Thursday, March 27, 2008

Richard Widmark Passes At 93

"Richard Widmark died on Wednesday at age 93. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing him in January 2002 at his home in Connecticut with my friend John Connolly.

The consummate actor and gentleman, Widmark should have been given a Lifetime Achievement award by the Oscars a long time ago. He was only nominated once, in 1947, for his debut as Tommy Udo in "Kiss of Death."

He laughed when we talked about that film — and the famous scene in which he pushes wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs.

"You make 50 movies over a lifetime and that’s the one they remember you for," he chuckled.

He told me that he never had "a great movie," but I differ. He had several: "Night and the City," "Pick Up on South Street," "The Street With No Name" and "No Way Out" are all classics. Today, you can see a lot of Widmark in Viggo Mortensen’s face. He was the king of film noir; Mortensen seems sometimes to be echoing his pathos.

Widmark was married for 50 years to the same woman, his beloved Jean. When she died in 1997, he married one more time to Susan Blanchard, the third wife of the late Henry Fonda. They were friends and neighbors. It was through Peter and Becky Fonda that I got to talk to Richard; Peter still considered Susan his "mom." I am so grateful it worked out.

Here are a couple of things he told me for our interview: Karl Malden was his oldest friend. They’d met in 1938 doing radio work. About his contemporary, Robert Mitchum: "I liked old Bob but he was a real bullshitter. We were in different worlds. He was in the booze world."

Bette Davis, he said, was "tough." Marilyn Monroe "was a ding dong. I liked old Marilyn. No one could get her out on the set."

Widmark’s last film was "True Colors" in 1991. After that, he didn’t see the need to continue. His favorite actors? "Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart. I’d go back to work if I could work with those guys. I loved them."

Just a great guy, and such a wonderful actor. His death marks the end of an era."

I suppose he was the last of the great actors who came into prominence in the 40's, and to tell the truth I thought he'd died long ago. Widmark did have a great many meaty roles, or roles he made meaty, in spite of the fact that one could always tell when he was acting. One of the few ever who could overact and get away with it because he was always true to his own particular style and never ventured into anything even close to being over his abilities. That I guess is why he thought he never made a great movie. The comparison to Viggo Mortensen though, is ludicrous. Mortensen tries to do what the director tells him and little else.

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