Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Charles Durning

Just happened upon this and I thought it was very interesting. You've seen him before. He's in "The Sting," "Dog Day Afternoon," "State and Main," and perhaps most memorably played Governor Pappy O'Daniel in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" This from PBS:

Charles Durning: Decorated Normandy War Veteran

For twelve and a half weeks, two million men fought in the fields of Normandy. This year, the National Memorial Day Concert will commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the World War II Allied landing at Normandy, universally regarded as the turning point of the war.

During the concert, Charles Durning, one of America's premier character actors and a U.S. Army veteran of Normandy, helps bring to life the moving stories of the men who participated in that valiant air and sea campaign. As a 17-year-old infantryman, Durning was among the first wave of men to land on Omaha Beach. During that campaign and later in the war, he was wounded three times and awarded three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.

Durning's impressive 50-year acting career has been crowned by a Tony Award and nominations for two Oscars and four Emmy awards, yet he never lost sight of his wartime experiences. In 1990, when he was making his Tony-winning star turn as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he opened up in a People Magazine feature. "There's only so much you can witness," he said of his time overseas. Indeed, his war decorations were hard-earned. Durning was the only man to survive a machine gun ambush on Omaha Beach - and he had to rise above serious wounds and kill seven German gunners to do it.

Months later in Belgium, he was stabbed eight times by a German teenage soldier wielding a bayonet; Durning eventually bludgeoned him to death with a rock. He was released from the hospital in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was taken prisoner. After escaping a subsequent massacre of the other prisoners, he was obliged by American forces to return to the scene and help identify bodies. Finally, a bullet in the chest a few months later ended his relentless tour of duty - and began four years of repeated hospitalizations for his physical and psychological injuries.

In an interview with Parade Magazine, Durning said of his initial post-war years, "I dropped into a void for almost a decade. The physical injuries heal first. It's your mind that's hard to heal." And, as he points out, it's not just a matter of what is done to you, but what you find yourself capable of doing. "There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don't want anyone to know about. There's terror and repulsion in us, horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting."

Acting was precisely what gave Durning a new lease on life. The seeds had been planted when he was a boy, growing up in Highland Falls, New York, with his mother, a West Point laundress, and four brothers and sisters (his father, a sergeant in the Army, had died when he was 12). After leaving home at 16, he worked as an usher at a Buffalo burlesque house, where the antics of the bawdy comics - and a one-night chance to fill in for one who was too drunk to go on himself - convinced him that a life on the stage was what he wanted.

By the late 1940's, he began training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and started an on-again, off-again path that zigzagged through dance bands, small nightclubs and Off-Broadway roles. In 1973, a plum Broadway turn in That Championship Season led to a role in The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The breakthrough part established Durning as one of the country's leading character actors with more than 70 films to his credit including The Front Page, Dog Day Afternoon, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Tootsie, Dick Tracy, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and State and Main. His television credits are equally impressive, including his Emmy-nominated performance in Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, and continuing with Death of a Salesman, Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds, and his role as a Supreme Court Justice on the CBS series First Monday.

"It's the work, the opportunity to do good work, that's what inspires me. And I enjoy doing a good play more than anything," says Durning. In fact, his theatrical credits rival his achievements on the big and small screens. He has appeared in literally hundreds of plays with credits including In the Boom Boom Boom, The World of Gunter Grass and Sweet Bird of Youth. In recent years, his 1997 return to Broadway in the revival of The Gin Game received critical acclaim, as did his equally impressive performance in the revival of the Pulitzer prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross. "I've been obsessed with character acting," he says. "It was my dream."


At Mon Oct 30, 07:32:00 PM PST, Blogger Mike the Marine said...

Holy crap dude! Good catch. I didn't know any of that stuff.

- "It's a good thing your mama died in childbirth. If she'da seen ya she'da died of shame..."


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