This blog is officially "retired," but my other blog,
"The Lair of the Silver Fox," is still open for business!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Richard Widmark, 1914-2008, R.I.P.

"I think a performer should do his work and then shut up".

At the old web address for David'Z RantZ, I used to do a tribute column any time a celebrity died, providing said celebrity was one "for whom I held a particular respect, fondness, and/or admiration." (Yup, quoting from myself there.)

However, these entries weren't only to praise said celebrities. If I may provide a lengthier quote -- and who's gonna stop me? -- let me give you the ulterior motive for this kind of posting, as it appeared on my 2/24/2005 tribute to actress Simone Simon:

[Ms. Simon's] passing is indicative of the very reason why I do these types of entries: Until this evening, I had thought she was already dead, although I'd be hard-pressed at this time to state exactly why I thought so.

I can name far too many actors, comedians, musicians, etc. who have done something relatively newsworthy during the last few years which prompted me to say "I thought he (or she) was dead!" On a related note, I have occasionally learned of a recent death which prompted me to say "I thought he (or she) was already dead!" In the latter category, I'd have to place such people as Donald O'Connor, Peter Ustinov, and John Raitt (whose February 20th death I just heard about yesterday).

Unlike many people, I never assume that someone is dead simply because I haven't heard anything "new" about the person in a while. I certainly don't know everything, nor even claim to, although you might not know that from listening to me at times... But I can't count the celebrities whom I thought had died because I could swear that someone had told me so... or because I could swear that I'd read it in a newspaper or magazine... or because I could swear that I'd heard it on TV.

I can throw a bunch of names at you, here... Dick Van Patten, Blake Edwards, George Kennedy, Jack Elam, John Mills, Sheb Wooley, Gene Rayburn, Harry Reasoner, Alistair Cooke, Shecky Greene, Elmer Bernstein... These are all people who fit either the former or the latter of my two categories, "I thought he was dead!" or "I thought he was already dead!" (And no, I'm not going to make it easier for you by telling you which names fit which category!) And again, it's not just because of a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" mentality that I thought these people were deceased. In George Kennedy's case, for example, I just know I'd read an obituary somewhere... months before I read that he'd just been signed for a brief stint on a soap opera! Hell, I can even recall how I felt when I learned of his death.

So. That's my poorly-kept secret, the main reason why I list people as they die... so I (hopefully) "won't get fooled again," as Peter Townshend would say.

Anyway... My tribute columns were only "regular" as long as my blog entries were, which eventually fell by the wayside for reasons too numerous to list. Due to that unfortunate factor, I missed out on writing some columns which still bother me somewhat. (I mean, comics god Will Eisner died, and I published nothing. I freakin' idolized the guy for so many years that I still feel actual guilt that I "ignored" the fact of his death, at least on the web.)

Now, at the new URL of David'Z RantZ, I still plan to do the occasional in memoriam piece, but only when the celebrity's death has hit me harder than the average, "Oh, So-and-So died? Damn." response. This way, I won't have to change the title of "David'Z RantZ" to "Bring Out Your Dead."

(deep breath)

Thanks for putting up with one of my longest-ever introductions, by the way. Now to the "real" article!

I was a fan of Richard Widmark's from an early age, somewhere between eight and eleven. I'm not sure whether my first exposure to the actor was in Down to the Sea in Ships -- a film I caught on television right at the height of my youthful obsession with the novel Moby-Dick and whaling in general -- or when my mother took me to see Alvarez Kelly at the local drive-in theater. It might even have been yet another film, perhaps a weekend Western watched on TV while sitting with my father, when I was too young to put a name to individual actors. But regardless, I'd still have to say that it was either in Down to the Sea in Ships or in Alvarez Kelly that Widmark made his first real impression on me. After that, I wouldn't ever forget the actor's name again.

I only own nine of his films on VHS, and the only reason I said nine instead of eight is that a quick look at his movies on IMDb shows that he was in Against All Odds, a video which I own, but have never watched in its entirety. Didn't even know -- or at least remember -- that he was in it.

Virtually alllllll of Widmark's obituaries have listed his immediate rise to notoriety as the homicidal lunatic Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death. And yeah, I own that, too. But my favorite Widmark movies, the ones I bothered to hunt down and purchase, were films like Down to the Sea in Ships, Alvarez Kelly, Don't Bother to Knock (a great flick for anyone having doubts as to whether Marilyn Monroe could really act), O. Henry's Full House, and a decidedly tasty bit of film noir entitled Night and the City, in which Widmark co-starred with the ever-luscious Gene Tierney, owner of the sexiest overbite in filmdom.

(The aforementioned "hunt[ing] down" and "purchas[ing]" of Down to the Sea in Ships and O. Henry's Full House were chores -- and eventual delights -- due to the fact that neither is currently available on legitimate VHS tapes or DVDs.)

Honorable mention must go to two other personal favorites. The first is To the Devil... A Daughter, which, I must admit, was a guilty pleasure for many healthy young males -- myself included -- due to the *ahem* quality of the scenes in which the youthful Nastassja Kinski appeared sans clothing. "Oh, Richard Widmark was in that, too? And Christopher Lee? Oh, yeah." The second is the "Dirty Harry" forerunner-of-sorts, 1968's Madigan, in which Widmark played the title role.

Funny thing, but if you had asked me last week whether or not Richard Widmark was alive, I would have been unsure, but if pressed to the wall, I would have said "no." No particular reason for thinking that, but I hadn't heard anything about him in a while, and gee, the guy must have been in his 80s by now, right?

Well, as I said above, I don't know everything. Until March 24th, Richard Widmark was still among the living. And he was even older than I would have surmised; he had reached the ripe old age of 93.

So no, I don't know everything -- If you quote me on that, I'll deny it! -- but I do know that he'll be missed. By me, and by more film fans than anyone could count.

Next time, something cheerier, I promise. And, maybe, less rambling.

Thanks for your time.


  1. Yeah. I seem to recall somebody posting a "blogger rule" saying that the purpose of blogging is to get to the point.



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