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Charles Durning Dead At 89

Charles Durning Dead At 89
  • Charles Durning dies at 89 – he played everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman‘s would-be suitor in TootsieHuffington Post
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5 Comments

# 1
groundcontrol @ 12/25/2012 at 4:47 pm

Rest in peace to a man who entertained us in many, many memorable character roles.
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For all of us all over the world we owe him gratitude for his incredibly brave service being in the first wave of those who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I never knew he was one of the few survivors of the Malmedy massacre. Incredible life.
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I thought he deserved a bit more than a mere mention and I have posted some excerpts form his NY Times obit below.
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Charles Durning . . . who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, whether on stage as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or in film as the lonely widower smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie,”
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Mr. Durning’s 2 Oscar nominations were for supporting roles, as a slippery governor in the Burt Reynolds film “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982) and as a lustful Nazi colonel in Mel Brooks’s “To Be or Not to Be” (1983).
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His Big Daddy, . . . in a 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” brought him a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play.
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“Cat” was Mr. Durning’s first Broadway hit since 1972, when he drew praise as a small-town mayor seeking re-election in “That Championship Season,” Jason Miller’s Tony-winning drama about the reunion of a high school basketball team.
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Despite his success, Mr. Durning fought a lifelong battle with himself.
“I lack confidence as an actor,” he told The Toronto Star in 1988. When asked what he thought his image was, he replied: “Image? Hell, I don’t have an image.” He later told The Pittsburgh Gazette that he was “driven by fear — the fear of not being recognized by your peers.”
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Charles Durning was born into poverty in Highland Falls, NY . . . the ninth of 10 children. His father, James, an Irish immigrant, had been sickened by mustard gas and lost a leg in World War I. He died when Charles was 12. Five of Charles’s sisters died of either smallpox or scarlet fever in childhood, three of them within two weeks.
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Never a good student, young Charles dropped out of school and fled to Pennsylvania, deciding that his mother, Louise, a laundress at the United States Military Academy at West Point, would fare better with one less mouth to feed. He worked as a farmhand and did other menial jobs before moving to Buffalo, where again he took odd jobs. One, opportunely, was as an usher in a burlesque house.
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Then came World War II, and he enlisted in the Army. His combat experiences were harrowing. He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock.
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Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.
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By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma.

His big break came in 1962, when Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival, invited him to audition. It was the start of a long association with Papp, who cast him, often as a clown, in 35 plays, many by Shakespeare.
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Mr. Durning preferred the stage to movies . . . His work in “That Championship Season,” . . . led the film director George Roy Hill to tap Mr. Durning for the part of a corrupt police lieutenant in “The Sting.” Two years later he played a beleaguered police hostage negotiator squaring off against Al Pacino’s manic bank robber in Sidney Lumet’s celebrated “Dog Day Afternoon.”
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In the Parade interview, he recalled the hand-to-hand combat. “I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”
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They grappled, he recounted later — he was stabbed seven or eight times — until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept.
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Mr. Durning said the the memories never left him, even when performing, even when he became, however briefly, someone else.
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“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he told Parade. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”
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Richard Severo contributed reporting.

# 2

RIP

I’ll always remember him from “man with one red shoe” and “hudsucker proxy”

# 3

Wonderful actor. Rest in peace.

# 4

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# 5

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