Woodward, with
whom he had one of Hollywood's rare long-term marriages. ''I have steak at home,
why go out for hamburger?'' Newman told Playboy magazine when asked if he was
tempted to stray. They wed in 1958, around the same time they both appeared in
''The Long Hot Summer,'' and Newman directed her in several films, including
''Rachel, Rachel'' and ''The Glass Menagerie.''
With his strong, classically handsome face and piercing blue eyes, Newman was a
heartthrob just as likely to play against his looks, becoming a favorite with
critics for his convincing portrayals of rebels, tough guys and losers. ''I was
always a character actor,'' he once said. ''I just looked like Little Red Riding
Newman had a soft spot for underdogs in real life, giving tens of millions to
charities through his food company and setting up camps for severely ill
children. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of civil rights,
he was so famously liberal that he ended up on President Nixon's ''enemies
list,'' one of the actor's proudest achievements, he liked to say.
A screen legend by his mid-40s, he waited a long time for his first competitive
Oscar, winning in 1987 for ''The Color of Money,'' a reprise of the role of pool
shark ''Fast'' Eddie Felson, whom Newman portrayed in the 1961 film ''The
Newman delivered a magnetic performance in ''The Hustler,'' playing a
smooth-talking, whiskey-chugging pool shark who takes on Minnesota Fats --
played by Jackie Gleason -- and becomes entangled with a gambler played by
George C. Scott. In the sequel -- directed by Scorsese -- ''Fast Eddie'' is no
longer the high-stakes hustler he once was, but rather an aging liquor salesman
who takes a young pool player (Cruise) under his wing before making a comeback.
He won an honorary Oscar in 1986 ''in recognition of his many and memorable
compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to
his craft.'' In 1994, he won a third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian
Award, for his charitable work.
His most recent academy nod was a supporting actor nomination for the 2002 film
''Road to Perdition.'' One of Newman's nominations was as a producer; the other
nine were in acting categories. (Jack Nicholson holds the record among actors
for Oscar nominations, with 12; actress Meryl Streep has had 14.)
As he passed his 80th birthday, he remained in demand, winning an Emmy and a
Golden Globe for the 2005 HBO drama ''Empire Falls'' and providing the voice of
a crusty 1951 car in the 2006 Disney-Pixar hit, ''Cars.''
But in May 2007, he told ABC's ''Good Morning America'' he had given up acting,
though he intended to remain active in charity projects. ''I'm not able to work
anymore as an actor at the level I would want to,'' he said. ''You start to lose
your memory, your confidence, your invention. So that's pretty much a closed
book for me.''
He received his first Oscar nomination for playing a bitter, alcoholic former
star athlete in the 1958 film ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'' Elizabeth Taylor played
his unhappy wife and Burl Ives his wealthy, domineering father in Tennessee
Williams' harrowing drama, which was given an upbeat ending for the screen.
In ''Cool Hand Luke,'' he was nominated for his gritty role as a rebellious
inmate in a brutal Southern prison. The movie was one of the biggest hits of
1967 and included a tagline, delivered one time by Newman and one time by prison
warden Strother Martin, that helped define the generation gap, ''What we've got
here is (a) failure to communicate.''
Newman's hair was graying, but he was as gourgeous as ever and on the verge of
his greatest popular success. In 1969, Newman teamed with Redford for ''Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' a comic Western about two outlaws running out of
time. Newman paired with Redford again in 1973 in ''The Sting,'' a comedy about
two Depression-era con men. Both were multiple Oscar winners and huge hits,
irreverent, unforgettable pairings of two of the best-looking actors of their
Newman also turned to producing and directing. In 1968, he directed ''Rachel,
Rachel,'' a film about a lonely spinster's rebirth. The movie received four
Oscar nominations, including Newman, for producer of a best motion picture, and
Woodward, for best actress. The film earned Newman the best director award from
the New York Film Critics.
In the 1970s, Newman, admittedly bored with acting, became fascinated with auto
racing, a sport he studied when he starred in the 1972 film, ''Winning.'' After
turning professional in 1977, Newman and his driving team made strong showings
in several major races, including fifth place in Daytona in 1977 and second
place in the Le Mans in 1979.
''Racing is the best way I know to get away from all the rubbish of Hollywood,''
he told People magazine in 1979.
Despite his love of race cars, Newman continued to make movies and continued to
pile up Oscar nominations, his looks remarkably intact, his acting becoming more
subtle, nothing like the mannered method performances of his early years, when
he was sometimes dismissed as a Brando imitator. ''It takes a long time for an
actor to develop the assurance that the trim, silver-haired Paul Newman has
acquired,'' Pauline Kael wrote of him in the early 1980s.
In 1982, he got his Oscar fifth nomination for his portrayal of an honest
businessman persecuted by an irresponsible reporter in ''Absence of Malice.''
The following year, he got his sixth for playing a down-and-out alcoholic
attorney in ''The Verdict.''
In 1995, he was nominated for his slyest, most understated work yet, the town
curmudgeon and deadbeat in ''Nobody's Fool.'' New York Times critic Caryn James
found his acting ''without cheap sentiment and self-pity,'' and observed, ''It
says everything about Mr. Newman's performance, the single best of this year and
among the finest he has ever given, that you never stop to wonder how a guy as
good-looking as Paul Newman ended up this way.''
Newman, who shunned Hollywood life, was reluctant to give interviews and usually
refused to sign autographs because he found the majesty of the act offensive,
according to one friend.
He also claimed that he never read reviews of his movies.
''If they're good you get a fat head and if they're bad you're depressed for
three weeks,'' he said.
Off the screen, Newman had a taste for beer and was known for his practical
jokes. He once had a Porsche installed in Redford's hallway -- crushed and
covered with ribbons.
''I think that my sense of humor is the only thing that keeps me sane,'' he told
Newsweek magazine in a 1994 interview.
In 1982, Newman and his Westport neighbor, writer A.E. Hotchner, started a
company to market Newman's original oil-and-vinegar dressing. Newman's Own,
which began as a joke, grew into a multimillion-dollar business selling popcorn,
salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and other foods. All of the company's profits
are donated to charities. By 2007, the company had donated more than $175
million, according to its Web site.
Hotchner said Newman should have ''everybody's admiration.''
''For me it's the loss of an adventurous freindship over the past 50 years and
it's the loss of a great American citizen,'' Hotchner told The Associated Press.
In 1988, Newman founded a camp in northeastern Connecticut for children with
cancer and other life-threatening diseases. He went on to establish similar
camps in several other states and in Europe.
He and Woodward bought an 18th century farmhouse in Westport, where they raised
their three daughters, Elinor ''Nell,'' Melissa and Clea.
Newman had two daughters, Susan and Stephanie, and a son, Scott, from a previous
marriage to Jacqueline Witte.
Scott died in 1978 of an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium. After his
only son's death, Newman established the Scott Newman Foundation to finance the
production of anti-drug films for children.
Newman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the second of two boys of Arthur S. Newman,
a partner in a sporting goods store, and Theresa Fetzer Newman.
He was raised in the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights, where he was encouraged
him to pursue his interest in the arts by his mother and his uncle Joseph
Newman, a well-known Ohio poet and journalist.
Following World War II service in the Navy, he enrolled at Kenyon College in
Gambier, Ohio, where he got a degree in English and was active in student
He later studied at Yale University's School of Drama, then headed to New York
to work in theater and television, his classmates at the famed Actor's Studio
including Brando, James Dean and Karl Malden. His breakthrough was enabled by
tragedy: Dean, scheduled to star as the disfigured boxer in a television
adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's ''The Battler,'' died in a car crash in 1955.
His role was taken by Newman, then a little-known performer.
Newman started in movies the year before, in ''The Silver Chalice,'' a costume
film he so despised that he took out an ad in Variety to apologize. By 1958, he
had won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for the shiftless Ben
Quick in ''The Long Hot Summer.''
In December 1994, about a month before his 70th birthday, he told Newsweek
magazine he had changed little with age.
''I'm not mellower, I'm not less angry, I'm not less self-critical, I'm not less
tenacious,'' he said. ''Maybe the best part is that your liver can't handle
those beers at noon anymore,'' he said.
Newman is survived by his wife, five children, two grandsons and his older
September 8, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBERT BERKVIST
Anita Page, one of the last surviving stars of the silent screen and a
popular Hollywood siren before her surprisingly early — and seemingly permanent
— retirement in the 1930s, died on Saturday. She was 98.
Randal Malone, her friend and longtime companion, told The Associated Press that
she died at her home in Los Angeles.
Ms. Page was still a teenager when she left New York for California. She
appeared in small, uncredited roles in several silent films, making her screen
debut as an extra in “A Kiss for Cinderella” (1925), based on the fairy tale.
Soon she was offered a contract by MGM. A petite, sexy blonde, Ms. Page was the
ideal love interest, whether playing the girl next door or a flirtatious flapper
out to conquer the opposite sex.
She became a star when she appeared with Joan Crawford in the Jazz Age silent
drama “Our Dancing Daughters” (1928), in which they competed for the love of a
millionaire (Johnny Mack Brown). Ms. Crawford was the loser until the film’s
melodramatic end, when a drunken Ms. Page tumbled down a stairway to her death.
The film was a smash hit, and Ms. Page began receiving sacks of fan mail,
including, she said, a spate of marriage proposals from none other than
Ms. Page made two more movies with Ms. Crawford, “Our Modern Maidens” (1929) and
“Our Blushing Brides” (1930), neither of which matched the success of their
first. She also appeared opposite Lon Chaney in “While the City Sleeps” (1928)
and Ramon Novarro in “The Flying Fleet” (1929).
By then the age of silent films was at an end, and Ms. Page, along with other
stars of the silent era, faced the challenge of making a successful transition
to the talkies. Her chance came with “The Broadway Melody” (1929), which MGM
billed as an “All-Talking, All-Singing, All-Dancing” picture. Ms. Page and her
co-star Bessie Love played sisters with a vaudeville act who leave the Midwest
with hopes of success on Broadway.
The film won the Academy Award for best picture, the first talkie to achieve
Ms. Page was born Anita Pomares on Aug. 4, 1910, in Flushing, Queens, one of two
children of an electrical engineer and a homemaker. She broke into films after
graduating from Washington Irving High School, taking small parts in independent
films in New York before heading to Hollywood and signing with MGM. (“She is
that rarest and most interesting type of beauty,” a studio publicity release
said in 1932. “A Spanish blonde.”)
In 1934 she married the composer Nacio Herb Brown, whose tune “You Were Meant
for Me,” from “The Broadway Melody,” had become Ms. Page’s signature song. The
marriage ended in divorce a year later.
In 1937 she married Herschel A. House, who died in 1991. They had two daughters,
Sandra and Linda.
In the early 1930s Ms. Page found an unlikely co-star in Buster Keaton and
appeared opposite that deadpan clown in “Free and Easy” (1930) and “Sidewalks of
New York” (1931). That same year she played the wife of a struggling laundryman
(Clark Gable) in “The Easiest Way.”
When her contract expired in 1933, Ms. Page was feeling pressured by MGM. Denied
a pay raise, she promptly announced her retirement. She was 23.
After one more appearance, in the British-made “Hitch Hike to Heaven” (1936),
about the struggles of a touring repertory company, she took a 60-year vacation
Ms. Page came out of retirement to appear in a little-noticed 1996 film, “Sunset
After Dark,” which also featured another Hollywood veteran, the former child
star Margaret O’Brien. Ms. Page went on to play small roles in low-budget horror
films, including “The Crawling Brain” (2002). It was a world — and a lifetime —
away from “Our Dancing Daughters.”
April 6, 2008
The New York Times
By ROBERT BERKVIST
Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career
but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses,
Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills,
Calif. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the family, Bill Powers, who declined
to discuss the cause. In August 2002, Mr. Heston announced that he had been
diagnosed with neurological symptoms “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.”
“I’m neither giving up nor giving in,” he said.
Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the
public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of
the director Cecil B. De Mille. De Mille, who was planning his next biblical
spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing
Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.
When the film was released in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and
the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee
name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea
or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a
Moses to remember.
Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was
re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent
Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged
American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.
The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off-screen, for the
causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control.
Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a
powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe
on a Constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.
In Mr. Heston, the N.R.A. found its embodiment of pioneer values — pride,
independence and valor. In a speech at the N.R.A.’s annual convention in 2000,
he brought the audience to its feet with a ringing attack on gun-control
advocates. Paraphrasing an N.R.A. bumper sticker (“I’ll give you my gun when you
take it from my cold, dead hands”) he waved a replica of a colonial musket above
his head and shouted defiantly, “From my cold, dead hands!”
Mr. Heston’s screen presence was so commanding that he was never dominated by
mammoth sets, spectacular effects or throngs of spear-waving extras. In his
films, whether playing Buffalo Bill, an airline pilot, a naval captain or the
commander of a spaceship, he essentially projected the same image — muscular,
steely-eyed, courageous. If critics regularly used terms like
“marble-monumental” or “granitic” to describe his acting style, they just as
often praised his forthright, no-nonsense characterizations.
After his success in “The Ten Commandments,” Mr. Heston tried a change of pace.
Another legendary Hollywood director, Orson Welles, cast him as a Mexican
narcotics investigator in the thriller “Touch of Evil,” in which Welles himself
played a murderous sheriff in a border town. Also starring Janet Leigh and
Marlene Dietrich, the film, a modest success when it opened in 1958, came to be
accepted as a noir classic.
But the following year Mr. Heston stepped back into the world of the biblical
epic, this time under the director William Wyler. The movie was “Ben-Hur.” Cast
as a prince of ancient Judea who rebels against the rule of Rome, Mr. Heston
again dominated the screen. In the film’s most spectacular sequence, he and his
co-star, Stephen Boyd, as his Roman rival, fight a thrilling duel with whips as
their horse-drawn chariots careen wheel-to-wheel around an arena filled with
“Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards — a record at the time — including those for
best picture, best director and, for Mr. Heston, best actor.
He went on to star opposite Sophia Loren in the 1961 release “El Cid,” battling
the Moors in 11th-century Spain. As a Marine officer stationed in the Forbidden
City in 1900, he helped put down the Boxer Rebellion in Nicholas Ray’s 1963 epic
“55 Days at Peking.” In “Khartoum” (1966), he played Gen. Charles (Chinese)
Gordon, who was killed in a desert uprising led in the film by Laurence
Olivier’s Mahdi. When George Stevens produced and directed “The Greatest Story
Ever Told” in 1965, there was Mr. Heston, back in ancient Judea, playing John
the Baptist to Max von Sydow’s Jesus.
He portrayed Andrew Jackson twice, in “The President’s Lady” (1954) and “The
Buccaneer” (1958). There were westerns (“Major Dundee,” “Will Penny,” “The
Mountain Men”), costume dramas (“The Three Musketeers” and its sequel, “The Four
Musketeers,” with Mr. Heston cast as the crafty Cardinal Richelieu in both) and
action films aplenty. Whether playing a hard-bitten landowner in an adaptation
of James Michener’s novel “The Hawaiians” (1970), or a daring pilot in “Airport
1975,” he could be relied on to give moviegoers their money’s worth.
In 1965 he was cast as Michelangelo in the film version of Irving Stone’s novel
“The Agony and the Ecstasy.” Directed by Carol Reed, the film pitted Mr.
Heston’s temperamental artist against Rex Harrison’s testy Pope Julius II, who
commissioned Michelangelo to create frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel. Mr. Heston’s performance took a critical drubbing, but to audiences, the
larger-than-life role seemed to be another perfect fit. Mr. Heston once joked:
“I have played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses. If that doesn’t
create an ego problem, nothing does.”
Mr. Heston was catapulted into the distant future in the 1968 science-fiction
film “Planet of the Apes,” in which he played an astronaut marooned on a
desolate planet and then enslaved by its rulers, a race of anthropomorphic apes.
The film was a hit. He reprised the role two years later in the sequel, “Beneath
the Planet of the Apes.”
Son of the Midwest
It was all a long way from Evanston, Ill., where Charlton Carter was born on
Oct. 4, 1924, and from the small town of St. Helen, Mich., where his family
moved when he was a small boy and where his father ran a lumber mill. He
attended a one-room school and learned to fish and hunt and to savor the feeling
of being self-reliant in the wild, where his shyness was no handicap.
When his parents divorced in the 1930s and his mother remarried — his
stepfather’s surname was Heston — the family moved to the Chicago suburb of
Winnetka. He joined the theater program at his new high school and went on to
enroll at Northwestern University on a scholarship. By that time, he was
convinced he had found his life’s work.
Mr. Heston also found a fellow drama student, Lydia Clarke, whom he married in
1944, just before enlisting in the Army Air Force. He became a radio-gunner and
spent three years stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After his discharge, the
Hestons moved to New York, failed to find work in the theater and, somewhat
disenchanted but still determined, moved to North Carolina, where they spent
several seasons working at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Theater in Asheville.
When they returned to New York in 1947, Mr. Heston got his first big break,
landing the role of Caesar’s lieutenant in a Broadway production of
Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” staged by Guthrie McClintick and starring
Katharine Cornell. The production ran for seven months and proved to be the high
point of Mr. Heston’s New York stage career. He appeared in a handful of other
plays, most of them dismal failures, although his performance in the title role
of a 1956 revival of “Mr. Roberts” won him praise.
If Broadway had little to offer him, television was another matter. He made
frequent appearances in dramatic series like “Robert Montgomery Presents” and
“Philco Playhouse.” The door to Hollywood opened when the film producer Hal B.
Wallis saw Mr. Heston’s performance as Rochester in a “Studio One” production of
“Jane Eyre.” Wallis offered him a contract.
Mr. Heston made his film debut in 1950 in Wallis’s “Dark City,” a low-grade
thriller in which he played a small-time gambler. Two years later, he did his
first work for De Mille as a hard-driving circus boss in “The Greatest Show on
Throughout his career he studied long and hard for his roles. He prepared for
the part of Moses by memorizing passages from the Old Testament. When filming
began on the sun-baked slopes of Mount Sinai, he suggested to De Mille that he
play the role barefoot — a decision that he felt lent an edge of truth to his
Preparing for “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” he read hundreds of Michelangelo’s
letters and practiced how to sculpt and paint convincingly. When filming “The
Wreck of the Mary Deare” (1959), in which he played the pilot of a salvage boat,
he learned deep-water diving. And he mostly rejected stunt doubles. In
“Ben-Hur,” he said, he drove his own chariot for “about 80 percent of the race.”
“I worked six weeks learning how to manage the four white horses,” he said.
“Nearly pulled my arms right out of their sockets.”
As the years wore on, the leading roles began to go to younger men, and by the
1980s, Mr. Heston’s appearances on screen were less frequent. He turned to stage
work again, not on Broadway but in Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson Theater, where
he played roles ranging from Macbeth to James Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey into
Night.” He also returned to television, appearing in 1983 as a paternalistic
banker in the miniseries “Chiefs” and as an oil baron in the series “The
Rifles and a ‘Cultural War’
Mr. Heston was always able to channel some energies into the public arena. He
was an active supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., calling him “a
20th-century Moses for his people,” and participated in the historic march on
Washington in 1963.
He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971, following
in the footsteps of his friend and role model Ronald Reagan. A registered
Democrat for many years, he was nevertheless selective in the candidates he
chose to support and often campaigned for conservatives.
In 1981, President Reagan appointed him co-chairman of the President’s Task
Force on the Arts and Humanities, a group formed to devise ways to obtain
financing for arts organizations. Although he had reservations about some
projects supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Heston wound up
defending the agency against charges of elitism.
Again and again, he proved himself a cogent and effective speaker, but he
rejected suggestions that he run for office, perhaps for a seat in the Senate.
“I’d rather play a senator than be one,” he said.
He became a Republican after Democrats in the Senate blocked the confirmation of
Judge Robert Bork, a conservative, to the Supreme Court in 1987. Mr. Heston had
supported the nomination and was critical of the Reagan White House for
misreading the depth of the liberal opposition.
Mr. Heston frequently spoke out against what he saw as evidence of the decline
and debasement of American culture. In 1992, appalled by the lyrics on “Cop
Killer,” a recording by the rap artist Ice T, he blasted the album at a Time
Warner stockholders meeting and was a force in having it withdrawn from the
In the 1996 elections, he campaigned on behalf of some 50 Republican candidates
and began to speak out against gun control. In 1997, he was elected vice
president of the N.R.A.
In December of that year, as the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary gala of
the Free Congress Foundation, Mr. Heston described “a cultural war” raging
across America, “storming our values, assaulting our freedoms, killing our
self-confidence in who we are and what we believe.”
A Relentless Drive
The next year, at 73, he was elected president of the N.R.A. In his speech at
the association’s convention before his election, he trained his oratorical
artillery on President Bill Clinton’s White House: “Mr. Clinton, sir, America
didn’t trust you with our health care system. America didn’t trust you with gays
in the military. America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and
we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.”
He was in the news again after the shootings at Columbine High School in
Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, when he said that the N.R.A.’s annual
membership meeting, scheduled to be held the following week in Denver, would be
scaled back in light of the killings but not canceled.
In a memorable scene from “Bowling for Columbine,” his 2002 documentary about
violence in America, the director, Michael Moore, visited Mr. Heston at his home
and asked him how he could defend his pro-gun stance. Mr. Heston ended the
interview without comment.
In May 2001, he was unanimously re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term by
the association’s board of directors. The association had amended its bylaws in
2000 to allow Mr. Heston to serve a third one-year term as president. Two months
after his celebrated speech at the 2000 convention, it was disclosed that Mr.
Heston had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program after the
convention had ended.
Mr. Heston was proud of his collection of some 30 guns at his longtime home in
the Coldwater Canyon area of Beverly Hills, where he and his wife raised their
son, Fraser, and daughter, Holly Ann. They all survive him, along with three
Never much for socializing , he spent his days either working, exercising,
reading (he was fond of biographies) or sketching. An active diarist, he
published several accounts of his career, including “The Actor’s Life: Journals
In 2003, Mr. Heston was among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of
Freedom awarded by President Bush. In 1997, he was also a recipient of the
annual Kennedy Center honors.
Mr. Heston continued working through the 1990s, acting more frequently on
television but also in occasional films. His most recent film appearance found
him playing a cameo role, in simian makeup, in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of
“Planet of the Apes.”
He had announced in 1999 that he was receiving radiation treatments for prostate
He had always hated the thought of retirement and once explained his relentless
drive as an actor. “You never get it right,” he said in a 1986 interview. “Never
once was it the way I imagined it lying awake at 4 o’clock in the morning
thinking about it the next day.” His goal remained, he said, “To get it right
March 26, 2008
The New York Times
By ALJEAN HARMETZ
Richard Widmark, who created a villain in his first movie role who was so
repellent and frightening that the actor became a star overnight, died Monday at
his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 93.
His death was announced Wednesday morning by his wife, Susan Blanchard. She said
that Mr. Widmark had fractured a vertebrae in recent months and that his
conditioned had worsened.
As Tommy Udo, a giggling, psychopathic killer in the 1947 gangster film “Kiss of
Death,” Mr. Widmark tied up an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred
Dunnock) with a cord ripped from a lamp and shoved her down a flight of stairs
to her death.
“The sadism of that character, the fearful laugh, the skull showing through
drawn skin, and the surely conscious evocation of a concentration-camp
degenerate established Widmark as the most frightening person on the screen,”
the critic David Thomson wrote in “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.”
The performance won Mr. Widmark his sole Academy Award nomination, for best
Tommy Udo made the 32-year-old Mr. Widmark, who had been an established radio
actor, an instant movie star, and he spent the next seven years playing a
variety of flawed heroes and relentlessly anti-social mobsters in 20th Century
Fox’s juiciest melodramas.
His mobsters were drenched in evil. Even his heroes, including the doctor who
fights bubonic plague in Elia Kazan’s “Panic in the Streets” (1950), the
daredevil pilot flying into the eye of a storm in “Slattery’s Hurricane” (1949)
and the pickpocket who refuses to be a traitor in Samuel Fuller’s “Pickup on
South Street” (1953) were nerve-strained and feral.
“Movie audiences fasten on to one aspect of the actor, and then they decide what
they want you to be,” Mr. Widmark once said. “They think you’re playing
yourself. The truth is that the only person who can ever really play himself is
In reality, the screen’s most vicious psychopath was a mild-mannered former
teacher who had married his college sweetheart, the actress Jean Hazelwood, and
who told a reporter 48 years later that he had never been unfaithful and had
never even flirted with women because, he said, “I happen to like my wife a
He was originally turned down for the role of Tommy Udo by the movie’s director,
Henry Hathaway, who told Mr. Widmark that he was too clean-cut and intellectual.
It was Darryl Zanuck, the Fox studio head, who, after watching Mr. Widmark’s
screen test, insisted that he be given the part.
Among the 65 movies he made over the next five decades were “The Cobweb” (1955),
in which he played the head of a psychiatric clinic where the staff seemed more
emotionally troubled than the patients; “Saint Joan” (1957) , as the Dauphin to
Joan Seberg’s Joan of Arc; John Wayne’s “The Alamo” (1960), as Jim Bowie, the
inventor of the Bowie knife; “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), as an American army
colonel prosecuting German war criminals; and John Ford’s revisionist western
“Cheyenne Autumn” (1963), as an army captain who risks his career to help the
The genesis of “Cheyenne Autumn” was research Mr. Widmark had done at Yale into
the suffering of the Cheyenne. He showed his work to John Ford and, two years
later, Ford sent Mr. Widmark a finished screenplay.
Mr. Widmark created the role of Detective Sergeant Daniel Madigan in Don
Siegel’s 1968 film “Madigan.” It proved so popular that later played the loner
Madigan on an NBC television series during the 1972-73 season.
As his blonde hair turned grey, Mr. Widmark moved up in rank, playing generals
in the nuclear thriller “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (1977) and “The Swarm”
(1978), in which he waged war on bees. He was the evil head of a hospital in
“Coma” (1978) and a United States Senator in “True Colors” (1991).
He was forever fighting producers’ efforts to stereotype him. Indeed, he became
so adept at all types of roles that he consistently lent credibility to inferior
movies and became an audience favorite over a career that spanned more than half
“I suppose I wanted to act in order to have a place in the sun,” he once told a
reporter. “I’d always lived in small towns, and acting meant having some kind of
Richard Widmark (he had no middle name) was born on Dec. 26, 1914, in Sunrise,
Minn., and grew up throughout the Midwest. His father, Carl Widmark, was a
traveling salesman who took his wife, Mae Ethel, and two sons from Minnesota to
Sioux Falls, S.D.; Henry, Ill.; Chillicothe, Mo.; and Princeton, Ill., where Mr.
Widmark graduated from high school as senior class president.
Movie crazy, he was afraid to admit his interest in the “sissy” job of acting.
On a full scholarship at Lake Forest College in Illinois, he played end on the
football team, took third place in a state oratory contest, starred in plays and
was, once again, senior class president.
Graduating in 1936, he spent two years as an instructor in the Lake Forest drama
department, directing and acting in two dozen plays. Then he headed to New York
City in 1938, where one of his classmates was producing 15-minute radio soap
operas and cast Mr. Widmark in a variety of roles.
“Getting launched was easy for me — too easy, perhaps,” he said of his success
playing “young, neurotic guys” on “Big Sister,” “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “Joyce
Jordan, M.D.,” “Stella Dallas,” “Front Page Farrell,” “Aunt Jenny’s Real Life
Stories” and “Inner Sanctum.”
At the beginning of World War II, Mr. Widmark tried to enlist in the army but
was turned down three times because of a perforated eardrum. So he turned, in
1943, to Broadway. In his first stage role, he played an Army lieutenant in F.
Hugh Herbert’s “Kiss and Tell,” directed by George Abbott. Appearing in the
controversial play “Trio,” which was closed by the License Commissioner after 67
performances because it touched on lesbianism, he received glowing reviews as a
college student who fights to free the girl he loves from the domination of an
After a successful, 10-year career as a radio actor, he tried the movies with
“Kiss of Death,” which was being filmed in New York. Older than most new
recruits, he was, to his surprise, summoned to Hollywood after the movie was
released. “I’m probably the only actor who gave up a swimming pool to go out to
Hollywood,” Mr. Widmark told The New Yorker in 1961.
He had never expected 20th Century Fox to pick up the option on the contract he
was forced to sign to get the role of Tommy Udo. During the seven years of his
Fox contract, he starred in 20 movies, including “Yellow Sky” (1948), as the
blackguard who menaces Gregory Peck; “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949), as a
valiant whaler; Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City” (1950), as a small- time
hustler who dreams of becoming a wrestling promoter; and “Don’t Bother to Knock”
(1952), in which the tables were turned and he was the prey of a psychopathic
A passionate liberal Democrat, Mr. Widmark played a bigot who baits a black
doctor in Joseph Mankiewicz’s “No Way Out” (1950). He was so embarrassed by the
character that after every scene he apologized to the young actor he was
required to torment, Sidney Poitier. In 1990, when Mr. Widmark was given the
D.W. Griffith Career Achievement Award by the National Board of Review, it was
Mr. Poitier who presented it to him.
Within two years after his Fox contract ended, Mr. Widmark had formed a
production company and produced “Time Limit” (1957), a serious dissection of
possible treason by an American prisoner of war that The New York Times called
“sobering, important and exciting.” Directed by the actor Karl Malden, “Time
Limit” starred Mr. Widmark as an army colonel who is investigating a major
(Richard Basehart) who is suspected of having broken under pressure during the
Korean War and aided the enemy.
Mr. Widmark produced two more films: “The Secret Ways” (1961) in which he went
behind the Iron Curtain to bring out an anti-Communist leader; and “The Bedford
Incident” (1964), another Cold War drama, in which he played an
ultraconservative naval captain trailing a Russian submarine and putting the
world in danger of a nuclear catastrophe.
Mr. Widmark told The Guardian in 1995 that he had not become a producer to make
money but to have greater artistic control. “I could choose the director and my
fellow actors,” he said. “I could carry out projects which I liked but the
studios didn’t want.”
He added: “The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect. What
interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at ‘Dumb and Dumber,’
which turns idiocy into something positive, or ‘Forrest Gump,’ a hymn to
stupidity. ‘Intellectual’ has become a dirty word.”
He also vowed he would never appear on a talk show on television, saying, “When
I see people destroying their privacy — what they think, what they feel — by
beaming it out to millions of viewers, I think it cheapens them as individuals.”
In 1970, he won an Emmy nomination for his first television role, as the
president of the United States in a mini-series based on Fletcher Knebel’s novel
“Vanished.” By the 1980s, television movies had transformed the jittery
psychopath of his early days into a wise and stalwart lawman. He played a Texas
Ranger opposite Willie Nelson’s train robber in “Once Upon a Texas Train,” a
small-town police chief in “Blackout” and, most memorably, a bayou country
sheriff faced with a group of aged black men who have confessed to a murder in
“A Gathering of Old Men.”
“The older you get, the less you know about acting,” he told one reporter, “but
the more you know about what makes the really great actors.” The actor he most
admired was Spencer Tracy, because, he said, Tracy’s acting had a reality and
honesty that seemed effortless.
Mr. Widmark, who hated the limelight, spent his Hollywood years living quietly
on a large farm in Connecticut and an 80-acre horse ranch in Hidden Valley,
north of Los Angeles. Asked once if he had been “astute” with his money, he
answered, “No, just tight.”
He sold the ranch in 1997 after the death of Ms. Hazelwood, his wife of 55
years. “I don’t care how well known an actor is,” Mr. Widmark insisted. “He can
lead a normal life if he wants to.”
Besides his wife, Ms. Blanchard, Mr. Widmark is survived by his daughter, Anne
Heath Widmark, of Santa Fe, N.M., who had once been married to the Hall of Fame
pitcher Sandy Koufax.
Well into his later years, the nonviolent, gun-hating Mr. Widmark, who described
himself as “gentle,” was accosted by strangers who expected him to be a tough
guy. There is even a story that Joey Gallo, the New York mobster, was so taken
by Mr. Widmark’s performance in “Kiss of Death” that he copied the actor’s natty
posture, sadistic smirk and tittering laugh.
“It’s a bit rough,” Mr. Widmark once said, “priding oneself that one isn’t too
bad an actor and then finding one’s only remembered for a giggle.”
October 18, 2007
Filed at 11:45 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
LONDON (AP) -- Deborah Kerr, who shared one of Hollywood's most famous kisses
and made her mark with such roles as the correct widow in ''The King and I'' and
the unhappy officer's wife in ''From Here to Eternity,'' has died. She was 86.
Kerr, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, died Tuesday in Suffolk in eastern
England, her agent, Anne Hutton, said Thursday.
For many she will be remembered best for her kiss with Burt Lancaster as waves
crashed over them on a Hawaiian beach in the wartime drama ''From Here to
Kerr's roles as forceful, sometimes frustrated women pushed the limits of
Hollywood's treatment of sex on the screen during the censor-bound 1950s.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Kerr a six times for
best actress, but never gave her an Academy Award until it presented an honorary
Oscar in 1994 for her distinguished career as an ''artist of impeccable grace
and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for
perfection, discipline and elegance.''
She had the reputation of a ''no problem'' actress.
''I have never had a fight with any director, good or bad,'' she said toward the
end of her career. ''There is a way around everything if you are smart enough.''
Kerr (pronounced CARR) was the only daughter of Arthur Kerr-Trimmer, a civil
engineer and architect who died when she was 14.
Born in Helensburgh, Scotland, she moved with her parents to England when she
was 5, and she started to study dance in the Bristol school of her aunt, Phyllis
Kerr won a scholarship to continue studying at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School
in London. A 17 she made her stage debut as a member of the corps de ballet in
She soon switched to drama, however, and began playing small parts in repertory
theater in London until it was shut down by the 1939 outbreak of World War II.
After reading children's stories on British Broadcasting Corp. radio, she was
given the part of a hatcheck girl with two lines in the film ''Contraband,'' but
her speaking role ended on the cutting-room floor.
After more repertory acting she had another crack at films, reprising her stage
role of Jenny, a Salvation Army worker, in a 1940 adaptation of George Bernard
Shaw's ''Major Barbara,'' and receiving favorable reviews both in Britain and
the United States.
She continued making films in Britain during the war, including one -- ''Colonel
Blimp'' -- in which she played three different women over a span of decades.
''It is astonishing how she manages to make the three parts distinctly separate
as characterizations,'' said New Movies magazine at the time.
Kerr was well-reviewed as an Irish spy in ''The Adventuress'' and as the tragic
girlfriend of a Welsh miner in ''Love on the Dole.''
She was invited to Hollywood in 1946 to play in ''The Hucksters'' opposite Clark
Gable. She went on to work with virtually all the other top American actors and
with many top directors, including John Huston, Otto Preminger and Elia Kazan.
Tired of being typecast in serene, ladylike roles, she rebelled to win a release
from her MGM contract and get the role of Karen Holmes in ''From Here to
Playing the Army officer's alcoholic, sex-starved wife in a fling with Lancaster
as a sergeant opened up new possibilities for Kerr.
She played virtually every part imaginable from murderer to princess to a Roman
Christian slave to a nun.
In ''The King and I,'' with her singing voice dubbed by Marni Nixon, she was
Anna Leonowens, who takes her son to Siam so that she can teach the children of
the king, played by Yul Brynner.
Her best-actress nominations were for ''Edward, My Son'' (1949), ''From Here to
Eternity'' (1953), ''The King and I'' (1956), ''Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison''
(1957), ''Separate Tables'' (1958), and ''The Sundowners'' (1960).
Among her other movies is ''An Affair to Remember'' with Cary Grant.
Other notable roles were in ''The Sundowners,'' ''Beloved Infidel,'' ''The
Innocents'' (an adaptation of the Henry James novella ''Turn of the Screw''),
''The Night of the Iguana'' with Richard Burton and ''The Arrangement'' with
After ''The Arrangement'' in 1968, she took what she called a ''leave of
absence'' from acting, saying she felt she was ''either too young or too old''
for any role she was offered.
Kerr told The Associated Press that she turned down a number of scripts, either
for being too explicit or because of excessive violence.
She refused to play a nude scene in ''The Gypsy Moths,'' released in 1968. ''It
was when they started that `Now everybody has got to take their clothes off,'''
she said. ''My argument was that it was completely gratuitous. Had it been
necessary for the dramatic content, I would have done it.''
In fact she undressed for ''The Arrangement,'' even though the scene was later
cut. ''There the nude scene was necessary, husband and wife in bed together,''
Kerr said. ''That was real.''
She returned to the stage, acting in Edward Albee's ''Seascape'' on Broadway and
''Long Day's Journey Into Night'' in Los Angeles.
Her Broadway debut was in 1953, when she was acclaimed as Laura Reynolds, a
teacher's wife who treats a sensitive student compassionately in ''Tea and
After a full season in New York, she took it on a national tour and recreated
the role in a movie in 1956.
Kerr was active until the mid-1980s, with ''The Assam Garden,'' ''Hold the
Dream'' and ''Reunion at Fairborough'' all in 1985.
She told the AP that TV reruns of her old movies have ''kept me alive'' for a
new generation of film fans.
In 1946 Kerr married Anthony Charles Bartley, whom she had met as a squadron
leader in the Royal Air Force. They had two daughters and were divorced in 1959.
A year later she married Peter Viertel, a novelist-screenwriter, with whom she
lived on a large estate with two trout ponds in the Swiss Alpine resort of
Klosters and in a villa in Marbella, Spain.
Kerr is survived by Viertel, two daughters and three grandchildren.
Published: November 11, 2006
The New York Times
By RICHARD SEVERO
Jack Palance, a coal miner’s son who spent
most of a long Hollywood career playing memorable heavies in movies like “Shane”
and “Sudden Fear,” only to win an Academy Award in his 70s for a self-parodying
comic performance in “City Slickers,” died yesterday at his home in Montecito,
His death was announced by a family spokesman, Dick Guttman, The Associated
Press said. His family said he was 87, though some biographical records indicate
he was 85.
Mr. Palance (he pronounced it PAL-ance and grew annoyed when others insisted on
the more flowery pa-LANCE) first gained wide notice in 1953, when he electrified
movie audiences with his serpentine portrayal of the nasty gunfighter Jack
Wilson in the classic film “Shane.”
He had only 16 lines in the film, as well as a few ice-cold gothic murmurs of
laughter off screen, before he was dispatched by a heroic Alan Ladd in a barroom
duel. But the performance drew an Oscar nomination for him for best supporting
actor, and it all but sealed his fate as a perennial Hollywood bad guy for
years, even though he had always thought he would be good at comedy.
His big chance for that came nearly four decades later, when he was cast in
“City Slickers,” a 1991 western comedy about midlife crisis. Mr. Palance played
Curly, a leather-tough trail boss shepherding about some urban greenhorns
looking for weekend adventure. His co-stars were Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and
Bruno Kirby, who died in August.
It was a comedy of the sort Mr. Palance had always wanted, and the performance
brought him his only Oscar, in 1992, for best supporting actor.
Throughout his career, Mr. Palance, an imposing presence at 6 feet 4, was
instantly recognizable for his rugged profile, deep-set dark eyes, high
cheekbones and, when the part called for it, which was almost always, a
deliciously sinister sneer. It was put to use over and over as he played crooks,
murderers, maniacs, barbarians (like Attila the Hun), uncouth lovers and at
least one violence-prone carrier of pneumonic plague.
When reporters asked him what he thought about most of his films, he tended to
dismiss them as “garbage.” Still, his part as a homicidal husband stalking Joan
Crawford in “Sudden Fear” (1952) also won him an Oscar nomination, and his role
as a robber with a heart in “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955), a remake of
Humphrey Bogart’s “High Sierra,” won him better reviews than the movie itself.
Walter Jack Palance was born Feb. 18, 1918, or Feb. 18, 1920, in Lattimer Mines,
Pa., the third child of Vladimir Palahniuk, a coal miner, and the former Anna
Gramiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. (Named after his father, he changed his
name after he became an actor.) The family lived in a rough-and-tumble company
town that Mr. Palance later said was where he “learned how to hate,” even though
he said he loved the Pennsylvania countryside and owned property there.
Mr. Palance worked in the mines himself before he escaped into acting by way of
professional boxing, modeling, short-order cooking, waiting on tables, repairing
radios, selling and working as a lifeguard.
In 1942, during World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps, only to be
discharged a year later after he was knocked unconscious when his B-24 bomber
lost power on takeoff. After the service he used the G.I. Bill of Rights to
attend the University of North Carolina and later Stanford University, where he
considered becoming a journalist. But journalists’ wages were so poor then, he
recalled, that he was drawn to acting, which he saw as potentially more
lucrative, and joined the university drama club. He graduated in 1947 with a
degree in drama.
Producers and casting directors were taken with his unusual looks and rich
voice, and he got parts in the Broadway productions of “The Big Two” (1947),
“Temporary Island” (1948) and “The Vigil,” also 1948. That same year he also
played Anthony Quinn’s understudy as Stanley Kowalski in the touring company of
the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He later replaced Marlon
Brando in the role on Broadway.
His first movie role came in 1950, playing Blackie, an antisocial carrier of
pneumonic plague in “Panic in the Streets,” which starred Richard Widmark. Then
came a war picture, “Halls of Montezuma,” and after that, , his Oscar-nominated
performance in “Sudden Fear.”
His second nomination came the following year, for his portrayal of Jack Wilson,
the menacing gunslinger in “Shane.”
The acclaim from those roles brought him parts in “Arrowhead” (as a renegade
Apache), “Man in the Attic” (as Jack the Ripper), “Sign of the Pagan” (as Attila
the Hun) and “The Silver Chalice” (as a fictional challenger to Jesus).
Among his other films were “Kiss of Fire,” “The Big Knife,” “Attack!” “The
Lonely Man,” “House of Numbers” and “Oklahoma Crude.” He also made a number of
Mr. Palance married Virginia Baker in 1949; they had three children, Holly,
Brooke and Cody. Cody died of a melanoma in 1998 at 43. The marriage ended in
divorce in 1966; Mr. Palance’s 1987 marriage to Elaine Rogers also ended in
Mr. Palance did some television as well, winning an Emmy Award for his
performance in 1956 as a prizefighter in the “Playhouse 90” production of Rod
Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Jack Gould, reviewing it for The New York
Times, said Mr. Palance gave a “brilliant interpretation” of a fighter who
“projected man’s incoherence and bewilderment with a superb regard for details.”
There were other sides to Jack Palance, and it took some aging to bring them
out. Late in life, in 1996, he wrote “Forest of Love,” a prose poem about male
sexuality and fears of loneliness. It was accompanied by his own pen-and-ink
drawings, inspired in part by his feelings about his farm near Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
He had been drawing and painting since the late 1950s, when he lived in Rome,
but hardly anyone knew of that talent until “Forest of Love” was published.
After the success of “City Slickers,” he had several television roles and parts
in commercials that exploited his droll streak.
Perhaps Mr. Palance’s most memorable television appearance came when he received
his Oscar in 1992. Striding to accept his statuette, he suddenly dropped to the
stage and did a series of one-arm push-ups, not only showing his physical
strength but also giving Billy Crystal, the host of the ceremony and his “City
Slickers” co-star, a rich running joke for the rest of the evening.