Oscar Actors: Widmark, Richard–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage, Emmy)

Research in Progress (Jan 22, 2021)

Richard Widmark Career Summary

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: middle; father traveling salesman

Education: Lake Forest College

Training: Lake Forest College, acting major, 1936; age 22

Radio Debut: 1938; age 24

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut: 1943; age 29

Film Debut: Kiss of Death, 1947; age 34

TV Debut:

Oscar Award: Kiss of Death, Supp. Nom, 1947; age 34

Other Awards:

Last Film: True Colors, 1991; age 77

Career Span: 1947-1991=34 years

Career Output: over 60 films

Marriages: 2; first to screenwriter, 1942-1997 (55 years); then in 1999 to relative of Hammerstein

Politics: Democratic Party member

Death: 2008; age 93

Richard Weedt Widmark (December 26, 1914 – March 24, 2008) was an American film, stage, and television actor and producer.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the villainous Tommy Udo in his debut film, Kiss of Death (1947), for which he also won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer.

Early in his career, Widmark was typecast in villainous or anti-hero roles in films noir, but he later branched out into more heroic leading and supporting roles in Westerns, mainstream dramas, and horror films among others.

Widmark was born December 26, 1914 in Sunrise Township, Minnesota, the son of Ethel Mae and Carl Henry Widmark.  His father was of Swedish descent, and his mother was of English and Scottish ancestry. Widmark grew up in Princeton, Illinois, and lived in Henry, Illinois, moving frequently because of his father’s work as a traveling salesman.

He attended Lake Forest College, where he studied acting and taught acting after he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech in 1936.

Widmark made his debut as a radio actor in 1938 on Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories. In 1941 and 1942, he was heard daily on the Mutual Broadcasting System in the title role of the daytime serial Front Page Farrell, introduced each afternoon as “the exciting, unforgettable radio drama… the story of a crack newspaperman and his wife, the story of David and Sally Farrell.” Farrell was a top reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle. When the series moved to NBC, Widmark turned the role to Carleton G. Young and Staats Cotsworth.

During the 1940s, Widmark was also heard on network radio programs as Gang Busters, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Joyce Jordan, M.D., Molle Mystery Theater, Suspense, and Ethel and Albert.

In 1952, he portrayed Cincinnatus Shryock in an episode of Cavalcade of America titled “Adventure on the Kentucky.” He returned to radio drama decades later, performing on CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974–82), and was also one of the five hosts on Sears Radio Theater from 1979–81.

Widmark appeared on Broadway in 1943 in F. Hugh Herbert’s “Kiss and Tell” and in William Saroyan’s “Get Away Old Man,” directed by George Abbott, which ran for 13 performances. He was unable to join the military during World War II because of a perforated eardrum.

He was in Chicago appearing in a stage production of Dream Girl with June Havoc when 20th Century Fox signed him to a seven-year contract.

Kiss of Death

Widmark’s first movie appearance was in Kiss of Death (1947), as the giggling, sociopathic villain Tommy Udo. In his most notorious scene, Udo pushed a woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs to her death. Widmark was almost not cast. He said, “The director, Henry Hathaway, didn’t want me. I have a high forehead; he thought I looked too intellectual.” Hathaway was overruled by studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck. “Hathaway gave me kind of a bad time,” recalled Widmark. Kiss of Death was a commercial and critical success: Widmark won the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actor, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Widmark followed with other villainous performances in The Street with No Name, Road House, and the Western Yellow Sky (all 1948), the latter film with Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter. Another standout villainous role was in the racial melodrama “No Way Out” (1950), with Sidney Poitier in his film debut. Widmark and Poitier became good friends and worked in several films together in later years.

Widmark played heroic roles in films, including Down to the Sea in Ships, Slattery’s Hurricane (both 1949), and Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (1950). He also featured in Halls of Montezuma (1951) and Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) (with Marilyn Monroe), and appeared in two films for director Samuel Fuller: Pickup on South Street (1953) and Hell and High Water (1954).

Successful films included The Tunnel of Love (1959) with Doris Day, the Westerns Warlock (also 1959) with Henry Fonda, and John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), the courtroom drama Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and reuniting with Sidney Poitier in the adventure The Long Ships (1964).

Widmark produced and starred in the films Time Limit (1957), The Secret Ways (1961) — based on a novel by Alistair MacLean, which Widmark also directed (uncredited) due to clashes with original director Phil Karlson’s proposed tongue-in-cheek direction of the screenplay–and The Bedford Incident (1965), his third film with Sidney Poitier and loosely based on the Herman Melville novel Moby Dick.

Widmark began to drift into supporting roles during the 1970s. He was part of an all-star cast in the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express (playing the murder victim), the 1977 film Rollercoaster (as an FBI agent), and The Swarm (1978). He had a prominent supporting role in Michael Crichton’s Coma (also 1978), with Geneviève Bujold and Michael Douglas.

Widmark appeared with Sidney Poitier who directed him in the comedy Hanky Panky (1982), with Gene Wilder. He also featured in the political thriller Who Dares Wins (also 1982), and Against All Odds (1984), with Jeff Bridges and James Woods.

Widmark appeared in more than 60 films during his career, and he made his final film appearance in the 1991 drama True Colors.

In an interview with Michael Shelden in 2002, Widmark complained that “movie-making has lost a lot of its magic”. He thought it had become “mostly a mechanical process…All they want to do is move the camera around like it was on a rollercoaster. A great director like John Ford knew how to handle it. Ford didn’t move the camera, he moved the people.”

Widmark was a mystery guest on the CBS quiz show What’s My Line? in 1954. In 1955, he made a rare foray into comedy on I Love Lucy, portraying himself when a starstruck Lucy trespasses onto his property to steal a souvenir. Widmark finds Lucy sprawled out on his living room floor underneath a bearskin rug.

Series Wins Emmy

Returning to television in the early 1970s, Widmark received an Emmy nomination for his performance as Paul Roudebush, the president of the US, in the TV movie Vanished! (1971), a Fletcher Knebel political thriller. In 1972, he reprised his detective role from Don Siegel’s Madigan (1968) with six 90-minute episodes on the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie. He participated in a mini-series about Benjamin Franklin, in 1974, which was an experiment of four 90-minute dramas, each with a different actor impersonating Franklin: Widmark, Beau Bridges, Eddie Albert, Melvyn Douglas, and Willie Aames who portrayed Franklin at age 12. The series won a Peabody Award and five Emmys. During the 1980s, Widmark returned to TV with a half-dozen TV movies.

Widmark was married to screenwriter Jean Hazlewood from 1942 until her death in 1997. They had a daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, an artist and author.

In 1999, Widmark married Susan Blanchard, the daughter of Dorothy Hammerstein and stepdaughter of Oscar Hammerstein II; she had been Henry Fonda’s third wife.

Retiring in 2001 (age 77), Widmark died after a long illness on March 24, 2008 at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut at the age of 93. Widmark’s failing health was aggravated by a fall he suffered in 2007.