Whitmore James: Oscar-Nominated Actor Dies at 87

James Whitmore, the veteran Tony and Emmy-winning actor who played such American  icons as Will Rogers, Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt, died Friday, Feb 6, at age 87.

Whitmore died of lung cancer at his home in Malibu; he was diagnosed with the disease a week before Thanksgiving.

James Arness, who appeared with Whitmore in “Battleground” and “Them!,” said Whitmore was “an actor's actor,” adding that “it was always a treat to work with him.” Arness also remembered the “great intensity” Whitmore could bring to a role.  Arness in “Gunsmoke,” a TV series that Whitmore appeared on a number of times.

A World War II Marine Corps veteran, Whitmore earned early acclaim as an actor. In 1948, he won a Tony Award for a performance by a newcomer in the role of an amusingly cynical Army Air Forces sergeant in the Broadway production of “Command Decision.” Whitmore's stage success brought him to Hollywood, where he received an Oscar Award nomination for Supporting Actor in his second movie, the1949 WWII drama “Battleground,” in which he played a tobacco-chewing, battle-weary Army sergeant.

Supporting roles and occasional leads in some 50 movies followed, including “The Asphalt Jungle,” “Them!,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Battle Cry,” “Oklahoma!,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” “The Serpent's Egg,” “Nuts,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Majestic.”

A frequent guest actor on television, Whitmore also starred in three series: the 1960-62 legal drama “The Law and Mr. Jones,” the 1969 detective drama “My Friend Tony” and the 1972-74 hospital sitcom “Temperatures Rising.”

In 2000, Whitmore won an Emmy as outstanding guest actor in a drama series for “The Practice,” and in 2003, he received an Emmy nomination for “Mister Sterling.”

Whitmore also known to TV viewers as the longtime commercial pitchman for Miracle-Gro garden products. Whitmore was best known for his three one-man shows: as Truman in “Give 'em Hell, Harry!,” as Roosevelt in “Bully” and as Rogers in “Will Rogers' U.S.A.” The 1975 film of his performance in “Give 'em Hell, Harry!” earned Whitmore a best actor Oscar nomination.