Saturday, 29 March 2008

Richard Widmark (1914-2008)...


Back at the beginning of this blog, I ran a post on 'Actors I thought were dead but aren't' featuring, as my first subject, Harry Morgan.

I had it in mind to address a number of other stalwarts of Hollywood and, along with Karl Malden, Richard Widmark was high on my list.

Naturally I was surprised and saddened by the news that Mr. Widmark passed away last Monday at the age of 93 following complications from injuries received in a fall.

Richard Widmark (his real name) was born in December 1914 in Minnesota, and his early years were spent between that state as well as South Dakota and Illinois, as his father's work (he was a traveling salesman) took the family.

Widmark did well in school and won a full scholarship to Lake Forest College, Ill., where he played football as well as pursuing drama. Rejected for military service due to a perforated eardrum, Widmark turned to acting, with roles on the Broadway stage as well as radio work.

His first major screen role was in Henry Hathaway's 'Kiss of Death' in which he played psychopath Tommy Udo, a role which earned Widmark an Academy Award nomination.

Subsequent roles alternated between villain and hero, the heroes usually flawed, and Widmark became a staple of Hollywood through the 50s and 60s, playing such diverse characters as Jim Bowie in 'The Alamo', A prosecuting attorney in 'Judgement at Nuremberg', a pioneer homesteader in 'The Way West', and a driven Naval captain in 'The Bedford Incident'.

But for me, one of his most memorable roles was as Det. Dan Madigan in Don Siegel's 1968 picture, Madigan, in which he plays a New York City police detective given a weekend by the Commissioner (Henry Fonda) to capture vicious criminal Benesch, who escaped custody with both Madigan's and his partner's (Harry Guardino) weapons. Widmark reprised the role in six Mystery Movie episodes in the early 70s, which I recall being allowed stay up late to watch.

Richard Widmark is survived by his second wife, Susan Blanchard, and a daughter, Anne, from his first marriage to playwright Jean Hazlewood.

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