George Kennedy Gone at 91: They Don’t Make em Like That Anymore

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.

Still from the film The Dirty Dozen

George Kennedy’s death at 91 means that another one of those iconic legends that I and millions of others grew up watching on television (Saturday Night at the Movies) and later on the big screen is gone.  While it is a trite phrase, often overused, suffice to say that in Kennedy’s case, they really do not make em like that anymore.

The last film George Harris Kennedy worked on was the abysmal Mark Wahlberg remake of The Gambler. Watching the film’s screener for review I was shocked to see how old the Cool Hand Luke actor appeared. In my mind he was ageless.

The first time I ever saw Kennedy on screen was in the film The Sons of Katie Elder. He played the surly gunsel hired to “take care” of John Elder (Duke Wayne) and the huge man first meets Duke’s character as he plunges the town’s undertaker’s head repeatedly into a barrel of water. Curly’s high-pitched “piggy” giggle as he almost drowns the man is interrupted with John Elder’s shouted, “Hey” and an pickaxe handle in the face.

This scene was iconic enough that is has been repeated in other films, even Gremlins has  Zach Galligan’s character re-enact the scene but with a  sword.

The Sons of Katie Elder moment was not an isolated incident. Kennedy played characters whose actions stood out in films, whether they were award winning movies like Cool Hand Luke, or more pedestrian fare like Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (where Kennedy’s character rather nastily beats a young Lightfoot (Lloyd Bridges) so badly that the boy dies a lingering death), Kennedy was one of those actors who stood out.

George Kennedy could play comedy, as proven in his turns in the Naked Gun franchise as well as menacing bad men. He was equally at home as bluff good guys, snotty bad guys or  the “last” slave to shout “I am Spartacus,” in the 1960 film, Kennedy brought a truth and believability to all his roles.

The New York born son of a ballet dancer and musician/orchestra leader was equally home in any genre playing any role.  Regardless of the budget or the part, the Oscar winning actor made you believe him.

The cigar chomping airport savior, Patroni,  who clears off the snow in the 1970 film Airport where he shared screen credits with Dean Martin but not screen time.  He worked with Dino before  in Bandolero! as the lovesick sheriff July Johnson who chases Martin through Mexico.

Throughout a career that began in 1956 (The Phil Silvers Show) and ended with the 2014 film The Gambler the actor played cops, soldiers, murderers, heroes, convicts, and all manner of roles across the board.  Watching Kennedy accept his Oscar for Cool Hand Luke, one can see the innate gentleness on his face and in his voice, a trait that caused people to all him the nicest man in Hollywood.

Watching any of Kennedy’s performances is a lesson is acting and reacting. The actor could  convey a myriad of emotions with his eyes and face alone, dialogue was not required for this character actor to convince the viewer of his character’s veracity.

I was actually surprised into tears at the news of Kennedy’s passing. He was a firm favorite, and not just from the many westerns watched all those years ago on Saturday night television,  one who could always be counted upon to stand out and make his performance memorable, regardless of the film’s budget.

George Kennedy (1925 – 2016) a huge man whose six-foot four-inch frame was dwarfed by his ability to make us believe completely in his characters actions on screen big and small. They really do not “make em like that” anymore.

Polly Bergen From Martin & Lewis to ‘The Sopranos’ a Remarkable Life Ends

Polly Bergen From Martin & Lewis to ‘The Sopranos’ a Remarkable Life Ends

Polly Bergen, the award winning actress whose career went from Martin & Lewis to The Sopranos and beyond, ended a remarkable life at age 84 on Saturday according to her publicist. The multi-talented performer worked in show business for over six decades with her first gig being on the radio at the age of 14. Bergen died in her home surrounded by those she was close to, her friends, family and manager.

Twitter Teens Changing the Application?

Twitter Teens Changing the Application?

According to many media sites teens are leaving their prior social application of choice, Facebook, and signing up to Twitter, with the possible result of changing the face of their new networking site. Proof that the micro blogging site is undergoing a certain amount of evolutionary change is apparent from reading the news or Twitter.

Jonah Hill and His Driving Miss Daisy Deal

Jonah Hill and His Driving Miss Daisy Deal

Jonah Hill is having a Driving Miss Daisy deal, just without Morgan Freeman or Jessica Tandy. Admittedly, the story sounds great at first. 30 year-old actor/writer/comedian is so desperate to work with the legendary Martin Scorsese, and Leonardo DiCaprio, that he agrees to work for scale. After taking a huge cut to his salary, he is then rewarded with an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Something Big: Something We All Want?

Something Big: Something We All Want

I ordered the DVD for Dean Martin’s Something Big film after realising that I did not have a copy already and that I had not seen it for ages. I love the film, or more accurately, I love the theme of the film. It goes without saying that this would be a personal favourite. I am, and always will be, a Dean Martin fanboy. But this lackadaisical western cross of comedy/action has always appealed to me. Something big? You bet, isn’t that something that we all want?

In the film Dean plays Joe Baker, a man who went west to find fame and fortune. He left Pennsylvania and his fiancée behind and planned to make something of himself in a self allocated time period of two years. In the film, his two years have stretched to four and his fiancée, Dover McBride has told Joe his time is up.

Baker now has to hurry up and do his something big before he has to leave and marry the woman he loves.

I suppose the film struck a chord with me because in some ways it inadvertently paralleled my own life.  And I think that it could resonate with a lot of people.

If you take away the sexist tone of the film – the movie places all women in the category of sexual objects of desire/lust – and look at the plot line, you realise it is about dreaming. It is also about chasing that dream. Dean’s character is a dreamer and his fiancée is not. There is a scene once she arrives in the west where she confronts her fiancé and tells him about when The Wild West Show came through her  village in Scotland.

Her point was that the whole show was make-believe and that Baker was not the big star, or The Wild West Show, he was just a man who wasn’t about all that “bigger than life” malarkey. But this is a movie and Martin’s character does do his something big, albeit, after murdering an entire Mexican bandit gang with a gatling gun; something that critics moaned about when the film opened in 1971. But the point is that Baker did something we all want. Not wholesale murder and plunder, but something big.

People dream. At least normal people do. We all have dreams and aspirations. It is in our genetic makeup. For a lot of people their dreams die when they grow up, or their dreams change. Instead of becoming rich and famous or a variation of same, they become married with children. Their dreams then mature and become more about looking out for their family and children. They when they are older, they dream of retiring with enough money to last their autumn years.

I have always been a sort of Peter Pan kind of guy. My dreams were always the same. I wanted to be a respected writer and actor. That was it. Of course there were variations on the dream, but it never strayed too far from the original desire. Even after being married twice and having two children, events that did spawn a new set of dreams, I never lost that wish to be a man of words or imagination.

Neither of my wives liked my dreams. My first wife did support it. At first. But when living in Southern California, the reality of my pursuit became too much for my first wife and she threw down the gauntlet. I had to choose between her and my dream. Foolishly, I chose her.

Mistake.

Something Big; Something We All Want
There will always be someone ready to knock your dreams down.

We divorced four years later after bringing my son into the world. I wasn’t very good at “real life” and this sped our disintegrating marriage to its bitter conclusion. After a few years of solitary misery, I then married again.

To be fair, my second wife did not realise the depth of my desire to be a scribe and artist. When I actively worked to be both, I received an intervention session or two from her. “People like us don’t do those types of jobs,” was how the intervention began. Her point was really that people like her did not do those type of jobs.  Knowing now that she was a passive aggressive, I doubt that she ever really believed that. It was just a way of keeping me reliant upon her for my happiness.

Years later when her efforts to destroy any chance I had at working in my chosen profession reached fruition and I lost my agent,  I was suicidal. The day I got my last communiqué from my agent/manager, a part of me died. So did my marriage. I stuck with it for a long time after because of our daughter, but the relationship had been irrevocably severed.

My dreams, as a result, died too. I turned my back on the two things that had always pleased me and fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could. Sure, I could take pride in both of my children and at how well they were turning out, but  my something big, had disappeared. Just as the “real me” had vanished.

We all want to do something big. What that thing is, varies from person to person. It is an individual wish and dream. I’ve gotten more second chances than any one man should. Last year I was given the ultimate second chance. Now I’m trying to fit my old, slightly refined, dreams into my remaining years.

I am working as a professional writer and I worked as an actor in  my first professional film in years. When I am not agonising over my financial situation, I am marvelling at the direction my life has taken. I’m also waiting excitedly for my “showreel” so I can start auditioning for more film roles.

At the end of the film Something Big, Dean Martin’s character rides off into the sunset with the girl and you know that if the two do get married, his dreams are over. He will fit back into the mendacity of everyday life and his wife will make sure of it. She doesn’t want The Wild West Show, which means that she’ll make sure her husband does not either.

I have been blessed in so many ways after my last few tumultuous years. I’ve met people who have literally changed my life. DiMarkco Chandler co-owner and co-founder of the Las Vegas Guardian Express; Natasha Harmer, who put me in her film; Marilyn Armstrong and her wonderful husband Garry, and so many other WordPress pals, that to express my gratitude to all of them would make up the world’s longest blog post.

Sorry, I did not mean to go into yet another long-winded thank you. My point was and this is the last thing I’ll say on it, I promise, Something Big, could be the story of my life, or yours. Isn’t that something we all want? Something big or some huge defining thing that has our name all over it? Whether your something big is having children or owning your own house. What ever that dream is, don’t forget it or give up on it. Your something big is too important to give up.

By Michael SmithDreaming Big for Something Big

United Kingdom

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