Saturday, March 22, 2008

Two Actors Pass On

Two actors died recently, both of whom made important contributions in their respective media. One was a veteran television actor who blazed new trails in the medium. The other was a veteran of the stage who was also well known for his few appearances on film.

Ivan Dixon, best known as Sgt. James Kinchloe on Hogan's Heroes, died last Sunday at the age of 76. The cause was a brain haemorrhage resulting from kidney disease.

Ivan Dixon was born in Harlem on April 6, 1931. He was introduced to acting at Lincoln Academy, a boarding school for African Americans in Gaston County, North Carolina. In 1954 he earned a degree in drama from North Carolina Central University. He went onto study at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University and Karamu House, and at New York City's American Theatre Wing. By the late Fifties he had a career on stage, appearing in The Cave Dwellers in 1957 and A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. He made his first appearance in television on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. He made his first appearance on film in the movie Something of Value the same year. In 1958 he was Sidney Potier's stunt double in The Defiant Ones.

Dixon would go onto appear in such films as Porgy and Bess, A Raisin in the Sun (in which he re-created the role he originated in stage), Nothing But a Man, A Patch of Blue, and Car Wash. Despite this, his biggest impact would be on television. From the late Fifties into the Sixties, Dixon guested on such shows as Have Gun--Will Travel, The New Breed, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. In 1965 Dixon began Sgt. James 'Kinch' Kinchloe on Hogan's Heroes. While Dixon said he did not enjoy the role, it was in many respects ground breaking. Kinoche was perhaps the first continuing African American character on an American sitcom who was not a stereotype, but who was portrayed as a competent, intelligent individual.

Following Hogan's Heroes, Dixon would make a few more guest appearances on TV shows ranging from The F.B.I. to The Father Dowling Mysteries, although eventually he would shift is attention to directing. He started directing with an episode of The Bill Cosby Show in 1970. Thereafter he would direct many hours of television, including episodes of Nichols, The Waltons, The Rockford Files, and Magnum P.I. He also directed a few feature films, beginning with Trouble Man in 1972. Perhaps his most notable film was The Spook Who Sat by the Door. The controversial film centred on an African American CIA agent who becomes a revolutionary.

Ivan Dixon was a very talented actor who broke new ground for African Americans both on film and in television. His performances in Nothing But a Man and A Raisin in the Sun were nothing short of extraordinary. As Kinch on Hogan's Heroes he opened new doors for African American characters on sitcoms. Although he may not be the best known African American actor, Dixon was certainly one of the most pivotal.

Paul Scofield, the British actor most famous for his performance as Sir Thomas More in both the play and the movie A Man for All Seasons, died Wednesday at the ageo of 86 from leukaemia.

Scofield was born January 21, 1922 in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. He took up acting early, performing in plays at Varndean School for Boys in Brighton. He also attended a school attached to the Croydon Repertory Theatre and the Mask School in London. Having deformed toes, Scofield was exempt from military service during World War II. He made his debut on stage in the play Desire Under the Elms at the Westminster Theatre in 1940. His big break came in 1944, when he joined the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. With the Birmingham Repertory Theatre he performed in everything from The Seagull to She Stoops to Conquer. In 1945 director Peter Brook arrived at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Brook and Scofield would collaborate on many productions in the next many years. Scofield became one of the most respected Shakespearean actors around, playing Hamlet in 1956 and later in 1962 playing in King Lear.

It would be A Man for All Seasons that would bring Scofield lasting fame. Debuting in London in 1960, the play would debut on Broadway in 1961 (Scofield's only appearance on the Great White Way). Over the years Scofield would have several other notable performances on stage: Government Inspector in 1966, A Hotel in Amsterdam in 1968, Othello in 1980, and playing Salieri in Amadeus in 1979.

Scofield attracted the attention of Hollywood early, being offered a contract in 1946 (he turned it down in favour of the stage). He would not appear on the big screen until That Lady in 1955, playing King Philip of Spain to Ana de Mendoza, the Princess of Eboli. The film was not particularly good, but Scofield's performance was excellent. Over the next few decades Scofield's appearances on film would be infrequent at best. He played Col. von Waldheim in The Train before finally bringing his role of Sir Thomas More to the silver screen with the film version of A Man of All Seasons in 1966. Scofield won the Oscar for Best Leading Actor for the part. Despite this, Scofield would not become a movie actor, with literally years between his appearances on film. He recreated his role as Lear for the 1971 film King Lear and appeared in the movie Scorpio in 1973. He would also appear in the films Henry V, the 1990 version of Hamlet, and Quiz Show (as Charles Van Doren's father, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor). He did very little television, but his last role in either film or TV would be the voice of Boxer in the TV adaptation of Animal Farm in 1999.

Paul Scofield was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of our time. He was extremely versatile. He could just as easily play Sir Thomas More as he could a drunk in The Power and the Glory. And his roles were often difficult, ranging from the brooding Uncle Vanya in the play of the same name to the whimisical Don Quixote to the bitter Antonio Salieri in Amadeus. He was an incredible talent with an equally incredible career. He truly was one of the greats of the stage.

1 comment:

dennis said...

Dennis was an ivan Dixon fan.