Bud Cort


Actor
Bud Cort

About

Also Known As
Walter Edward Cox
Birth Place
Rye, New York, USA
Born
March 29, 1948

Biography

Branded as Hollywood's preeminent manchild after playing misunderstood youths in Robert Altman's "Brewster McCloud" (1971) and Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude" (1971), Bud Cort found it difficult to find steady work as an actor when the film industry homogenized mid-decade. Sidelined by traumatic injuries suffered in a 1979 automobile accident, the former mentee of Groucho Marx turned to c...

Notes

On "Harold and Maude", Cort told Scott Collins of the Los Angeles Times (August 25, 1996): "It was a blessing and a curse. It closed a lot of doors in terms of my development as an actor, but on the other hand, it gave me the cachet to walk in a lot more doors than I would have been able to had I not made it."

Biography

Branded as Hollywood's preeminent manchild after playing misunderstood youths in Robert Altman's "Brewster McCloud" (1971) and Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude" (1971), Bud Cort found it difficult to find steady work as an actor when the film industry homogenized mid-decade. Sidelined by traumatic injuries suffered in a 1979 automobile accident, the former mentee of Groucho Marx turned to character work at home and abroad. In addition to contributing memorable supporting roles to Amy Jones' "Love Letters" (1983), Andre Konchalovskiy's "Maria's Lovers" (1984) and Tobe Hooper's 1986 remake of the sci-fi classic "Invaders from Mars," Cort was called upon to play the occasional lead in such offbeat projects as "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" (1984) and "Bates Motel" (1987), a pilot for a proposed NBC series based on Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). More than a decade after his film debut, one of the actor's more prominent film appearances found him shunted out of the frame entirely as the voice for a lovelorn computer pining for cellist Virginia Madsen in the CD-rom-com "Electric Dreams" (1984). Seen later in his career in diverse roles in Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995), Kevin Smith's "Dogma" (1999) and Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004), Cort proved himself to be the unlikeliest of Hollywood survivors and a rare juvenile performer able to transition successfully to mature roles.

Bud Cort was born Walter Edward Cox in New Rochelle, NY on March 29, 1948. Raised with his four siblings in the nearby town of Rye, where his parents ran a clothing store, Cort was influenced by his father's interests in art and music. A child protégé who won commissions to paint portraits before he had reached his teenage years, Cort became interested early on in a career as an actor. By age 14, he was commuting into Manhattan to study the craft with renowned coach William Hickey at HB Studios in Greenwich Village. Following his graduation from New Rochelle's Iona Preparatory School, Cort applied to New York University, where he later enrolled as a scenic design major. Continuing his study of acting off-campus, Cort performed in a number of musical and comedy revues while winning bit parts in such films as Warner Brothers' "Up the Down Staircase" (1967) and Universal's "Sweet Charity" (1968). Discovered by film director Robert Altman, Cort was slotted into the ensemble of the auteur filmmaker's Korean War satire "M*A*S*H" (1970), in a memorable bit as a wide-eyed Army private who bungles his duties during emergency surgery. In short order, the fledgling actor racked up a number of memorable roles on both coasts, in Stuart Hagmann's campus protest drama "The Strawberry Statement" (1970), in Roger Corman's apocalyptic fantasy "Gas-s-s-s: Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It" (1970), and in Jack Smight's bizarre capital punishment comedy "The Traveling Executioner" (1970), for which Cort received third billing after stars Stacy Keach and Mariana Hill. Though the latter role offered Cort's his widest potential national exposure, the MGM release's failure at the box office made it a negligible résumé-builder.

Cort fared better when Robert Altman called upon him to be the star of "Brewster McCloud" (1971). A quirky independent comedy that helped define the renegade spirit of the New Hollywood of the early-to-mid 1970s, "Brewster McCloud" foregrounded Cort as a reclusive genius who lives in a fallout shelter beneath the Houston Astrodome. Part fish-out-of-water tale, part murder mystery, the film was crammed, in true Altman fashion, with a score of outsized characters but Cort remained the centerpiece and his intentionally awkward but endearing performance made him Hollywood's go-to young weirdo. That characterization was minted when he was cast opposite elderly actress Ruth Gordon in Hal Ashby's "Harold and Maude" (1971), as a morbid young man who falls in love with a senior citizen. The film drew early negative notices from the critics, prompting the studio to pull the film from wide release. The feature did better in university cities such as New York and Boston, where word of mouth turned it into a bona fide cult movie which ran for years on the repertory circuit. In real life, Cort moved to Los Angeles and developed a strong, if strictly platonic, relationship with another feisty senior citizen - Groucho Marx, who at the time had suffered a debilitating stroke. Marx and Cort shared the same analyst in Los Angeles and Marx eventually invited the young actor to share his Bel-Air home. When Marx died from complications of pneumonia in 1977, Cort was at his side.

Cort's popularity with cult film aficionados came at the price of reduced value in Hollywood. He spent two years working as a juice-maker in a health food store on the Sunset Strip and when he made the decision to return to acting he found he had to travel for work - to Italy for a role as a college student involved in the drug trade in "Hallucination Strip" (1975), to Canada to play a Depression era frontier school teacher in "Why Shoot the Teacher?" (1977), and to Germany for "Son of Hitler" (1978), to play the presumed heir of the late Fuhrer. On TV, Cort appeared in the NBC miniseries "Brave New World" (1980), based on the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley. After a June 1979 automobile accident in which he suffered a fractured skull, traumatic facial lacerations and the loss of several teeth derailed Cort's career for a year and a half. While Cort underwent physical therapy and follow-up surgeries, producer Jon Peters pushed back the start date of a film in which Cort had been cast before his accident, providing the ailing actor with a much-needed paycheck. Cast as a villain in the screwball comedy "Die Laughing" (1980), Cort was able to use his facial deformity to his advantage but subsequent film offers were few and far between. Turning to television, he played a man coping with disfigurement in a 1982 episode of the syndicated religious series "Insight" (1960-1984). A decade after their first onscreen pairing, Cort reunited with his "Brewster McCloud" co-star Shelly Duvall for two episodes of "Faerie Tale Theatre" (1982-1987), an anthology series broadcast by the cable channel Showtime.

Hiding his scars behind the bangs of a New Wave haircut, Cort contributed a cameo to "Love Letters" (1983), starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and wore a beard for the title role in "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" (1984), filmed in Yugoslavia. He provided the voice of a capricious home computer who develops strong personal feelings for symphony cellist Virginia Madsen in MGM's "Electric Dreams" (1984) and popped up in Andre Konchalovskiy's post-WWII drama "Maria's Lovers" (1984), providing support to stars Nastassja Kinski, John Savage, Keith Carradine and Robert Mitchum. Pushing 40 years of age, Cort segued to character parts in Tobe Hooper's "Invaders from Mars" (1986) remake and in John Moffitt's historical satire "Love at Stake" (1987) but played a rare leading role in "Bates Motel" (1987), the unsold pilot for a proposed NBC series based on Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film "Psycho" (1960). In 1991, Cort directed the offbeat romance "Ted & Venus," whose supporting cast consisted of Woody Harrelson, James Brolin and LSD guru Timothy Leary. Memorable assignments in features included an uncredited bit as a nasty diner manager in Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995), roles in Kevin Smith's "Dogma" (1999), Wim Wenders' "The Million Dollar Hotel" (2000), and Ed Harris' "Pollock" (2000), and an extended turn as explorer Bill Murray's long-suffering business manager in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004), directed by Wes Anderson. Cort provided additional unbilled cameos to the Jim Carrey vehicle "The Number 23" (2007), appearing onscreen barely long enough to slit his own throat, and to Mitch Glazer's "Passion Play" (2010), alongside Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray.

By Richard Harland Smith

Life Events

1967

Made first film appearance (as an extra) in "Up the Down Staircase"

1969

Performed comedy at Village Gate in NY; Performed in "Free Fall" at Upstairs at the Downstairs"

1969

Made TV debut in an episode of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"

1970

Acted in five films, including Robert Altman's "M*A*S*H" and "Brewster McCloud" and Roger Corman's "Gasss"

1971

Had breakthrough role in "Harold and Maude"

1972

Made Broadway debut in "Wise Child" at Helen Hayes Theatre

1979

Was seriously injured in an automobile accident

1980

Made TV movie debut as Bernard Marx in adaptation of "Brave New World"

1987

Starred as Alex West in "Bates Motel" for NBC

1991

Directed, starred in, and co-wrote, "Ted and Venus"

1999

Acted in "Dogma", a film directed by Kevin Smith, which Starred Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

2000

Portrayed Howard Putzel, Jackson Pollock's agent in the film "Pollock"

2003

Acted in the comedy "The Big Empty"

2004

Cast in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" helmed by Wes Anderson

Videos

Movie Clip

M*A*S*H (1970) - Open, Suicide Is Painless The opening from Robert Altman, including the rarely-heard lyric from the song, which became the TV title theme, which made writer Mike Altman (the director’s son) rich, and a brief introduction of Colonel Blake (Roger Bowen) and Radar (Gary Burghoff), from M*A*S*H, 1970,
Brewster McCloud (1970) - Welcome To The Astrodome First appearance of Shelley Duvall, in her debut as tour-guide Suzanne, also Bud Cort (title character), trench-coated Louise (Sally Kellerman) and image-conscious cop Shaft (Michael Murphy), in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud, 1970.
Brewster McCloud (1970) - Did You See That Grenade? Bud Cort (title character) is the driver for the 120-year-old flying ace Abraham Wright (Stacy Keach Jr.), scurrying around collecting rent from his chain of Houston nursing homes, in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud, 1970.
Harold And Maude (1971) - In Sight Of My Adversaries Having just told his psychiatrist about his funeral-going habit, we join Harold (Bud Cort) getting some new wheels, and attending his first, where he sees Maude (Ruth Gordon) for the first time, and his mother expresses further disapproval, early in Hal Ashby’s Harold And Maude, 1971.
Harold And Maude (1971) - Like Some Licorice? Director Hal Ashby shooting on location this time in Palo Alto, Harold (Bud Cort) for the second time encounters Maude (Ruth Gordon) attending a funeral to which neither of them has any connection, Eric Christmas the baffled priest, in Harold And Maude, 1971.
Harold And Maude (1971) - Snowfall On 42nd Street For the first time Harold (Bud Cort) seeks out Maude (Ruth Gordon) who’s invited him to visit, and she’s posing for sculptor Glaucus (Cyril Cusack), then demonstrates her scent simulator, Hal Ashby directing from Colin Higgins’ original screenplay, in Harold And Maude, 1971.
Harold And Maude (1971) - A Definite Pattern Emerging After director Hal Ashby and writer Colin Higgins’ elaborate fake suicide staged by Harold (Bud Cort) for his mom (Vivian Pickles) in the opening, she explains for dinner guests, and he visits the shrink (G. Wood), in Harold And Maude, 1971, also starring Ruth Gordon.
Harold And Maude (1971) - This Is My Car Shooting this time at the Holy Cross cemetery in Colma, near San Francisco, Harold (Bud Cort) meets Maude (Ruth Gordon) for the third time, as spectators at a funeral, Eric Christmas the priest again, Cat Stevens with his composition “Tea For The Tillerman,” in Hal Ashby’s Harold And Maude, 1971.
M*A*S*H (1970) - You Killed Him The original condition of the patient is not altogether clear, but Major Burns (Robert Duvall) cruelly blames Boone (Bud Cort) for his death, causing Trapper (Elliott Gould) to retaliate, just as Col. Blake (Roger Bowen) is orienting Major Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, 1970.
Strawberry Statement, The - Open, Circle Game After an opening scene, Buffy Sainte-Marie's bouncy recording of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" in the credit sequence from the political comic-drama The Strawberry Statement, 1970, starring Bruce Davison and Kim Darby.

Trailer

Family

Joseph Parker Cox
Father
Pianist, merchant. Suffered with multiple sclerosis.
Alma May Cox
Mother
Reporter, merchant. Worked as a publicist for MGM.

Bibliography

Notes

On "Harold and Maude", Cort told Scott Collins of the Los Angeles Times (August 25, 1996): "It was a blessing and a curse. It closed a lot of doors in terms of my development as an actor, but on the other hand, it gave me the cachet to walk in a lot more doors than I would have been able to had I not made it."