Announcing the FIFTH annual What A Character! Blogathon – Dec. 16-18

 

wac-2016-c
Supporting stalwarts Aline McMahon and Guy Kibbee with an unnamed co-star in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933
What’s great about being a character actor is you know that you can survive forever. It’s not about the gloss of your eyebrows.
— Martin Short

 

We’re back for a fifth consecutive year to honor the versatility and depth of supporting players with the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon. Based on a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the WAC! Blogathon is an event that many look forward to each year. It’s a chance to pay tribute to the Louise Beavers and Eddie Andersons of the movie world — the names that seldom or never appeared above the title. Your enthusiasm for spotlighting the oft-nameless faces that appear in countless beloved movies is admirable, and Aurora, Kellee, and I extend sincere thanks to all of the bloggers who have joined us in the previous four years. We invite you all to help us make the fifth outing extra special. Get all the details after the jump…

Continue reading “Announcing the FIFTH annual What A Character! Blogathon – Dec. 16-18”

4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon – Day 1 Posts

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon honors the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had. Aurora, Kellee, and I never tire of seeing them show up in films or paying tribute to their talents, and as the previous three installments of this event have proven, neither do you.

And so here I am with Day 1 of the 4th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! I know you can’t wait to read all the fabulous posts. Before you jump in though, we’d like to thank all the participants for their understanding as we re-scheduled the blogathon from last weekend due to world events. We really appreciate your patience.

What-A-Character-2015-01 Continue reading “4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon – Day 1 Posts”

Announcing the 4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

UPDATE – November 21: WHAT A CHARACTER! Day 1 Posts are here.

UPDATE – November 13:
The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon has been postponed until next weekend, November 21-22-23. We will promote everyone’s post as usual during those three days. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

WHAT A CHARACTER! — a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so that we could dedicate a blogathon to those whose names few remember, but whose faces are familiar – honors the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had. Aurora, Kellee, and I never tire of seeing them show up in films or paying tribute to their talents, and as the previous three installments of this event have proven, neither do you. So here we are with the fourth annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

What-A-Character-2015-02 Continue reading “Announcing the 4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon”

What A Character! 2014 – Ned Sparks

Brusque and grouchy, Ned Sparks’ lovable curmudgeons can usually be found as the still center of a storm of dizzy dancers, temperamental producers, and gangsters in crisis. His onscreen persona was so deadpan that he was reportedly insured with Lloyd’s of London for $100,000 against any photographs taken of him actually smiling. Yet there’s more to this primo supporting player than just a grouchy face…he got his start in show biz as a singer during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, and was blacklisted on Broadway for his role in starting the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA).

Edward Arthur Sparkman was born this day in 1883 in clean, friendly, and polite Canada, specifically Guelph, Ontario. He left home at 16 to try gold prospecting in Alaska. When that failed, he joined a musical company in Dawson Creek, and per The New York Times, “knocked around in tent theatricals, medicine shows, and carnivals.” Wouldn’t this be a great movie? Can’t you just hear him complaining? But wait…it gets better… Back in Canada by age 19, he attended a seminary. Briefly. But still. He also worked on a railroad before finally landing in a Toronto theater. Ned-Sparks-470wBy 1907, he was appearing on Broadway, and the Ned Sparks persona we all now know and love made its first appearance as a “cynical desk clerk” in a play called Little Miss Brown. His stage success earned him a six-picture deal with Louis B. Mayer, and, in his screen debut, a re-make of the play in 1915, he played this same role.

Thus the mid-teens saw Sparks working in both New York and Hollywood. Around this time, he was involved with organizing AEA, which sought to protect stage actors. At the time, producers set working conditions and pay scale; could fire anyone, at any time, for any reason; and there was no compensation for the unlimited rehearsal time. In the late teens, Equity went on strike, which led to improved working conditions. However, many members were blacklisted, and as Sparks was one of the founding members, his Broadway career seems to have been severely curtailed. After working pretty much continuously from his arrival in New York through 1918, he didn’t work onstage again until 1920, appearing in his final production in 1921.

He was still working in silent films though, three or four a year, until his first talkie in 1928, The Big Noise. I won’t lie and tell you I’ve seen any of Sparks’ silents. I’m sure he was good. But his monotone foghorn of a voice and his irritable attitude are so instantly recognizable, and add so much to any picture he’s in, that I can’t imagine he could have affected the audience as much without them. Sound proved a godsend to Sparks’ career, and to us as classic movie fans.

I recommend anything he’s in, but my favorite Sparks year is 1933, and here are three from that year you shouldn’t miss.

42nd Street

Lady for a Day

Gold Diggers of 1933

In 1936, Sparks admitted that the $100K Lloyd’s of London insurance policy story was a publicity stunt. He was “only” insured against smiling for $10,000. Though his personal life included a messy divorce and he lost touch with many of his friends after his retirement, his voice and unflappable cantankerousness pretty much guaranteed his immortality, not only in his films, but as a frequently-caricatured figure in the cartoons we can still enjoy.

Sparks as portrayed in the 1936 Warner Brothers' cartoon, THE COOCOO NUT GROVE
Sparks as portrayed in the 1936 Warner Brothers’ cartoon, THE COOCOO NUT GROVE

Bonus video that won’t embed: Cranky Ned in “Malibu Beach Party”

WHAT A CHARACTER! 2014 – Day 2 – Monday posts

The Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon — hosted by myself, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled — is now in its second day of informative and entertaining posts, as the movie blogosphere spotlights those unsung actors on the periphery of the screen, bringing them to the center of attention.

What-A-Character-2014-01

Vienna’s Classic Hollywood give overviews of not one, but two, unsung character performers, Charles Lane and Fritz Feld.

Sister Celluloid declares that Kathleen Howard “as W.C. Fields wife…took henpecking to operatic heights.”

Caftan Woman celebrates Esther Dale‘s “ability to take even a few seconds of screen time…and turn it into something memorable.”

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen sets out to prove that Thomas Mitchell is “synonymous with versatility.”

Joel’s Classic Film Passion takes a look at two of Harry Dean Stanton‘s many important films, Repo Man and The Straight Story.

Grand Old Movies highlights “that darling boy” whose face you know, but name you might not… Chester Clute.

Movies Silently writes that “One saving grace of Souls for Sale [1923] is its wonderful cast of character actors,” including Mae Busch.

Silent-ology pays tribute to the “funniest drunk of them all,” Arthur Housman.

Second Sight Cinema recalls Peter Lorre, “a great artist who is beloved, but only for a fraction of his gift.”

Silver Scenes investigates Dennis Hoey, the actor best known for portraying Inspector Lestrade in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series.

Amy’s Rib inventories her favorite films among Charles Coburn‘s work.

Tales of the Easily Distracted finds that Agnes Moorehead was “was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity.”

What A Character! 2014 – Chris Cooper by Jack Deth

It is once again my pleasure to post a What A Character! entry on behalf of guest blogger Jack Deth. Be sure to check out his other posts here and over at Flix Chatter.

Greetings all and sundry!

Several months have passed and it’s time to accept another gracious invitation from Paula to break out my miner’s cap and excavation tools. And add my perspective to the ever growing and exceptional list of hard-working, though often unknown, professionals who fill an essential niche in the fine art of story telling.

Those who work their way from the background of crowds and scene fillers. To the realms of comic relief. Or sidekick, best friend and selfless uniformed partner. Their numbers are legion. And are rarely recognized at first glance. It take a few moments of noticing how they move about a set or location. The furrow of a brow. A smile. Until it all comes together with the addition of spoken words. Often not loud. Sometimes conspiratorial. Often friendly. And the light bulb of recognition glows brightly. Rarely giving up a name. But subtly revealing the presence of a Character Actor!

Chris+Cooper+2011+National+Board+Review+Motion+ovECF248HG0l

And into the deep end of the diving well we shall plunge. Reveling in the decades long work of one such master craftsman. Who started out on stage. Became a “discovery” of John Sayles and his film, Matewan. Went on to Perform yeoman’s work on many episodic television series (‘Miami Vice, ‘The Equalizer’) of the later 1980s. Before filling the character of Kansas sheriff, July Johnson in ‘Lonesome Dove’ and ‘Return To Lonesome Dove’. Opposite Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall and Danny Glover. Where a sun-baked, deeply-lined face and a dust-dry, rasping voice gave presence and added immensely to a long riding, vengeance seeking lawman.

Supplying the confidence and wherewithal to take the lead in another small John Sayles project that put beaucoup talent on the map. So, allow me a few moments of your time. To wax poetic and meticulously into the inner workings of…

What A Character! Chris Cooper Easily Reaching Beyond His Grasp

People’s Exhibit 1: Lone Star (1996)
From 1996. Its director is proven past master of creating and executing vast, yet intensely intimate independent  tales for fractions of what larger major players would spend on a day’s catering, John Sayles.

And this offering has those virtues writ large! Focusing on a once strong and prosperous town and county of Rio. Southwest of Laredo and close to Mexican border. One-time recipient of many military contracts and training bases that have had funding pulled. While the community strives to hold onto its identity opposite the rising tide of Mexicans. Who staked their claim decades ago. Have prospered and wish to make names for themselves. As developers swoop in and wish to cash in on Uncle Sam’s abandoned tracts of land. Trading money for influence.

Lone_Star~2-highres
Chris Cooper as Sheriff Sam Deeds in John Sayles’ LONE STAR

In other words, an American Melting Pot. With all its attendant rivalries and small-scale deals and conspiracies just under the surface. Seen and acknowledged by Mr. Cooper as Sheriff Sam Deeds, son of the town’s beloved Deputy, afterwards Sheriff, Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey in a surprisingly quiet, humane, mature role). Who had spent his years keeping Rio’s racist, bigoted and flatout scary law-unto-himself, Sheriff Charley Wade (Kris Kristofferson portraying evil incarnate. And rarely better!) in check through the 1960s.

There’s an election coming up. Sam’s a law & order kind of guy, and the townfolk like him. but he isn’t his father. And some in town keep reminding him of that, as there is a dedication of a county court house coming up in Buddy’s name. Creating the need to go out amongst the people and perform between pressing flesh and keeping interlopers busy. If not in check. And crossing the path of a long-lost and recently widowed high school sweetheart, Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Peña), whose mother, Mercedes (Maria Colon) is a rather affluent and influential pillar of the community.

Into this slice of Southern Texas Americana arrives Colonel Delmore Payne (Sayles stalwart Joe Morton), who is the estranged son of after-hours club owner and town historian, Otis “Big O” Payne (Ron Canada). The Colonel has the unwanted duty of going over the inventory, Table of Operations and Equipment (TO&E), of a closing Army base before housing contractors break ground. Creating a small, delaying hiccup when the excavation of one of its rifle ranges reveals skeletal remains, a Masonic ring… and a Rio County Sheriff’s badge.

Matthew McConaughey as Buddy Deeds in LONE STAR
Matthew McConaughey as Buddy Deeds in LONE STAR

Sending Sam to ask questions of the town’s elders. Otis and Hollis Pogue (Clifton James). Who would rather have sleeping dogs lie than go digging around bad history and childhood nightmares. Some answers are revealed as the badge is traced back to Charley Wade. And Sam starts exploring the legend of Sheriff Wade and his mysterious disappearance after being beaten and run out of town at the hands of dear old dad, Buddy Deeds, decades before.

Since there is statute of limitation for murder, Sam settles into his Gary Cooper niche of asking the right questions and being an extremely adept listener. As forensic evidence unearths a large caliber bullet from what could be his dad Buddy’s revolver. Or an Army .45 ACP.

Lone Star~4
Kris Kristofferson as Charley Wade in LONE STAR

Which sends the film into sublimely scarily edited flashback into the many sins of Charley Wade, who despised Mexicans, and went out of his way to torment, harass, shake down and brutalize them whenever the opportunity presented itself. The deeper Sam digs, the more is revealed about his father’s womanizing ways. And how they will intersect and insert themselves toward the tale’s denouement. Which I won’t reveal, for these details are the succulent meat upon which most of the tale hangs. As Sam takes in small morsels for deeper investigation. Letting his still, lined face speak volumes as clues are fleshed out. And dots are silently, sometimes tragically connected during a final sit down with the town elders.

I’ll leave it right here, for spoilers’ sake.

Now. What Does Mr. Cooper Bring To His Role?

The dust, dry grit and sweat-stained perseverance to work the case. No matter where the evidence and clues lead. Hesitantly at first. As the tossed net is expanded. And tales are told to expand the quest even further. Even if they initially point in the wrong direction. As the twists and turns of lies and legend slowly straighten out and lead back to past sins of the fathers.

And Mr. Kristofferson and McConaughey excel in their respective characters, with Kristofferson blatantly, frighteningly going over the top at times. While Mr. Conaughey sits in the background. Taking it all in and patiently waiting for the proper moment. Unaware that their actions will swing back decades later.

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Elizabeth Peña as Pilar and Cooper as Sam in LONE STAR

Adding to the weight Mr. Cooper bears as old wounds are reopened. Amidst the busy and slowly expanding town. And sprawling outback near the border as Sam explores past windfalls and re-establishes his relationship with schoolteacher and administrator Pilar. Creating a solid foundation for an expansive tale that travels at its own speed. In a wide and neatly tucked in tale written, directed, edited and produced by Mr. Sayles. Backed by superb cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. And a rustic, suspenseful soundtrack by Mason Darling. Creating the definition of a critically acclaimed and later, criminally forgotten personal project.

***

Which clears the decks for a small, compact and very worthwhile family tale and period piece, focusing on the world-changing events of 1959. Russia’s launching of Sputnik and its orbiting above post war U.S. soil. Witnessed by a young Homer Hickam as the gauntlet of what would be known as the “Space Race” was thrown down.

Peoples’ Exhibit 2: October Sky (1999)

The place: Coalwood, West Virginia. Coal Country USA, in the waning years of the Eisenhower administration. One of dozens of “company towns” throughout the state. Owned and operated by a large industrial corporation, profits of which provide the housing, police, fire department, schools and church. Producing a meager living for the families, whose men work in the mines.

A township in the valley of two mountain ridges. And a place where most would like to leave. Though the only way out for those young men coming of age is a sports scholarship. Not a great list of options for teenager, Homer (surprisingly good Jake Gyllenhaal), whose older brother, Jim (Scott Miles), has just won a football scholarship out of town.

Overshadowed by the launch, very early in the Cold War, of the first orbital satellite, Sputnik, property of the Russians, the ENEMY. And its ability to be seen in the night sky by Homer and other townspeople. Sending Homer to seek out his friends, math geek Quentin Williams (Chris Owens), inspired machinist Ray Lee Cook (William Lee Scott), and Sherman O’Dell (Chad Lundberg) to take the pulpy science fiction novels and illustrations they love to the drawing board and their next steps. First as a hit-and-miss hobby, as early launches blow up before launching from Homer’s front yard, to a later attempt that launches beautifully, then crashes miles away and sets fire to distant acres of forest.

And through it all, Mr. Cooper’s John Hickam watches from a discreet distance. Not sure what to make of his son’s latest fascination. As small accidents in the mines slow extraction and production. Going the extra mile to keep the workers together as the first whiffs of interest from Unions make themselves known. Uncovering and dealing with small, sometimes innocuous, acts of sabotage.

October Sky~6
Chris Cooper as John Hickam in OCTOBER SKY

One that may have caused a small cave-in. And sent John to the hospital after rescuing several men deep in the main mine. Looking toward a bleak future while trying to avoid arguments between his wife, Elsie (Natalie Canerday), who wants the best possible future for Homer. And Homer, who has the grades and the backing of his teacher, Miss Riley (Laura Dern). Who knows the ins and outs of academics and its scholarships. And supplies Homer with several books on advanced mathematics and aerodynamic design.

The books come in handy in helping Homer prove that his and his friends’ earlier rocket did not cause he forest fire. Calculating the exact location of the rocket in a stream miles from the disaster. Getting the town folk behind the team. While garnering a very positive story in the local paper. And beyond in the process.

The winning of a Science Fair propel Homer and his friends to new heights. And a much more sophisticated venue in Indianapolis, Indiana. Where their model’s thrust nozzle is stolen. And a new one is machined and delivered early the next morning after a tense all night refinement session. I’ll leave it right here. Lest I tip my hand on one of the better no-frills family films of the 1990s!

What Does Mr. Cooper Bring To This Role?

october-sky-cooperOne of the most complete and fully fleshed-out Dads of the 1950s. Hard-working and -loving. Though acutely aware of his family’s situations. And its slim odds of something, anything better, who goes to the mines every morning to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. Though, while convalescing after a cave-in, not really sold on the idea of his youngest taking up the baton and riding the cage down.

Pulled in several directions at once. Amidst anger from fellow miners, The disruption of life long friendships over a tragic mistake. And its following retribution. Mr. Cooper does what he does best!  Adds depth, shadow and presence to a roughly sketched character. Embodies it with his worn, lined visage and slow, never hurried gait. And makes it his own.

MSDOCSK EC001Creating a believable foundation for Mr. Gyllenhaal to lash out with teen angst in discovering he is good at and enjoys its pursuit, no matter how harebrained to may seem to his Dad. Also notable for how reined in and respectful Mr. Gyllenhaal’s Homer is in this regard. Explaining a future he and his father cannot fully comprehend. And how he wants to fit into it.

Very high marks for Joe Johnston for fluidly juggling the main story. Which is Mr. Gyllenhaal’s to carry. As well as so many subplots that swirl about. And reel themselves in so nicely long before the final credits. A capability that will pay off so well in later films, Hidalgo and Captain America: The First Avenger. Aided by cinematography by Fred Murphy. Editing by Robert Dalva. Superb hardscrabble and dirty art direction by Tony Fanning, making parts of Eastern Kentucky look so much like the smoky hills of West Virginia. Aided by a memorable, period-tinged soundtrack by Mark Isham.

Third Annual What A Character! Blogathon 2014 Schedule

The 2014 What a Character Blogathon schedule has been set, and the blogathon is underway. There’s still plenty of time to join though. If you want to participate, check out the announcement immediately following, and contact one of us ASAP.

Sunday, November 16 – Hosted by Kellee

Ann Doran and Lurene Tuttle – Theresa on Once Upon a Screen

Billie Burke – Girls Do Film

Burgess Meredith – The Last Drive-In

Charles Durning – Movie Movie Blog Blog

Chris Cooper – Jack Deth on Paula’s Cinema Club

Christopher Lloyd – The Movie Rat

Dame Edith Evans – Margaret Perry

Edna May Oliver – Portraits by Jenni

Elsa Lanchester – Blog of the Damned

Frank McHugh – (This) Girl Friday

Leo Carrillo – Phantom Empires

Richard Widmark – Danny’s Reviews

Thomas Mitchell – Once Upon a Screen

Tony Randall – A Shroud of Thoughts

 

Monday, November 17 – Hosted by Paula

Agnes Moorehead – Tales of the Easily Distracted

Arthur Housman – Silent-ology

Charles Coburn – Amy’s Rib

Charles Lane & Friz Feld – Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Chester Clute – Grand Old Movies

Dennis Hoey – Silver Scenes

Esther Dale – Caftan Woman

Harry Dean Stanton – Joel’s Classic Film Passion

John Ridgely – Comet Over Hollywood

Kathleen Howard – Sister Celluloid

Mae Busch – Movies, Silently

Peter Lorre – Second Sight Cinema

Rochelle Hudson – Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog

 

Tuesday, November 18 – Hosted by Aurora

Ann Dvorak – A Person in the Dark

Beulah Bondi – A Thousand Words

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Cecil Kellaway – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Don Beddoe – Christy’s Inkwells

Edward Everett Horton – Outspoken & Freckled

Eric Blore – The Blonde at the Film

Grant Mitchell – Immortal Ephemera

Henry Travers – Movie Fan Fare

Iris Adrian – Speakeasy

Karl Malden – Oh Rachel Leigh

Melville Cooper – Classic Movie Hub

Ned Sparks – Paula’s Cinema Club

Raymond Burr – Shadows and Satin

Thelma Ritter – Cinephiled

Wallace Shawn – Moon in Gemini


Original announcement:

I was only a leading man for a minute; now I’m a character actor. — Robin Williams

In 2012, we – by that I mean myself, Aurora, and Kellee – borrowed a catchphrase from our beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in order to host a blogathon dedicated to those amazing actors whose faces are familiar but whose names few remember.

The phrase is WHAT A CHARACTER, and the individuals concerned rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many star players wished they had. We never tire of seeing them or paying them tribute, and if the previous two installments of this event are any indication, neither do you.

What-A-Character-2014-03

So, here we are with the Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement. We hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edward Arnolds, Alan Mowbrays, and Alice Bradys of the world, oft-forgotten names that never appeared above the title.

What-A-Character-2014-01

If this is right up your movie alley, then give us a shoutout…

Me (leave a comment below) — Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club or tweet (@Paula_Guthat)

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled | (@IrishJayHawk66)

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen | (@CitizenScreen)

What-A-Character-2014-02

We ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.  Since there are so many greats worthy of mention, we won’t take any repeats and we’re not limiting these to “classic” actors.  Great character actors have made their mark both before and since the end of the classic era and contemporary talents deserve some attention as well, so the field is wide open.
  • Please include your twitter and/or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 16, 17 or 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of the blogathon graphics in this post on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll simply link to your site’s home page.
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!  There are so many great characters worthy of attention, we would like to honor as many as possible.

Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 posts. Also find out who’s who with this Key to the WHAT A CHARACTER! graphic.

Announcing the Third Annual What A Character! Blogathon (2014)

I was only a leading man for a minute; now I’m a character actor. — Robin Williams

In 2012, we – by that I mean myself, Aurora, and Kellee – borrowed a catchphrase from our beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in order to host a blogathon dedicated to those amazing actors whose faces are familiar but whose names few remember.

The phrase is WHAT A CHARACTER, and the individuals concerned rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many star players wished they had. We never tire of seeing them or paying them tribute, and if the previous two installments of this event are any indication, neither do you.

What-A-Character-2014-03

So, here we are with the Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement. We hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edward Arnolds, Alan Mowbrays, and Alice Bradys of the world, oft-forgotten names that never appeared above the title.

What-A-Character-2014-01

If this is right up your movie alley, then give us a shoutout…

Me (leave a comment below) — Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club or tweet (@Paula_Guthat)

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled | (@IrishJayHawk66)

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen | (@CitizenScreen)

What-A-Character-2014-02

We ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.  Since there are so many greats worthy of mention, we won’t take any repeats and we’re not limiting these to “classic” actors.  Great character actors have made their mark both before and since the end of the classic era and contemporary talents deserve some attention as well, so the field is wide open.
  • Please include your twitter and/or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 16, 17 or 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of the blogathon graphics in this post on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll simply link to your site’s home page.
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!  There are so many great characters worthy of attention, we would like to honor as many as possible.

Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 posts. Also find out who’s who with this Key to the WHAT A CHARACTER! graphic.

Character actors and participating blogs:

Agnes Moorehead – Tales of the Easily Distracted

Ann Doran and Lurene Tuttle – Theresa on Once Upon a Screen

Ann Dvorak – A Person in the Dark

Arthur Housman – Silent-ology

Beulah Bondi – A Thousand Words

Billie Burke – Girls Do Film

Burgess Meredith – The Last Drive-In

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Cecil Kellaway – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

Charles Coburn – Amy’s Rib

Charles Durning – Movie Movie Blog Blog

Charles Lane & Friz Feld – Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Chris Cooper – Jack Deth on Paula’s Cinema Club

Christopher Lloyd – The Movie Rat

Dennis Hoey – Silver Scenes

Don Beddoe – Christy’s Inkwells

Dame Edith Evans – Margaret Perry

Edna May Oliver – Portraits by Jenni

Edward Everett Horton – Outspoken & Freckled

Elsa Lanchester – Blog of the Damned

Eric Blore – The Blonde at the Film

Esther Dale – Caftan Woman

Frank McHugh – (This) Girl Friday

Grant Mitchell – Immortal Ephemera

Harry Dean Stanton – Joel’s Classic Film Passion

Henry Travers – Movie Fan Fare

Iris Adrian – Speakeasy

John Ridgely – Comet Over Hollywood

Karl Malden – Oh Rachel Leigh

Kathleen Howard – Sister Celluloid

Leo Carrillo – Phantom Empires

Melville Cooper – Classic Movie Hub

Peter Lorre – Second Sight Cinema

Richard Widmark – Danny’s Reviews

Rochelle Hudson – Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog

Thelma Ritter – Cinephiled

Thomas Mitchell – Once Upon a Screen

Tony Randall – A Shroud of Thoughts

Wallace Shawn – Moon in Gemini

What A Character! Bruce Dern: The Guy You Love To Hate

by Kerry Fristoe

Marnie sees red and panics. As she struggles to remember the events of a long-repressed night from her childhood, we see Marnie as a child awakened from a deep sleep and sent to the sofa while her mother uses the bed for ‘business.’ A storm rages outside and thunder frightens the sleeping child. Mom’s client, a sailor, tries to comfort Marnie but the child resists him. She wants her mommy who enters and pushes the man away from her girl. A fight breaks out and Mom falls, hurting herself.  In an attempt to help her mother, Marnie grabs a poker from the fireplace and beats Bruce Dern to death. Marnie (1964)
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Dressed in a tuxedo for a society party, Bruce Dern waits in a solarium for a tryst with his beloved, Bette Davis. The meeting doesn’t go as planned. Seconds later we see his face full of fear as an axe wielded by a mysterious stranger descends and his head rolls across the floor.  Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
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Dying violently after very brief screen time may seem like an inauspicious start to a film career, but it added to the CV of a prolific actor who has played killers, scumbags, and downright nasty guys. Bruce Dern started in television in the 1950s and continues to work today.  To be fair, he has also played some non-psychopathic roles though Dern, as a rule, is known for playing heavies. Tall and lanky, with a toothy grin that can go from friendly to malevolent in an instant, Dern plays nasty like no one else. In the western Hang ‘Em High (1968), his murderer/cattle rustler taunts Clint Eastwood and jumps him when he’s not looking.

In Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966), he and fellow Hell’s Angel Peter Fonda, clad in swastikas and other Nazi insignia, threaten veteran Dick Miller with a pair of pliers. In his most infamous role, Long Hair in The Cowboys, Bruce Dern shoots John Wayne in the back, killing him.  When they discussed that scene John Wayne told Dern, “America will hate you for this.” Dern replied, “Yeah, but they’ll love me in Berkeley.”
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His counter-culture reputation was cemented after a series of films he did with Roger Corman and others during the 1960s. He even strayed from his nasty persona in a few. In The Trip (1967), Dern plays a benevolent soul guiding Peter Fonda through his first acid trip.  His calm, thoughtful demeanor and compassionate tone are a far cry from the snarling villain he usually played. I watched The Trip recently and listened to director Roger Corman’s audio commentary on the film. He said of all the cast members, including Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern was the only one who never touched drugs.  A marathon runner who almost qualified for the Olympics, Dern lived a healthy life. During one scene in which partiers pass a joint, Dern is the only one not smoking.
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Jack Nicholson, a close friend, said Dern was one of the best of a breed of actors coming into his own in the 1970s. Films like The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), Silent Running (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974), and The Driver (1978) allowed Dern to show his range.  In Marvin Gardens as the ne’er-do-well with a dozen get-rich-quick schemes, Dern is all charisma and charm, and you get caught up in his enthusiasm even when you sense his plans will never come to fruition.  In Silent Running, as astronaut Freeman Lowell, Dern gives a nuanced performance. You know his actions are wrong, but his motives and the way he relates to little Huey, Dewey, and Louie charm you into rooting for him. As Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Dern’s callous aristocrat uses people and tosses them aside without a thought. I cannot think of the book or film without picturing Bruce Dern in that role. The spare The Driver lets Dern show his malevolent side again when, as The Detective, he orchestrates a robbery to frame Ryan O’Neal’s getaway driver and seems unaffected by the violence left in its wake.
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It might surprise you to learn that Bruce Dern’s background is closer to the patrician Tom Buchanan (The Great Gatsby 1974) than the scuzzy gang member Loser (The Wild Angels 1966). Bruce MacLeish Dern, born in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1936, went to the prestigious New Trier High School in Illinois before attending the University of Pennsylvania. He left Penn after a couple years for The Actors’ Studio and a career in acting. Dern’s grandfather served as Governor of Utah and Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. His other grandfather established the department store Carson, Pirie Scott & Co., and the poet Archibald MacLeish is a maternal relation. His godparents were Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Throughout his career, Dern has done scores of television shows including Route 66, Thriller, The Outer Limits, The Kraft Suspense Theatre, Branded, Bonanza, Big Valley, Rawhide, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Fugitive, The FBI, and recent appearances on Big Love and CSI:NY. He even hosted his own series from 1996-2001 called The Lost Drive-In, during which he sat in a vintage car and talked about drive-in movies, old cars, and that era in general, then showed a film which might have played in one. It was a fun show and Dern came off as well-versed and natural. I was sorry to see it end.
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With a career spanning almost 60 years, 145 films, and countless televsion appearances, Bruce Dern remains a working actor.  He, his daughter Laura Dern, and ex-wife Diane Ladd received their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010 and IMDB lists 5 or 6 projects in production for this versatile actor.  In May of 2013, Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Nebraska, which plays in theatres in November of 2013.  I can’t wait to see it!
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Kerry Fristoe is on Twitter and writes reviews about an array of eclectic movies at screamingargonauts.com. She lives in Massachusetts with her pretty cool teenager and sweet puppy. 

James Cromwell, What A Character! by Jack Deth

by Jack Deth

Greetings, all and sundry!

It’s been a while since being invited to delve in and play around in the wonderful world of those consistently and hardworking people towards the back of any room or set. The character actors. Who begin their careers in obscurity. Usually as one of a pack. Or spread throughout a set. Earning and learning their trade. Either silently, or with only one or two throwaway lines as roles, lines and screen time increase.

To that end. I would like to introduce one of a collection of thousands. Who caught my attention in small parts amongst the plethora of television prime-time situation comedies and later, dramas of 1970s and ’80s. Specifically, at first glance. Playing four distinctly different characters in the superbly cast, live audience, classic cop situation comedy, Barney Miller. Reveling in their interplay with master of dry, wry comedy, Steven Landesberg’s Detective Sgt. Arthur Dietrich. Knowing there was something there in this tall, gaunt actor worthy of greater things. Enjoying his episodic and occasional background work. While moving to the forefront work in smaller films.

Until the right opportunity presented itself. As the omniscient, erudite and charmingly bent as barbed wire Honcho of Homicide Detectives in a recent classic of noir genre.

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James Cromwell: Kingpin Cop, Captain Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential

Take the wisely-purchased rights to an award-winning and best-selling James Ellroy novel that has to bleed mood, setting, lighting and allegiance to the near “anything goes’ mindset of a spread-out city becoming the land of milk and honey. And does!

Focus its spotlight away from the packaged and highly bankrolled glamor of the day and take a look at what runs rampant underneath. With a well-known crime boss, Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) safely ensconced in prison, but leaving a massive power vacuum to be filled. Add a large batch of stolen heroin and the money and types of uncouth, out of state, riff-raff clientele it draws, and you have the makings of a prime neo-noir!

That begins with an eye-blackening scandal for the LAPD. In the shape of a very violent, multiracial rumble erupts in a lone precinct’s holding cells prior to a Christmas party attended by the local press. Papers are printed. Conferences amongst the highest ranks of the LAPD are held. And scapegoats are sought. Aided by a still wet behind the ears precinct officer, Edmond Exley (Guy Pearce, at his most bookish looking, easy to underestimate best)! Who yearns to achieve the reputation of his iconic, killed-in-the-line-of-duty father.

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An old, not quite crooked, soon to retire “hat” (Graham Beckel) is selected. Along with celebrity busting, Hollywood connected, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey channeling Dean Martin, smooth and cool) are on the chopping block. Events all overseen and manipulated by Mr. Cromwell’s Captain Dudley Smith. Who may have a new and intriguing appreciation of young Exley’s familiarity in playing the system.

Vincennes is placed on suspension. And the old “hat”, Detective Dick Stensland is forcibly retired without his pension. Creating a massive amount of hate within Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe showing tremendous potential for future greatness!) and his sizable hard on for newly promoted Lieutenant Exley.

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Time passes and erupts with a spree shooting at an all night diner, The Nite Owl. Which brings about an instance of swords crossing between Exley and Smith. Who wisely wants to keep this eager beaver at controllable arms length. Even more so when it is discovered that White’s retired partner and Susan Lefferts, a prostitute made up to look like a star, are among the dead.

The hounds are set loose the following morning. With all data, direction and where to look generated by Captain Smith. Two “negroes” are sought while Vincennes, recently reinstated to Narcotics, follows the lead of a Fleur De Lis business card that screams high-end and very cautious prostitution. Vincennes seeks counsel from his under-the-table business partner, Sid Hudgens (slimily played to the hilt by Danny De Vito), who points him towards prominent citizen, with his fingers in everything dirty, Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Whose minion is seen setting up an introduction between the District Attorney (Ellis Lowe) and a promising young male talent (Simon Baker).

As with any atmospheric cop film. People are murdered. Criminals escape only to meet a bloody end. Medals are awarded and won. Alliances are formed between the unlikely (Vincennes and Exley) who know something important about each other’s cases. And inroads are made into Mr. Patchett’s empire. Courtesy of Kim Basinger, playing Veronica Lake lookalike Lynn Bracken. Who knows and whispers enough between Exley and White to send them on a collision course with a glimmer of photographic extortion hinted at by a soon to be a loose end, Sid Hudgens.

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And through it all Captain Smith stays in the background. Always one step into the shadows and ahead of everyone. As he gently pulls a string here. Or tugs one there. Throwing up false signals and leads, as White and Exley start dipping into the past records of the LAPD in general. And Smith, in particular. Which leads to his, Stensland’s and the recently-discovered “Buzz” Meeks’ past cases, and later ties to opportunities for crime and corruption. On scales small. Large. And in between.

What does Mr. Cromwell’s Captain Smith bring to the film?

A masterfully delivered dose of quiet mystery. Tall, seemingly omniscient. Grandfatherly and quiet in his disposition. Simply because, as a Captain of Homicide, he doesn’t have to raise his voice or chew scenery best left to Mr. Crowe’s “Bud” White. The Captain’s word is law. And the Captain assigns manpower and initially directs where it goes.

The wizened spider in the center of its web. Getting tickles from Vincennes, delving into the death of Mr. Baker’s Matt Reynolds. Sensing that “Bud” White may be wanting to expand his career horizons beyond that of muscle for one or more “valedictions” with greedy out -of-town talent.

While also being blessed with a soft Irish brogue. And the film’s, and possibly, cinema history’s best lines.

Offering advice to “Bud” White and the officer’s desire for a gold shield:
“I admire you as a policeman – particularly your adherence to violence as a necessary adjunct to the job.”

And later. After White concedes;
“Wendell – I’d like full and docile co-operation on every topic.”

During a “valediction” with recently arrived out of state talent at the deserted Victory motel:
“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.”

When Vincennes expresses a desire to look once again at the Nite Owl murders:
“I doubt you’ve ever taken a stupid breath. Don’t start now.”

And later:
“Don’t start tryin’ to do the right thing, boy-o. You haven’t the practice.”

And through it all, Mr. Cromwell’s Dudley Smith radiates a serene, untouchable confidence. That easily equals that of his fellow cast of veteran, A-List and soon-to-be A-List talent. In a film loaded with color, shadow, glitz and post-war glamor for the masses.james-cromwell-in-l.a.c-lowres

WAC-banner-2013-greenThis post is part of the 2013 What A Character! blogathon, co-hosted by myself, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen. Be sure and check out all the other Monday posts. And there’s Saturday and Sunday’s as well.