Thursday, 27 December 2012

Charles Durning Passes On

Charles Durning, who appeared in films such as The Sting (1973) , Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Tootsie (1982) and such TV shows as Evening Shade, died on 24 December 2012 at the age of 89.

Charles Durning was born 28 February 1923 in Highland Falls, New York. Born in poverty to a large family, Mr. Durning eventually dropped out of school and left for Pennsylvania. There he worked various odd jobs. He then moved to Buffalo, New York, where he again worked at odd jobs, among them an usher in a burlesque theatre. When one of the theatre's comedians did not show up one night, Charles Durning, who had memorised the comic's routine,  convinced the theatre's manager to let him take his place. After his experience on stage that night, Mr. Durning decided he wanted to take up acting.

During World War II Charles Durning enlisted in the United States Army. He was among the first of the waves of American soldiers to land on Omaha Beach during the Invasion of Normandy. He as the only one of his unit to survive D-Day. He was captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and was among the few to survive the Malmedy massacre, in which a German combat unit massacred American prisoners.  He ended the war having been awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Following the war Mr. Durning enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The school dismissed him in less than a year, maintaining he had no talent.

Charles Durning then worked at various jobs, including doorman, dishwasher, and cab driver, and even professional boxing and teaching ballroom dancing. In the meantime he did break into dancing. He made his television debut in a 1953 episode of You Are There. He made his film debut in 1962 in The Password Is Courage (1962). In the Sixties he appeared in such films as Stiletto (1969), Hi, Mom! (1970), and I Walk the Line (1970). On television he appeared in such shows as East Side/West Side, The Nurses, N.Y.P.D., and High Chaparral. He made his debut on Broadway in Poor Bitos in 1964. He appeared in such productions as Drat the Cat, Pousse-Café, The Happy Time, and Indians.

It was in the Seventies that Charles Durning's career really took off. He appeared in such films as The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972), Doomsday Voyage (1972), Deadhead Miles (1973), Sisters (1973), The Sting (1973), The Front Page (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Breakheart Pass (1975), The Hindenburg (1975), The Choirboys (1977), The Fury (1978), The Greek Tycoon (1978), The Muppet Movie (1979), Starting Over (1979), Starting Over (1979), and The Final Countdown (1980). On television he was the star of the short lived series The Cop and The Kid and appeared in the mini-series Captains and the Kings. He appeared on such shows as Madigan, All in the Family, Canon, Barnaby Jones, Baretta, and Hawaii Five-O. On Broadway he appeared in such productions as That Championship Season and Boom Boom Room.

In the Eighties Charles Durning became one of the regulars on Evening Shade, which ran into the Nineties. He also appeared on such TV shows as The Hallmark Hall of Fame, American Playhouse, Eye to Eye, Tall Tales and Legends, and Amazing Stories. He appeared in such films as Sharky's Machine (1981), Tootsie (1982), Two of a Kind (1983), To Be or Not To Be (1983), Mass Appeal (1984), Stick (1985), The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), Big Trouble (1986), Tough Guys (1986), Solarbabies (1986), Cop (1988), Brenda Starr (1989), and Dick Tracy (1990). He appeared on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In the Nineties he appeared in such films as The Music of Chance (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), I.Q. (1994), The Last Supper (1995), The Grass Harp (1995), Spy Hard (1996), Recon (1996),  Never Look Back (2000), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), and State and Main (2000) .  He appeared on such TV shows as Orleans, Homicide, Cybill, and The Practice. On Broadway he appeared in Inherit the Wind, The Gin Game, and Gore Vidal's The Beat Man. In the Naughts he was a regular on the show First Monday and Rescue Me, and had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond. He appeared on such shows as NCIS, Everwood, and Monk. He appeared in such films as L.A.P.D.: To Protect and to Serve (2001), Turn of Faith (2002), River's End (2005), Dirty Deeds (2005), The Golden Boys (2008), Three Chris's (2010), and The Waiter (2010). In the Teens he appeared The Great Fight (2011), The Life Zone (2011), Rogue Assassin (2012) , and Amazing Racer (2012).

Charles Durning was an incredibly prolific actor who worked in his craft until his death. He also worked in three different media: stage, screen, and television. It was his talent that allowed him to do so. He played an amazing array of different roles, everything from Santa Claus (multiple times) to Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His film roles covered a broad area, everything from Sgt. Moretti in Dog Day Afternoon to lonely widower Les Nichols in Tootsie to a homophobic priest in The Last Supper. He was the consummate character actor, able to play anything from crotchety to gruff to kind to friendly. It is not many people who could play both a crooked cop (in The Sting) and Santa Claus (in several TV movies) and be convincing as both. Charles Durning was sometimes called the "King of Character Actors," and in  the modern era there can be no doubt he deserved the title.

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