Saturday, December 29, 2012
These days actors become famous for their work in movies and on television. But many of the famous who died in 2012 were also stage actors, and not only at the beginning of their careers. British actor Joyce Redmond was nominated for an Oscar for her film performance as Desdemona opposite Laurence Olivier in his Othello, though she was later most famous for the notorious eating scene with Albert Finney in the film Tom Jones. But she maintained a classical theatre career, as is typical in England.
What's less organized (and less known) is that American actors can do the same. Celeste Holm made her stage debut opposite Leslie Howard in Hamlet. One of her last performances was in the comedy I Hate Hamlet. Charles Durning won his acting stripes in Tennessee Williams, as did Ben Gazzara (photo directly below Durning.) He was the original Brick in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Gazzara played in O'Neill and Odets, and probably did more stage work than was good for his screen career.
Lupe Ontiveros used her visibility as a TV and film actor to further stage possibilities for others as a founding board member of the Latino Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Someone else who wanted to expand the theatre community was British playwright John Arden, who Michael Billington notes was probably "ahead of his time." But texts last, and the work can be revived. Stage performances disappear however, so it's a further irony that these actors will live on through their movie and TV performances.
Other theatrical personages who died in 2012 include actor Ernest Borgnine (another actor who started out in Tennessee Williams), playwright and musical adapter Mark O'Donnell (I saw one of his plays in New York many years ago, and had a long funny interview with him), composers Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Adler, designer Eiko Ishioka, playwright Jack Richardson, director Gunnar Eide, actors Jack Klugman, Joan Roberts, Jerome Kitty, Patricia Kennedy. May they rest in peace, and their work live on.