Richard Widmark (1914-2008)

Richard Widmark
Richard Widmark
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Richard Widmark was a well known Broadway and movie actor who also made many appearances on radio and television. He achieved fame in his debut movie role as the giggling Tommy Udo in 'Kiss of Death' in 1947, for which he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. In his early career he continued the 'noir' vein with mainly villainous, tough guy roles but he later developed into a top supporting actor in more clean-cut roles in other genres such as Westerns, and horror films.


He was born Richard Weedt Widmark on December 26, 1914 in Sunrise Township, Minnesota, and grew up in Princeton, Illinois. He became interested in acting through the drama department of Lake Forest College, Illinois, where he studied law, and after graduation in 1936 he stayed on to teach Speech and Drama. However, the acting bug had bitten deep and he soon left the college and moved to New York to become an actor. He spent ten years learning his trade, making his radio debut in 1938 in 'Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories' and by the early 1940's he was heard regularly on such network programs as 'Gang Busters', 'Inner Sanctum Mysteries', and 'Molle Mystery Theater'.

Widmark was prevented from enlisting during World War II because of a perforated eardrum and he continued to develop his acting career, making his Broadway debut in 1943 in 'Kiss and Tell' and appearing in other productions such as 'Trio', 'Kiss Them for Me', and 'Dunnigan's Daughter'.

Whilst in Chicago appearing in a stage production of 'Dream Girl' with June Havoc, Widmark was invited to read by producer Henry Hathaway for the role of the killer Tommy Udo in the forthcoming movie, 'Kiss of Death'. His interpretation was sensational, particularly his bizarre chuckling during the killing scene and he was given a seven year contract with Twentieth Century Fox. When the movie was released in 1947 Widmark was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and he also won the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer.

This early succes saw him typecast as the heavy in violent thrillers such as 'The Street with No Name' in 1948 and as an unpleasant racial bigot in 'No Way Out' in 1950, although he was cast in a sympathetic role opposite Lionel Barrymore in the whaling drama 'Down to the Sea in Ships' in 1948. In 'Panic in the Streets' he again played a sympathetic role as a noble medical officer. He showed he could also play tough and resourceful Western heroes, as seen in 'Backlash' in 1956 and 'The Last Wagon' in the same year. A more subtle, demanding role was as the head of a psychiatric clinic in 'The Cobweb' in 1955.

When his contract with Fox expired in 1954, Widmark formed his own company, Heath Productions in order to have more artistic control over his films. From this time he was cast increasingly in more likeable, less demanding roles and he settled into a career of a good supporting actor, always secondary to the leading man or woman. John Wayne directed him in 1961 in 'The Alamo' where he played the drunk Jim Bowie. He appeared in two John Ford Westerns, together with James Stewart in 'Two Rode Together' in 1961, in which they have some highly comic scenes, and in 'Cheyenne Autumn' in 1964. He had a major dramatic role in 'Judgment at Nuremberg' in 1961, as the prosecuting attorney, and he gave one of his finest performances in 'The Bedford Incident' in 1965, which he also produced, playing opposite Sidney Poitier. He had a substantial role and was at his best as the amoral police detective in adventure thriller 'Madigan' in 1968, a role that he retained in the subsequent TV series in 1972.

In the 1970's his star began to wane but he continued to make movies, with prominent roles in 'Murder on the Orient Express' in 1974 and 'Rollercoaster' in 1977 and with parts in 'Coma' in 1978 and 'Against All Odds' in 1984. He also made his mark in TV movies such as 'Mr. Horn' in 1979 and he was critically acclaimed for his role oppostite Faye Dunaway in 'Cold Sassy Tree' in 1989.

After playing a senator in 'True Colors' on the big screen in 1991 Widmark retired from acting. Widmark was happily married to writer Jean Hazlewood from 1942 until her death in 1997. They had a daughter, Anne Heath Widmark in 1945. He tended to live quietly on his ranch in Missouri, avoiding publicity. In 1999, aged 84, he married Susan Blanchard, who had been Henry Fonda's third wife.

Richard Widmark died after a long illness on March 24, 2008, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was 93.

Richard Widmark Academy Awards

No Wins:

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Supporting Actor ... Kiss of Death (1947)


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Richard Widmark Filmography

Kiss of Death
The Street with No Name
Road House
Yellow Sky
Down to the Sea in Ships
Slattery's Hurricane
Night and the City
Panic in the Streets
No Way Out
Halls of Montezuma
The Frogmen
Red Skies of Montana
Don't Bother to Knock
Full House
My Pal Gus
Destination Gobi
Pickup on South Street
Take the High Ground!
Hell and High Water
Garden of Evil
Broken Lance
A Prize of Gold
The Cobweb
Run for the Sun
The Last Wagon
Saint Joan
Time Limit
The Law and Jake Wade
The Tunnel of Love
The Baited Trap
The Alamo
The Secret Ways
Two Rode Together
Judgement at Nuremberg
How the West Was Won
The Long Ships
Flight from Ashiya
Cheyenne Autumn