Wednesday 26 December 2012

Charles Durning: 1923-2012

Charles Durning was an American actor who appeared in over 200 films and TV shows. He was born in Highland Falls, New York, the second youngest of five children. His mother was a laundress at West Point, and his father was an Irish immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship by joining the army.

Durning served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Heart medals. He participated in the Normandy Landings on D-Day, being among the first troops to land at Omaha Beach. Durning was wounded, transported back in England, recovered, and arrived back at the front in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge.

He got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The school dismissed him within a year, and he went from job to job, from doorman to dishwasher to cabdriver. He boxed professionally for a time, delivered telegrams and taught ballroom dancing. Every so often he landed a bit part in a play.

His big break came in 1962, when the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, invited him to audition. It was the start of a long association, in which he was cast, often as a clown, in 35 plays. His big break with the movies came when he was cast in The Sting.

He died of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan. Durning and his first wife had three children before divorcing in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Amelio. He is survived by his children, Michele, Douglas and Jeannine.

The Sting (1973)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Tootsie (1982)
Dick Tracy (1990)
State and Main (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
To close, here's Charles Durning speaking at a National Memorial Day Concert in 2007. (Tom Hanks goes first and sets the scene.) 


Ed Love said...

I remember him best from his wonderful bit part in Tootsie. Still one of my favourite films!

Unknown said...

He must have been watching with close attention to be bumped from bouncer to comedian. It just goes to show, be ready for any opportunity.