Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Late, Great Edward Woodward

English actor Edward Woodward passed yesterday at the age of 79. The cause was pneumonia. Woodward  starred in the British spy series Callan in the late Sixties and the American action series The Equalizer in the Eighties. He also starred in the movie The Wicker Man opposite Christopher Lee and in the Australian film Breaker Morant. As a stage actor he appeared both on London's West End and New York's Broadway. As a singer he released twelve albums.

Edward Woodward was born in Croydon, Surrey, England on June 1, 1930. He was only 16 years old when he won a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, becoming one of the youngest students ever accepted into the academy. Despite this, he very nearly became a footballer rather than an acto. He actually appeared the books of both Brentford FC and Leyton Orient before a knee injury sidetracked his career.

Having made his stage debut when he in 1946 when he was 16, Woodward made his debut on London's West End in 1954, in R.F. Delderfield's comedy Where There's a Will. This would lead to Woodward's motion picture debut, when he repeated his role for the 1955 adaptation of the play. In 1955 he appeared on the West End in the play A Girl Named Jo. Woodward acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in 1962, appeared in one of his most successful roles on the West End, as a meek football fan in Rattle of a Simple Man. A hit in London, the play fared less well when it debuted on Broadway in 1963. While the play was not a hit, Woodward received good notices in the part. Woodward returned to Broadway in High Spirits in 1965 and in The Best Laid Plans in 1966. In 1970 he appeared as Sidney Carton on the West End in Two Cities, a musical based on A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Edward Woodward made his television debut in a guest appearance on the show Inside Story in 1960. That same year he appeared in the film Inn for Trouble. The next several years Woodward guest starred on such shows as Adventure Story, Sir Francis Drake, ITV Play of the Week, The Defenders, The Saint, Armchair Theatre, The Baron,Sword of Honour, and Sherlock Holmes. It was an appearance on an episode of Armchair Theatre in 1967 that cast Woodward in the role that would bring him fame. In the teleplay "A Magnum for Schneider," Woodward played David Callan, a retired assassin with a conscience for a secret British government agency. This episode of Armchair Theatre proved successful enough to give birth to the TV show Callan, which ran from 1967 to 1972 for a total of 43 episodes. So successful was the series that its cancellation brought howls of protests from outraged viewers.

The Seventies saw Woodward appear in such films as Sitting Target, Young Winston, Three for All, and Stand Up Virgin Soldiers. He reprised his role as David Callan in the feature film adaptation of "A Magnum for Schneider," entitled Callan, in 1974. He also appeared as the lead in the sci-fi drama series 1990, which ran for 16 episodes from 1977 to 1978. It would be in 1973 that he would star in what may be his best known role, as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man. Sergeant Howie was a very different character from Callan. He was a Calvinist police officer whose investigation of the disappearance of a young girl leads him to a modern day revival of paganism. While the film would initially only meet with moderate success in the United Kingdom, it would eventually become of the most popular cult films of all time and one of the most popular horror movies of the Seventies.

It was in 1980 that Edward Woodward played what be his best known movie role besides Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man. He appeared in Breaker Morant as the character of the same name, the historical Australian drover, poet, and soldier who was court martialled for the murder of Boer prisoners. The same year he played the lead in the TV series Nice Work. In the Eighties Woodward appeared in such films as The Appointment, Who Dares Wins, Champions, and King David. He reprised the role of David Callan in the telefilm Wet Job.  It was in 1985 that Woodward was cast as former secret agent turned vigilante Robert McCall in The Equalizer.Robert McCall could have almost have been Callan in his retirement. He was a former spy who tried to atone for his past sins by offering his services free of charge as a detective and troubleshooter to the downtrodden.

In the Nineties Edward Woodward appeared as the lead in the TV series Over My Dead Body, which ran for 11 episodes from 1990 to 1991. He was one of the cast in the dramedy Common as Musk, which ran from 1994 to 1997. He was a regular on the British spy series CI5: The New Professionals, which ran for thirteen episodes in 1998. He also appeared in the telefilm Gulliver's Travels and the films Mister Johnson, Deadly Advice, The House of Angelo, and Marcie's Dowry. The Naughts saw Woodward appear in guest appearances on La Femme Nikita, Dark Realm, and The Bill. He appeared in the films The Abduction Club and Hot Fuzz. His last work was in the movie A Congregation of Ghosts, now in post-production.

In addition to albums from the musicals in which he appeared, Edward Woodward also released twelve solo albums. In 1971 in the United Kingdom he charted with the single "The Way You Look Tonight." His albums The Man Alone (1970) and The Edward Woodward Album (1972) also charted.

Edward Woodward is one of my favourite actors of all time. It is not simply that he starred in some of my favourites TV shows and movies, but that he was an actor of no little talent. It is true that in his best known roles he played strong men of great conviction--David Callan, Sgt. Howie in The Wicker Man, Breaker Morant in the movie of the same name, Breaker Morant in the movie of the same name, and Robert McCall--but he was capable of playing other sorts of roles. He played the deeply flawed King Saul in the film King David, and the milquetoast protagonist of the play Rattle of a Simple Man. Over the years he played characters ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the Ghost of Christmas Present in a television adaptation of A Christmas Carol to Simon Legree. What is more, Woodward was convincing in every role he played. He was an actor of no small talent.

1 comment:

Holte Ender said...

I absolutely loved Callan, it was such a seedy, gritty show. Woodward played him like he was kettle ready to boil over. In the same show, his trembling informant "Lonely" was well played by someone I can't remember and the sinister Anthony Valentine played Toby (?). Great show.