Richard Widmark


Actor
Richard Widmark

About

Birth Place
Sunrise, Minnesota
Born
December 26, 1914
Died
March 24, 2008

Biography

Tough, mean, devious and smart; all words that could be used to describe the sort of characters Richard Widmark was identified with. From his earliest roles, Widmark became an archetype, typically playing hoods, thugs, tough-minded cops or determined, flawed authority figures. Over the span of 50 years and 75 movies, he built a career of playing men capable of casual cruelty and offhand ...

Photos & Videos

Backlash - Publicity Stills
Backlash - Scene Stills
Backlash - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

Ora Jean Hazelwood
Wife
Actor, screenwriter. Married from April 5, 1942 until her death on March 2, 1997 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease.
Susan Blanchard
Wife
Married in September 1999 in Roxbury, Connecticut; formerly married to Henry Fonda.

Bibliography

"Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography"
Kim Holston, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Awarded honorary doctor of fine arts degree by alma mater Lake Forest College in 1973.

Biography

Tough, mean, devious and smart; all words that could be used to describe the sort of characters Richard Widmark was identified with. From his earliest roles, Widmark became an archetype, typically playing hoods, thugs, tough-minded cops or determined, flawed authority figures. Over the span of 50 years and 75 movies, he built a career of playing men capable of casual cruelty and offhand violence. Even the more positive roles he played tended towards a high-strung, neurotic intensity that became a trademark. Off-screen, though, the real Widmark was in complete contrast to the roles he excelled at.

Born Dec. 26, 1914 in Princeton, IL, to a traveling salesman of Swedish descent, young Widmark moved around to South Dakota, Missouri and the Chicago, IL area in his early years. His grandfather was taking him to moving pictures as early as age four, where Widmark became a fan of Boris Karloff and the Universal stable of monsters. He was elected class president in high school, where he developed the ability to sweet-talk his way out of trouble. Later years found him enrolled at Lake Forest College in the Chicago area. He was headed towards pre-law when he was sidetracked by debate, football and drama. Nervy and charismatic, he auditioned for the lead role in "Counselor at Law," a popular 1930s play, seeing that playing an attorney onstage was more enticing than actually working as one. Widmark stayed on at Lake Forest until 1938 as a drama instructor, before moving on to New York and radio dramas. His first role was in "Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories," a 15-minute radio soap opera popular at the time, before starring as a tough-talking reporter in his own radio drama, "Front Page Farrell." By the early 1940s, he was appearing on several radio programs a day and pulling down an astonishing depression-era $100,000 a year.

Widmark tried to enlist in the military after the outbreak of WWII, but was rejected for a perforated eardrum. He turned instead to the stage in 1943, and his name was soon splashed across Broadway marquees, appearing in productions such as "Kiss and Tell," "Dunnigan's Daughter" and "Kiss Them For Me." He forged an early relationship with director Elia Kazan during his Broadway run, but it was the postwar years that saw him in his first movie roles. He made his movie debut in "Kiss of Death" (1947) and his giggling, dapper psychopath Tommy Udo instantly became one of film noir's more indelible villains, handily upstaging the top-billed Victor Mature. The movie's pivotal scene finds Udo lashing an elderly woman into her wheelchair and gleefully pushing her down a flight of stairs as he leers and sniggers at her demise. Of the Udo role, The New Yorker dryly noted that he had the ability to "make a perfectly good set of white teeth appear more alarming than any prop-department fangs Boris Karloff ever bared." In fact, audiences and critics were sufficiently floored by Widmark's performance to earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

More notable movie roles soon followed: "Road House" (1948), "The Street With No Name" (1948), and Kazan's riveting "Panic in the Streets" (1950), with Widmark playing against type as a public health officer racing against time to head off an outbreak of bubonic plague in New Orleans. It was "No Way Out" (1950), however, that provided a good angle on Widmark's off-screen nature. The actor was decidedly liberal in his personal politics, only avoiding the HUAC dragnet of the early 1950s by keeping his views close to his vest and not joining organizations. This near-forgotten drama cast him as a race-baiting thug bent on avenging his brother who died while being treated by a black surgeon (Sidney Poitier). The script had Widmark's character spewing vile racial slurs at every turn. He was so uncomfortable in the role that he reportedly apologized to Poitier - in his feature film debut - after shooting every scene. Today "No Way Out" would be considered well-meaning but heavy-handed, but it was an early attempt by Hollywood to address problems of race, and its ugly and inflammatory dialogue is still harsh and unnerving by modern standards.

Other early work that reflected indirectly on Widmark's politics included Sam Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" (1953), a Cold War-era crime/espionage movie with Widmark as the reluctant and ambiguous antihero. One of Fuller's bigger box-office successes, "South Street" was often misinterpreted as a right-wing McCarthy-era screed, but its "hero" is a petty pickpocket with motives that are more personal than patriotic. Fuller was adept at weaving subtexts into his stories; he slyly poked at the Red-baiters in a scene where two FBI men earnestly try to appeal to Skip's (Widmark's) sense of duty to country. For their trouble, Widmark sneers, "Are you guys waving the flag at me?

The elephantine flop "The Alamo" (1960) had Widmark playing a pragmatic Jim Bowie opposite hyper-patriot John Wayne's Davy Crockett. Reportedly conflicts between the stars were rife on-set (although publicly Widmark blamed them on Wayne's lack of directorial skills). Widmark also produced "The Bedford Incident" (1965), a Cold War thriller with the actor as a Queeg-like destroyer skipper bent on a confrontation with a Russian sub caught inside territorial waters. The Cuban missile crisis was still fresh in the public's minds by 1965, and this underrated, near-forgotten movie ratcheted up the tension throughout. The decidedly anti-war Widmark saw the movie as a perfect vehicle for pointing up the futility of Cold War escalation.

The Sixties and Seventies saw Widmark more choosy about his roles, often playing more generous characters. "Madigan" (1968) was a first-rate cop drama directed by Don Siegel, with Widmark as a jittery, determined police lieutenant. It was successful enough for him to break his boycott of TV work as it spun off into a short-lived but excellent series by the same name (NBC, 1972-73). The Seventies also found him as a general in Robert Aldrich's excellent political conspiracy thriller "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977) and a nefarious surgeon in "Coma" (1978). His political views were again reflected in TV projects like "All God's Children" (ABC, 1980) and "A Gathering Of Old Men" (CBS, 1987). He also lent his voice to narrate several wildlife documentaries.

Widmark kept a low profile in his personal life, married to playwright Jean Hazlewood from 1942 until her death in 1997 (a daughter, Anne, came along in 1945). As his wife's health failed, his interest in acting declined and Widmark became more private and reclusive. In 1999, he married Susan Blanchard, ex-wife of longtime friend Henry Fonda, and remained married to her until his death. Declining interviews, talk-show appearances and such, Widmark lived a quiet life until his death on March 24, 2008, after complications from a fall. Over the span of 50 years, he went from being a film noir icon to an actor with a broader range and scope, but still brought a readily-identifiable style to each movie he was in.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western (1997)
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
Himself
True Colors (1991)
Cold Sassy Tree (1989)
Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)
A Gathering of Old Men (1987)
Marilyn Monroe: Beyond the Legend (1986)
Narration
The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1986)
Blackout (1985)
Joe Steiner
Against All Odds (1984)
The Final Option (1982)
Hanky-Panky (1982)
National Lampoon's Movie Madness (1982)
A Whale For The Killing (1981)
All God's Children (1980)
Judge Parke Denison
Bear Island (1979)
Coma (1978)
The Swarm (1978)
Rollercoaster (1977)
Hoyt
The Domino Principle (1977)
Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)
To the Devil, a Daughter (1976)
The Sell Out (1976)
Sam Lucas
The Last Day (1975)
Will Spence
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Brock's Last Case (1973)
When the Legends Die (1972)
Red Dillon
The Moonshine War (1970)
Dr. Taulbee
Death of a Gunfighter (1969)
Marshal Frank Patch
A Talent For Loving (1969)
Madigan (1968)
Det. Daniel Madigan
The Way West (1967)
Lije Evans
Alvarez Kelly (1966)
Col. Tom Rossiter
The Bedford Incident (1965)
Capt. Eric Finlander
Flight From Ashiya (1964)
Col. Glenn Stevenson
The Long Ships (1964)
Rolfe
Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
Capt. Thomas Archer
How the West Was Won (1963)
Mike King
Two Rode Together (1961)
Lieut. Jim Gary
The Secret Ways (1961)
Michael Reynolds
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Col. Tad Lawson
The Alamo (1960)
Col. James Bowie
Warlock (1959)
Johnny Gannon
The Trap (1959)
Ralph Anderson
The Law and Jake Wade (1958)
Clint Hollister
The Tunnel of Love (1958)
Augie Poole
Saint Joan (1957)
The Dauphin, later King Charles VII
Time Limit (1957)
Col. [Bill] Edwards
The Last Wagon (1956)
Comanche Todd
Backlash (1956)
Jim Slater
Run for the Sun (1956)
Mike Latimer
The Cobweb (1955)
Dr. Stewart McIver
A Prize of Gold (1955)
Joe Lawrence
Broken Lance (1954)
Ben Devereaux
Garden of Evil (1954)
Fiske
Hell and High Water (1954)
Adam Jones
Take the High Ground! (1953)
Sgt. Thorne Ryan
Destination Gobi (1953)
Chief Bosun's Mate Sam McHale
Pickup on South Street (1953)
Skip McCoy
O. Henry's Full House (1952)
Johnny Kernan
My Pal Gus (1952)
Dave Jennings
Red Skies of Montana (1952)
Cliff Mason
Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
Jed Towers
The Frogmen (1951)
Lt. Commander John Lawrence
Halls of Montezuma (1951)
Lt. [Carl A.] Anderson
Night and the City (1950)
Harry Fabian
No Way Out (1950)
Ray Biddle
Panic in the Streets (1950)
Dr. Clinton Reed
Slattery's Hurricane (1949)
Willard Francis Slattery
Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)
Dan Lunceford
The Street with No Name (1948)
Alec Stiles
Yellow Sky (1948)
Dude
Road House (1948)
Jefty Robbins
Kiss of Death (1947)
Tommy Udo

Producer (Feature Film)

The Bedford Incident (1965)
Co-producer
The Secret Ways (1961)
Producer
Time Limit (1957)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Bedford Incident (1965)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
Other

Cast (Special)

Jack Palance: From Grit to Grace (2001)
Robert Wagner: Hollywood's Prince Charming (1999)
Linda Darnell: Hollywood's Fallen Angel (1999)
Sidney Poitier: The Defiant One (1997)
AFI Salute to Sidney Poitier (1992)
Performer
Lincoln (1992)
Voice
The Best of Us (1991)
Narrator
The American Film Institute Salute to Gregory Peck (1989)
Performer
Passion and Memory (1986)
The American Film Institute Salute to Lillian Gish (1984)
Performer
The Rebel (1975)
Benjamin Franklin
The American Film Institute Salute to John Ford (1973)
Performer

Cast (Short)

The Moonshine War (Featurette) (1970)
Himself
Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955) (1955)
Himself
1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (International) (1955)
Himself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Vanished (1971)

Life Events

1936

Taught drama at Lake Forest College

1938

Moved to New York

1943

Made Broadway debut in "Kiss and Tell"

1947

Feature debut, "Kiss of Death"; instantly achieve star status; also received Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor

1949

First films in which he received top billing, "Down to the Sea in Ships" and "Slattery's Hurricane"

1953

Appeared in "Take the High Ground"; first film not at Twentieth Century-Fox

1955

Formed production company, Heath Productions

1956

Last film at Twentieth Century-Fox for several years, "The Last Wagon"

1957

First film as co-producer (also actor), "Time Limit"; sole directorial effort for Karl Malden

1957

Served as vice president of Widmark Cattle Enterprises

1965

Last featuring producing credit, "The Bedford Incident"; also starred

1968

Portrayed Sergeant Don Madigan opposite Henry Fonda in "Madigan"

1971

Made TV acting debut in the miniseries, "Vanished"

1972

Recreated the role of Sergeant Don Madigan for the short-lived NBC television series, "Madigan"

1974

Cast in Sidney Lumet's "Murder on the Orient Express" based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie

1976

Last received top billing in features in "The Sell Out" and "To the Devil, a Daughter"

1984

Last feature film for seven years, "Against All Odds"

1991

Returned to feature films after a seven-year absence to play a Senator in "True Colors"

1995

Appeared as himself in the documentary, "Wild Bill, Hollywood Maverick: The Life and Times of William A. Wellman"

Photo Collections

Backlash - Publicity Stills
Backlash - Publicity Stills
Backlash - Scene Stills
Backlash - Scene Stills
Backlash - Movie Posters
Backlash - Movie Posters
Two Rode Together - Movie Posters
Two Rode Together - Movie Posters
Two Rode Together - Lobby Card Set
Two Rode Together - Lobby Card Set
Two Rode Together - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Two Rode Together - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Take the High Ground! - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from MGM's Take the High Ground! (1953), starring Richard Widmark, Karl Malden, and Elaine Stewart. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
How the West Was Won - Program Book
Here is the souvenir Program Book sold at Roadshow engagements for the 1962 epic in Cinerama, How the West Was Won.
Judgment at Nuremberg - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), directed by Stanley Kramer. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Tunnel of Love - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Tunnel of Love (1958), directed by Gene Kelly and starring Doris Day, Richard Widmark, and Gig Young.
Pickup on South Street - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Pickup on South Street (1953), directed by Sam Fuller. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Pickup on South Street - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters from Pickup on South Street (1953), starring Richard Widmark and Jean Peters and directed by Sam Fuller.

Videos

Movie Clip

Broken Lance (1954) - The Governor Wants To See You Emerging from a deep dark prison to 20th Century-Fox Cinemascope Technicolor, Robert Wagner as Joe Devereaux gets escorted (by John Epper) to the see the governor at the state capitol, stopping to gaze at a portrait of his dad (Spencer Tracy), opening Edward Dmytryk’s burly Western Broken Lance, 1954.
Broken Lance (1954) - Stay Close To Me Director Edward Dmytryk staging a tense prelude to a big action piece, Spencer Tracy as rancher Devereaux with his sons (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brian, Earl Holliman and Robert Wagner as Joe) confronts McAndrews (Robert Burton), boss of the copper mine that’s poisoning his cattle, in Broken Lance, 1954.
Kiss Of Death (1947) - Skin Off A Grape Chance first encounter before court between hard-luck family-man robber Nick (Victor Mature) and nasty mob guy Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), prosecutor D'Angelo (Brian Donlevy) stopping by, in Henry Hathaway's Kiss Of Death, 1947.
Kiss Of Death (1947) - Lyin' Old Hag! Horrible famous scene in which Tommy (Richard Widmark, in his first movie) executes Ma Rizzo (Mildred Dunnock, neither old nor a hag) for not giving up her son, Henry Hathaway directing, in Kiss Of Death, 1947.
Tunnel Of Love, The (1958) - Class of '79 From credits establishing Westport, Connecticut and title song by the leading lady, Doris Day and Richard Widmark arrive home, greeted by neighbors Gig Young and Elisabeth Fraser, opening The Tunnel Of Love, 1958.
Night And The City (1950) - They're Hand-Dipped Hustler Harry (Richard Widmark) cruising London to the Silver Fox, where we meet his snarky employers Helen (Googie Withers), who's briefing new girls, and Phil (Francis L. Sullivan), early in Jules Dassin's celebrated Night And The City, 1950.
Long Ships, The (1964) - I'm No Dreamer The nervous Viking adventurer Rolfe (Richard Widmark), captured by Moorish Sheikh El Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) improvises an escape in The Long Ships, 1964.
Long Ships, The (1964) - To Lift The Curse Crafty Viking sea captain Rolfe (Richard Widmark) stages the sacrifice of a maiden to satisfy the rebellions Sven (Edward Judd) in The Long Ships, 1964.
Myra Breckinridge (1970) - Get Your Resum├Ęs Out First appearance by Mae West, brought out of retirement by a big payday and a contract that let her write her own dialogue and approve her wardrobe, as already-discussed Hollywood agent Leticia Van Allen, with Tom Selleck among her recruits, and clips with Richard Widmark in Kiss Of Death (1947) and Laurel & Hardy in Great Guns, 1941, from Myra Breckinridge, 1970, starring Raquel Welch, from the Gore Vidal novel.
Pickup On South Street (1953) - Come Back Right Away! Famous first scene in which Jean Peters and two FBI guys (Willis Bouchey, Jerry O'Sullivan) are among the straphangers, when pickpocket Richard Widmark appears, after which she calls Joey (Richard Kiley), in writer-director Samuel Fuller's Pickup On South Street, 1953.
Pickup On South Street - Tiger's Waiting Pickpocket Skip (Richard Widmark) returns to his waterfront hide-out, discovers he's scored some microfilm, and greets cops Winocki (Milburn Stone) and Mac (Henry Slate) in Samuel Fuller's Pickup On South Street, 1953.
Pickup On South Street (1953) - A Girl Makes Mistakes Writer-director Sam Fuller is all business as pickpocket Skip (Richard Widmark) revives Candy (Jean Peters), having knocked her out when she arrived at his waterfront shack to retrieve her wallet, in Pickup On South Street, 1953.

Trailer

To the Devil, a Daughter - (Original Trailer) An occult writer (Richard Widmark) fights to save a friend's daughter from Satanists in To The Devil, A Daughter (1976).
Pickup on South Street - (Original Trailer) A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) accidently steals microfilm from the purse of a Communist spy in Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953).
Rollercoaster - (Original Trailer) A terrorist spreads a climate of fear by attacking amusement parks across the U.S. in Rollercoaster (1977).
O. Henry's Full House - (Original Trailer) Five stories reveal O. Henry's gift for the surprise ending with the help of five directors and a host of stars in O. Henry's Full House (1952).
Alvarez Kelly - (Original Trailer) A suave Mexican cattleman (William Holden) inadvertently gets involved in the Civil War in Alvarez Kelly (1966) co-starring Richard Widmark.
Coma - (Original Trailer) A doctor (Genevieve Bujold) investigates a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at her hospital in Coma (1978).
Tunnel Of Love, The - (Original Trailer) A married couple endures endless red tape when they try to adopt a child in The Tunnel of Love (1958) starring Doris Day and Richard Widmark.
Cheyenne Autumn - (Original Trailer) A reluctant calvary Captain must track a defiant tribe of migrating Cheyennes in Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
Bedford Incident, The - (Original Trailer) A U.S. destroyer has a nuclear showdown with a Russian submarine in The Bedford Incident (1965) starring Sidney Poitier.
Alamo, The - (Original Trailer) Davey Crockett (John Wayne) and Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) join the fight for Texas' independence from Mexico in The Alamo (1960), a Western epic directed by John Wayne.
Murder on the Orient Express - (Original Trailer) Belgian detective Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a mysterious businessman on a train ride in Murder on the Orient Express (1974)starring Albert Finney.
Law and Jake Wade, The - (Original Trailer) An outlaw (Richard Widmark) forces his reformed buddy (Robert Taylor) to lead him to buried loot in The Law and Jake Wade (1958).

Family

Carl H Widmark
Father
Ethel Mae Widmark
Mother
Anne Heath Widmark
Daughter
Formerly married to baseball player Sandy Koufax.

Companions

Ora Jean Hazelwood
Wife
Actor, screenwriter. Married from April 5, 1942 until her death on March 2, 1997 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease.
Susan Blanchard
Wife
Married in September 1999 in Roxbury, Connecticut; formerly married to Henry Fonda.

Bibliography

"Richard Widmark: A Bio-Bibliography"
Kim Holston, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Awarded honorary doctor of fine arts degree by alma mater Lake Forest College in 1973.