2012 has been, so definitively, the year for huge teeming male casts (Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark, Magic Mike) of stars and character actors playing anxious determined men that I felt an extra pang of sadness to hear about the passing of Charles Durning on Christmas Eve. He was 89 years-old.
Had any of those movies (well, not, Magic Mike) been made in the 1980s, he would with certainty have popped up -- 100% -- growling great lines in a suit or stove pipe hat.
Since the seeds of my movie mania were planted in the early 1980s, Charles Durning was one of the very first actors that embodied and defined the term "Character Actor" for me. I absolutely loved him in Tootsie (1982), one of the all time great movie comedies, as Jessica Lange's widower dad who took an unfortunate shine to Dorothy (Dustin Hoffman in drag). I remember experiencing early onset Oscar confusion when I realized (a couple of years after the fact) that he had been nominated for an extended cameo in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas instead. So I rented that one in 1985 of 1986, I think, on the sly -- my parents did not approve of "raunchy movies" -- and just delighted in his "little sidestep ♫ "
Other roles I have slightly less vivid memories of from that decade were his Oscar nominated turn in Mel Brooks comedy To Be Or Not To Be (1983) and his monsignor in the gay drama Mass Appeal (1985). The Golden Globes got to him before the Academy -- as they so often do -- nominating him for Best Supporting Actor for his hostage negotiator in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which we recently discussed. Durning won a Tony Award in 1990 for playing "Big Daddy" in a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opposite Kathleen Turner (who he worked with onscreen immediately thereafter in the failed would be franchise launch VI Warshawski) but sadly he never won any major competitive acting award for his onscreen work despite Globe, Emmy, and Oscar nominations. His most recent Emmy honors were for a stint as Denis Leary's father on "Rescue Me".
What's your favorite Charles Durning role?
Have you ever seen his Oscar nominated roles?