Hey, guys. Quint here with a few words about the passing of one of the great character actors, Charles Durning. Mr. Durning was an Academy Award nominee, an Emmy nominee and a Tony winner, but that only highlights his considerable performing talents. Durning had that extra something special, that spark of personality that he injected in every one of his roles, that made him one of those faces you instantly recognize and are happy to see every single time they pop up on the screen, big or small.
I personally associate Mr. Durning with the Coen Bros, probably because I very vividly remember seeing him leap out a window in The Hudsucker Proxy, which was my first real introduction to a full blast of that trademark Coen Bros quirk (as crazy as Raising Arizona was, for some reason I viewed that as perfectly normal as a kid. I think I was a weird kid…).
Durning’s Waring Hudsucker wasn’t the only time he played a small, but crucial role in a Coen Bros film. Remember he proved that fat dudes could dance a jig with the best of ‘em as Pappy O’Daniel in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Eighties kids with HBO saw a few of great turns in constant repeat. Especially Tootsie.
From playing The Warden in Solarbabies (remember that one? Little Lukas Haas on rollerskates?) to Mel Brooks’ To Be Or Not To Be (which he was nominated for) to The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas (which he was also nominated for) to his fairly despicable turn as the most evil postmaster this side of awful Uwe Boll movies in Dark Night of the Scarecrow (which he sadly wasn’t nominated for), Mr. Durning was all over pop culture when I was first falling in love with filmed stories.
Oh, and speaking of child-scaring performances, who could forget Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie? The man was trying to fry up Kermit’s legs!
As I began exploring different types of cinema, I was pleasantly surprised to see this face pop up in the work of Brian De Palma, probably most memorably in The Fury, although hardcore De Palmaphiles will also remember his turn in Sisters.
The ‘70s was a good decade for Durning, bringing him roles like Lt. Snyder in The Sting, Murphy in Billy Wilder’s The Front Page and Moretti in Dog Day Afternoon.
Durning was a workhorse, appearing in well over 200 movies, TV shows and stage plays over five decades and in every single one he had that spark I mentioned above (of course, I’m having to assume on his stage work as I was never fortunate enough to see him work live, but my point still stands).
Not only was Durning a great actor, but he was a real life hero. Not only did he fight in WWII, he stormed the beach at Normandy and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded three Purple Hearts as well as the Silver Star and Bronze Star, ironic since he so well lampooned the Nazis with Mel Brooks 30+ years later.
These days it’s such a foreign concept to have our entertainers fight in our wars. Of course, Durning was a young man, at least two decades away from his first screen credit, but a surprising amount of then-famous and soon-to-be-famous performers enlisted and fought. Ernie Borgnine, who was also taken from us this year, comes to mind as well. He was a vet and proud of it.
Durning led a fascinating life and thankfully for us movie geeks that life included performing for our enjoyment. Durning was never an A-list star, but he and actors like him are the true lifeblood of film and television. He loved working, always showed up with his A game and was as prolific as a human being could be, giving us more than a handful of truly memorable performances that will live on as long as there are screens flickering with moving images.
My thoughts are with Mr. Durning’s friends, family and fans. You will be miss, sir.