Charles Durning

Active - 1965 - 2017  |   Born - Feb 28, 1923 in Highland Falls, New York, United States  |   Died - Dec 24, 2012   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Crime, Thriller, Children's/Family

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Before he became an actor, Charles Durning, the son of an Army man, continued in his father's footsteps with valor and distinction, earning a silver star and purple heart in World War II. Durning held down several "joe jobs" -- iron worker, elevator operator, cabbie, waiter, and dance instructor -- until turning to acting in the late 1950s. Fresh from the national tour of The Andersonville Trial, Durning began his long association with Joseph Papp in 1962, distinguishing himself in Shakespearean roles. He made his earliest film appearance in Ernest Pintoff's Harvey Middleman, Fireman (1965). Durning's film roles increased in size and importance after his interpretation of a crooked cop in the Oscar-winning The Sting (1973). He went on to appear in several Burt Reynolds films, most memorably as the singing governor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). That performance landed him an Oscar nomination, as did his spin on "Concentration Camp" Erhardt in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not to Be.

In 1975, Durning was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of ulcerated police lieutenant Moretti in the theatrical feature Dog Day Afternoon (1975); he finally won that award 15 years later for his work as "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in the TV miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. Other notable film roles to his credit include Peter Stockmann in the Steve McQueen-produced An Enemy of the People (1978), Dustin Hoffman's "suitor" in the cross-dressing classic Tootsie (1982) (he later co-starred with Hoffman in the 1984 stage revival of Death of a Salesman), and the foredoomed Waring Hudsucker in the Coen Brothers' Hudsucker Proxy (1994).

On television, Durning played Lt. Gil McGowan on the daytime soap Another World, officer Frank Murphy in The Cop and the Kid (1975), Big Ed Healey in Captains and the Kings (1976), Studs' dad in Studs Lonigan (1979), private-eye Oscar Poole in Eye to Eye (1985), the title character in PBS' I Would Be Called John: Pope John XXIII (1987), crooked industrialist Dan Packard (the old Wallace Beery role) in Dinner at Eight (1989), and Dr. Harrlan Eldridge in the Burt Reynolds TV vehicle Evening Shade (1990-1994), an assignment which afforded the far-from-sylph-like Durning his first nude scene.

While his television and film career have continued to be prolific, Durning has also continued to earn acclaim for his stage work. In 1990, he won a Tony Award for his performance as Big Daddy in the Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

He continued to work steadily well into his seventies in a variety of projects including Jodie Foster's dysfunctional family comedy/drama Home for the Holidays, the absurd comedy Spy Hard, and Jerry and Tom. At the beginning of the 20th century he reteamed with the Coen Brothers for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and was part of the impressive ensemble in David Mamet's State and Main. He was also part of the original cast of the firefighter drama series Rescue Me. Durning died at age 89 in late December 2012, two months before his 90th birthday.

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  • Left home at 16.
  • Enlisted in the Army and landed on Normandy on D-Day; also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his combat duty.
  • Before embarking on an acting career, worked as an usher in a burlesque house and taught ballroom dancing.
  • Trained alongside Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst and Grace Kelly at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
  • Is a former boxer.
  • Married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Anne Amelio.
  • Played Santa Claus at least five times in films.
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.