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After "Deliverance" (1972) introduced him to American film audiences as the victim of one of the most horrific and infamous incidents of onscreen violence in cinematic history, actor Ned Beatty quickly became one of Hollywood's most rock-steady supporting everymen. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Beatty was seemingly omnipresent in the decade's seminal films, including "Nashville" (1975), "All the President's Men" (1976), "Network" (1976) and "Superman" (1978). Never a leading a man, Beatty nonetheless earned a reputation as one of the top supporting actors in the trade. While the his later decade films were not as prominent, Beatty landed several high-quality small-screen projects, including a regular role as a member of the original cast of what many considered to be one of the best shows ever produced for television, "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99). Though he would never match the sheer volume of hits in his first decade of film work, his myriad of roles as amicable middle-aged men, well-meaning public officials and later big-hearted grandfathers, would earn him the distinction of being the one of the busiest and most beloved actors in Hollywood.Born July 6, 1937, in...
After "Deliverance" (1972) introduced him to American film audiences as the victim of one of the most horrific and infamous incidents of onscreen violence in cinematic history, actor Ned Beatty quickly became one of Hollywood's most rock-steady supporting everymen. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Beatty was seemingly omnipresent in the decade's seminal films, including "Nashville" (1975), "All the President's Men" (1976), "Network" (1976) and "Superman" (1978). Never a leading a man, Beatty nonetheless earned a reputation as one of the top supporting actors in the trade. While the his later decade films were not as prominent, Beatty landed several high-quality small-screen projects, including a regular role as a member of the original cast of what many considered to be one of the best shows ever produced for television, "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99). Though he would never match the sheer volume of hits in his first decade of film work, his myriad of roles as amicable middle-aged men, well-meaning public officials and later big-hearted grandfathers, would earn him the distinction of being the one of the busiest and most beloved actors in Hollywood.
Born July 6, 1937, in Louisville, KY, to Charles and Margaret Beatty, he grew up in nearby St. Matthew's, a small town that later become a Louisville suburb. As a boy he developed a talent for singing, first joining his church choir, then finding increased opportunities when his voice changed at age 11 by singing in weddings, a local barbershop quartet and the Louisville a cappella choir. Though his talent earned him a scholarship to Kentucky's Transylvania University, Beatty paid more attention to his singing than school work, which soon led to parts in local amateur stage productions. After a year, he left school and briefly apprenticed as a supermarket butcher before pursuing an acting career, which led to regional theater and professional summer stock productions. He did stints at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA; the Erie Playhouse in Erie, PA; and the Playhouse Theater in Houston, TX, and by his own estimate, performed as many as 300 days a year. Along the way, Beatty was diagnosed as being manic depressive, but has said that he managed to cope by acting his way through his down swings.
Eventually, Beatty landed at the pioneering Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where he spent eight years performing in the 1960s, including in a production of "The Great White Hope" (1968), which moved to New York for a run on Broadway. Beatty went with the show, in which he co-starred with James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Filmmaker John Boorman caught Beatty's performance and cast him in his first film role; one that would for better or worse be a courageous entrée into Hollywood. In "Deliverance" (1972), based on the novel by James Dickey, Beatty played one of the four city dwellers (also Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ronny Cox) who take a weekend canoe trip through Appalachia and wind up being stalked by murderous inbred hill folk, one of whom sexually violates Beatty's character in arguably the most disturbing scene in cinema history. In the scene, Beatty's character is humiliated by an armed mountain man (Bill McKinney), who makes him "squeal like a pig" before he rapes him. Though it came to light that the actor was increasingly depressed during the shoot, especially around time to film the scene, Beatty later claimed that he came up with the famous line after Boorman encouraged the actors to ad-lib. Meanwhile, the raw, violent thriller became a huge hit, and the unassuming Beatty soon became the go-to guy for frumpy middle-aged supporting roles in some of the decade's most lauded films.
That same year, Betty was taped by director John Huston to co-star opposite Paul Newman in the revisionist Western, "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972), which was loosely based on the titular judge, who appointed himself "Law west of the Pecos" and attempted various crimes on the front porch of his saloon. In "White Lightning" (1973), he played a crooked Southern sheriff who contends with a recently released bootlegger (Burt Reynolds) working for the Feds. After co-starring opposite Jeff Bridges in "The Last American Hero" (1973), he ventured over to the small screen for a part as a priest in the acclaimed television movie, "The Execution of Private Slovik" (NBC, 1974), which starred Martin Sheen as the titular soldier who became the first to be executed during war time for desertion since the Civil War. After playing a good ole boy struggling with his marriage in Robert Altman's seminal ensemble drama, "Nashville" (1975), he was Miami private investigator, Martin Dardis, who helped Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) link President Nixon to the Watergate break-in, in "All the President's Men" (1976).
Beatty continued in one strong supporting role after another, appearing in Arthur Hiller's seminal action-comedy hit, "Silver Streak" (1976), starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. The actor was onscreen for a brief, but singularly stunning scene in Sidney Lumet's cinematic gem, "Network" (1976), putting his booming voice on full display as corporate chieftain Arthur Jensen, who delivers an evangelical monologue to rogue, muckraking television anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), upbraiding him for tampering with the broader agendas of Big Business. Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's prophetic vision of corporatization of major media crystallized in Jensen's inflamed, religious oratory, in which he decried Beale for "meddling with the primal forces of nature!" Beatty's mere handful of minutes onscreen made such an impact that he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With the limelight on him, Beatty starred in a summer replacement series called "Szysznyk" (CBS, 1977), a sitcom that saw him portray an ex-Marine running kids' recreational activities at an urban community center. The show fared well enough against summer reruns, but tanked quickly when the network brought it back later that year.
Despite the setback, Beatty went on to develop a selective presence on the small screen, appearing in a number of miniseries and television movies like the biopic of 1950s Red Scare-monger Senator Joseph McCarthy (Peter Boyle), "Tail Gunner Joe" (NBC, 1977). Following an adaptation of Thornton Wilder's classic stageplay "Our Town" (NBC, 1977), Beatty returned to the big screen with a fine comedic turn as Otis, the dimwitted henchman of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), in the classic "Superman" (1978). After playing a paranoid California homeowner preparing for a Japanese invasion in Steven Spielberg's ambitious bomb "1941" (1979), he received second billing opposite Carol Burnett in "Friendly Fire" (ABC, 1979), a landmark small-screen film that was praised for its honest examination of the United State's disastrous war in Vietnam. Beatty and Burnett played simple Midwestern parents who find the U.S. military dissembling as to how their serviceman son died, leading them to join the anti-war movement. Beatty's performance earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special.
Beatty returned as the doofus Otis for "Superman II" (1980) before playing a U.S. legislator in the fictional retelling of the Jonestown massacre, "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones" (CBS, 1980). Following a supporting turn in the Lily Tomlin comedy bomb, "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" (1981), Beatty was cast in the stirring chronicle of Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, in "A Woman Called Golda" (CBS, 1982), which starred Ingrid Bergman in her final role. He had forgettable appearances in the much-maligned Richard Pryor comedy, "The Toy" (1982), and the even worse action comedy, "Stroker Ace" (1983), starring Loni Anderson and off-screen friend Burt Reynolds. Beatty next took on a major role in "The Last Days of Pompeii" (ABC, 1984), a seven-hour miniseries that helped erase the memories of his two previous theatrical releases. He had a starring role in the British-made caper comedy, "Restless Natives" (1985), before landing a minor role in the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle, "Back to School" (1986). After supporting turns in "Midnight Crossing" (1987) and "Rolling Vengeance" (1987), Beatty gave audiences a taste of his former self with a fine supporting role in the superlative crime thriller, "The Big Easy" (1987), a richly textured noir that harkened back to his 1970s heyday.
Beatty next co-starred alongside Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan in the Cold War thriller, "The Fourth Protocol" (1987), which he followed with a rare starring role in the rather predictable thriller "Shadows of the Storm" (1988), yet another reunion with Burt Reynolds for the mediocre comedy, "Switching Channels" (1988), and the tepid cop drama "Physical Evidence" (1989). While he had his share of cheesy B-grade films like "Time Trackers" (1989), "Big Bad John" (1990), "Captain America" (1990) and the abysmal "Exorcist" spoof "Repossessed" (1990), Beatty continued to balance out his career with distinguished supporting roles in films like the true-to-life prison drama, "Chattahoochee" (1990). The following year, he scored a rare above-the-title billing in what many considered his tour-de-force performance, playing Josef Locke, a fabled Irish tenor in the charming indie import "Hear My Song" (1991). The quirky film followed a struggling Liverpool club-owner (Adrian Dunbar) on an odyssey to find Locke, a real-life singer who fled England decades earlier, in order to help save his club. By giving Locke both a gruff authority and a grudging sweetness, Beatty was honored with some of his best reviews in years while earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
After a supporting role in the quirky and well-received romantic comedy, "Prelude to a Kiss" (1992), Beatty played the father of a young man (Sean Astin) determined to play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame despite mediocre grades, little money and a small build in the heartwarming drama "Rudy" (1993). Beatty returned to series television with a recurring role on the hit sitcom "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997), as the estranged, wayward father of Dan Conner (John Goodman), whose troubled relationship played out in an extended arc of guest shots from 1989 to 1994. In 1993, he made the full commitment to the small screen after being lured by Barry Levinson, David Simon, Paul Attanasio and Tom Fontana to join the cast of "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-2000), a stark, kaleidoscopic drama depicting the overwhelming workload of Baltimore homicide detectives. Beatty played earnest, mid-life-crisis-wracked Det. Stanley Bolander, who partnered with Richard Belzer's smartass paranoiac Det. Munch in an ever-bickering oil-and-water team, just one in a talented ensemble of distinctive, memorable characters processing the tragic waste of urban America. "Homicide" was branded by critics through broad consensus as one of the best shows to ever grace the airwaves, winning it two Emmys and a Peabody Award for Best Television Drama in its first season. But with the ratings failing to follow the critical groundswell, the network insisted the producers tinker with their cast in favor of younger, prettier talent, and Beatty's character was written off following the third season.
Following his departure from "Homicide," Beatty went back to estimable roles for the balance of the 1990s, playing Judge Roy Bean himself in big-budget production of Larry McMurtry's "The Streets of Laredo" (CBS, 1995) while landing a supporting role for Spike Lee's underappreciated drama, "He's Got Game" (1997). He managed to remain unscathed after Ted Demme's lame prison comedy, "Life" (1999), starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy, before once again reuniting with director Robert Altman for "Cookie's Fortune" (1999). Beatty returned as Det. Bolander for the made-for-television movie, "Homicide: The Movie" (NBC, 2000), which reunited most of the cast to find the murderer of their longtime captain, after which he turned in a solid performance in the charming indie "Spring Forward" (2000). In the next century, Beatty began lightening his workload, even as he returned to his theatrical and musical roots. In 2001, he revisited one of the first roles he ever played early in his stage career, Big Daddy, in a London production of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," for which he received a nomination for Best Actor at the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards the following year.
Beatty returned to New York to reprise the role of Big Daddy on Broadway in 2003, which preceded a return to music when friend and successful songwriter Larry Bastian convinced him to record a CD, In the Beginning Was the Word (2006), a self-released gospel album that featured Beatty crooning Christian hymns such as "Down by the Riverside" and "Peace in the Valley." Along the way, he continued his film supporting-role work in such movies like the children's classic "Where the Red Fern Grows" (2003), the Mark Wahlberg actioner "Shooter" (2007), and the political comedy "Charlie Wilson's War (2007), which starred Tom Hanks as a freewheeling congressman who finds his mission in life when he helps combat invading Russians by arming a ragtag group of Afghan freedom fighters. Beatty next co-starred in the direct-to-DVD release, "In the Electric Mist" (2009), a mystery thriller about a sheriff's detective (Tommy Lee Jones) investigating the murder of a young woman by an alleged serial killer whose investigation is hampered by two Hollywood stars (Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly McDonald) who are in town making a Civil War movie.
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Referring to his change-of-pace role in "Hear My Song", Beatty mused, "I'm accustomed to being the son of a bitch whom audiences boo, not cheer."
"Acting styles are going through a change now. It's hard to be an older actor because you see it moving on and you don't quite want to go with it because it's not your way. Right now, there's a lot of what we call 'attitudinal acting.' We were always told never to do that because if you're putting forth attitude, it keeps you from putting forth behavior, which is what you really want." --Ned Beatty quoted in LOs Angeles Times, December 22, 1996.
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