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Bruce Dern Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trade Mark (4) | Trivia (22) | Personal Quotes (21)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 4 June 1936Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birth NameBruce MacLeish Dern
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Bruce Dern was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jean (MacLeish) and John Dern, an attorney and utility chief. His paternal grandfather, George Henry Dern, served as Governor of Utah (1925-1933) and then U.S. Secretary of War (1933-1936). His ancestry includes German, English, Scottish, and Dutch.

Bruce Dern had established himself as the movies' premier heavy, playing sociopaths, psychotics and just plain criminals by the time he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Coming Home (1978). Some perceptive critics had noted that Dern was a finer actor than his roles generally allowed one to believe, repelled as one was by the neurotic persona that Dern was able to project and that casting directors capitalized on.

Jack Nicholson, a close friend, claimed that Dern was the best of the new breed of actors who had been born just before World War II and were coming into their own in the 1970s. Unlike his screen image, Dern had come from a patrician background: his grandfather had been governor of Utah and a secretary of war under Franklin D. Roosevelt. When allowed to step out of his on-screen persona to assay the millionaire Tom Buchanan in the 1974 remake of The Great Gatsby (1974), he acquitted himself quite well.

Some critics said that "Gatsby" would have been better if Dern rather than Robert Redford had played the title role. Others pointed to his fine work as Nicholson's brother in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) to establish a case that he was an underappreciated and underutilized talent. By the time Dern appeared as the cuckolded Marine in "Coming Home," a consensus had emerged that Dern was a fine actor. He won an Oscar nod for the role, then fell victim to the infamous "Oscar curse" that has claimed other winners, most famously in the case of 1969 Best Supporting Actor winner Gig Young, Dern's co-star in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969).

Dern, like Young before him, was determined to break out of supporting roles. Like Young, who had been cast repeatedly as a light comedian in his career, Dern had also become typecast, but as a psycho, surpassing even Anthony Perkins in those types of roles. Dern was determined to break out of the ghetto he had found himself in before "Coming Home." He failed, and his career suffered.

Up through his Oscar nomination, Dern had starred in 26 films in 11 years since graduating to steady employment in A-pictures with Waterhole #3 (1967). After the 1979 Oscar nod, he would appear in only a dozen feature films in the next 11 years, not counting TV movies. None of them brought him stardom or much acclaim, and his attempt at becoming a lead man, Middle Age Crazy (1980), flopped badly (he did received a nomination for Best Performance by a Foreign Actor at the 1981 Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars, for his work in that picture). It was back to psychos, this time as a lead, in Tattoo (1981). The movie proved to be another flop, and his reputation was further damaged when he bragged that he had actually performed on-screen sexual intercourse with co-star Maud Adams, a boast that Adams heatedly denied. Dern's star was seriously dimmed.

Although he landed a coveted role in the film adaptation of Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play That Championship Season (1982), the film was a disappointment with critics and at the box office. He turned in a fine performance three years later in the TV movie Toughlove (1985), but overall, his career was floundering.

Another psycho role, that of Uncle Bud in After Dark, My Sweet (1990), started buzz about another possible Best Supporting Oscar nod for him, but the film proved a box-office bust and the nomination never materialized. A predicted career renaissance for Dern faded, just as the careers of his ex-wife, Diane Ladd, and their daughter, Laura Dern, kicked into high gear.

Since the 1990 high point of the second wave of his career, Dern has stayed steadily employed, but has never again generated much critical acclaim, nor made any inroads towards reclaiming his crown as the cinema's premier sociopath. A fine actor, who will be remembered most vividly for such psycho/killer roles such as the rustler leader who gunned down John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972), Dern's career serves as a cautionary tale for those actors who try to escape the ghetto of typecasting. While nothing restricts an actor's artistic development as much as typecasting, unless like a Duke Wayne they can turn that type into superstardom, trying to break out of the type can prove to be career suicide.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (3)

Andrea Beckett (20 October 1969 - present)
Diane Ladd (1960 - 1969) (divorced) (2 children)
Marie Dawn Pierce (7 September 1957 - 1959) (divorced)

Trade Mark (4)

Often works with Roger Corman
Often appears in western movies, usually as henchmen or killers
Often plays villainous or psychotic characters
Curly hair

Trivia (22)

Alumnus of New Trier Township High School East, Winnetka, Illinois. Other New Trier graduates include Ralph Bellamy, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Hugh B. O'Brien, Ann-Margret, Penelope Milford, Virginia Madsen and Liz Phair.
Born at 3:11am-CDT
One of the few actors to have killed John Wayne on screen (The Cowboys (1972)). He even received some death threats out of it.
He had two daughters by Diane Ladd. His eldest daughter, born in 1961, accidentally drowned at 18 months of age, years before his second child, Laura Dern, was born in 1967.
His grandfather was George Dern, former Governor of Utah & President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first Secretary of War. His father was a law partner with Adlai Stevenson and his brother in Chicago.
Nephew of poet Archibald Macleish.
Grandfather of Ellery Walker Harper & Jaya Harper.
Father-in-law of (musician) Ben Harper.
Eleanor Roosevelt was his babysitter.
He has German, English, Scottish, and Dutch ancestry.
An avid runner and ultra-marathoner, having run many 50 mile races.
Was a competitive middle distance runner at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dern is a supporter of Chelsea Football Club.
Received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6270 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on November 1, 2010.
Seventeen years after daughter Laura Dern starred in Alexander Payne's first major film Citizen Ruth (1996), Bruce starred in Payne's Nebraska (2013)-- probably one of the few, if only, times in movie history that a father-daughter duo similarly starred in the same director's films, especially with the actress/daughter's performance preceding her actor/father's.
Release of his book, "Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have: An Unrepentant Memoir" by Bruce Dern with Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane.
Became a father for the 1st time at age 25 when his 2nd [now ex] wife Diane Ladd gave birth to their daughter Diane Elizabeth Dern in 1961.
Became a father for the 2nd time at age 30 when his 2nd [now ex] wife Diane Ladd gave birth to their daughter Laura Elizabeth Dern, aka Laura Dern on February 10, 1967.
Became a grandfather for the 1st time at age 65 when his daughter Laura Dern gave birth to her son Ellery Walker Harper, with [now ex] husband Ben Harper, on August 10, 2001.
Became a grandfather for the 2nd time at age 68 when his daughter Laura Dern gave birth to her daughter Jaya Harper, with [now ex] husband Ben Harper, on November 28, 2004.
Claims that he has never smoked outside of the movies, or drank alcohol or coffee, due to his commitment to marathon running.
As of 2014, has appeared in three films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: Coming Home (1978), Django Unchained (2012) and Nebraska (2013).

Personal Quotes (21)

Because I'm the only actor who ever killed John Wayne in a picture, producers have pegged me for a villain.
I've played more psychotics and freaks and dopers than anyone.
[talking about his fight scene with John Wayne] He walloped me bad.
I never look back and say, "I wish I had played that role or this role". I never do that. You're only as good as your next film. I look forward; I always feel that you have to continue onward and upward, you can't look back. I became an actor because I felt I was interested in what makes human beings do what they do, particularly in times of crisis. That kind of acting is what I like to do.
I'm only too proud to say that I've never had ANY discipline problems with Laura [Laura Dern, his daughter]. In fact, I never needed to lay a hand on her, because Diane [Diane Ladd, his former wife and Laura's mother] was so much better at keeping her in line than I was.
[on James Dean] Dean was so real. I believed he was the real person, that he wasn't acting. See, I never thought Rock Hudson was real. Or any of the guys in the forefront then -- Gregory Peck, Paul Newman and them.
[on Peter Fonda] In The Trip (1967) I started to get fed up. I was fed up because Peter Fonda was a star and I wasn't. And Peter couldn't act. I'm sorry, man, he just can't act. He never bothered to sit and learn. He never studied. And he just kind of larked out. Now I don't begrudge the fact that he has talent. But he's not an actor, by any stretch of the imagination.
[on Charlton Heston] And I got to really like the guy. A lot of people told me that I wouldn't like him, but I liked him. And he tried very hard. I mean, Will Penny (1968) is far and away the best thing he's ever done.
I haven't had many love affairs on-screen. In The Great Gatsby (1974), I had one with Karen Black. Then I broke her nose.
[About The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)] I look on it as a fond memory. It brought me together with my wife . . . The film was a nightmare to make, but I got married with the money I made from that movie: $1750.
That's a part of my personality that has not been seen before in a movie. If there's anything Bruce hasn't been in his career, it's still. I didn't want to be Bruce. I'd been Bruce, and it didn't work.
The roles I got were the ones 15 guys turned down. Seventeen people turned down Silent Running (1972) ...I got panicky financially, spiritually. I got to feeling maybe people weren't seeing the work that I could do, either because the movies weren't good, or maybe I wasn't good in the movies.
[observation on his career, 2013] I knew it would be longer than a marathon. I was in a hurry only to get the opportunities that my peers were getting. That never came along until 'Nebraska'. I'm going to one-hundred. I'm going to play roles people will never forget.
[on the possibility of being pushed for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Nebraska (2013)] My take is this: the story is about who Woody is and where he's going. It's probably 50-50 screen time with Will Forte, but Woody is a leading role. If I go supporting, I'm a whore. Because I never came to Hollywood to win an award. I came to do good movies. If I go supporting, it's embarrassing to the Academy because it looks like I'm trying to sneak in somehow so I can eat all those chicken and peas dinners. I'd rather go the right way than backdoor my way into a supporting because of my age or whatever. I would be thrilled if I was nominated, and to have a nomination is the win.
[on Elia Kazan] Kazan, I don't care what his politics were - the man had game. He knew how to see a movie before it began.
[on Alexander Payne] I may put Alexander as the best director I ever worked with. When he looks through the eyepiece of a camera, he sees something no one else sees. He sees magic. And his gift is, he can explain how and why he sees magic and put it on film.
[on meeting Marilyn Monroe at the Actor studio] She leaned over to me and, I'd never met her -she's Marilyn Monroe, I'm Brucy from Winnetka-and she said, 'Oh, you're Gadge's new wunderkind, aren't you?' And I said, 'Oh, c'mon please. He doesn't say that.' She said, 'Yes, he does. He also says nobody's going to know who you are until you're in your late 60s.'"
[on Lawrence of Arabia (1962)] I saw David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. I'd been an actor for four years. All my life, I've been fascinated by people that get shit done. T.E. Lawrence got stuff done. And the movie is just about perfect in every single category: lighting, camera, clothing, script, story, performances. There was an intermission, and it was worth the wait -- I couldn't wait until the second half. What shocked me was, the first thing they shot for the movie was the beginning of the second half, the arrival of Lawrence with his bodyguards. Those guys, who look like the baddest asses that ever lived, came in on horses and camels. Peter O'Toole's got the white garb on, and you realize he's a guy who's got some homies that can play.
[on the influence of Lawrence of Arabia (1962)] If there's anything I'm proud about in Nebraska (2013), it's that it's hard to see the work going on. In Lawrence, there's something going on -- it's there. It's about life. Watching that old generation like Lean and O'Toole, that knowledge, that excitement, that passion infects you and infects you in a good way. You want to make 'em proud, even though they're not here anymore.
[on being offered a role in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)] It's the week before Christmas, 1968, and my agent calls: "Bruce, you won't believe this. I got a call from Sydney Pollack." I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "He's doing another movie, and he wants you in it. He says he apologizes because it's not much of a part. It's certainly not an improvement over the last part, but he offered you the Scott Wilson role and you didn't want to take it because you didn't want to be in Yugoslavia five months. "Do you blame me?" "No, it ended up being seven. You were smart. He's doing a movie called "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", and he said you and a girl named Bonnie Bedelia, who hasn't acted before, are going to be partners. It's about dance marathons, and he wants you for two reasons: one, you play a country bumpkin and you win the contest; two, he needs somebody who can show the actors what it's like to go take after take after take because Bonnie is pregnant in the movie and you've got to haul her every day, derby after derby. Twice each day, they're raced twelve laps around the floor to music. The last three couples are eliminated. Sydney wants to shoot it like that. He's going to eliminate the couples except for the two starring couples, Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin, and Red Buttons and Allyn Ann McLerie. Everybody else gets eliminated, including Susannah York." Susannah York should've won an Oscar for The Killing of Sister George (1968). He's going to eliminate her?" "He's going to eliminate whoever finishes last. He can't eliminate you because you and Bonnie win the contest in the book. And you're not going to be the last".
[on Susannah York] Susannah York, I had no idea what a tremendous actor she was. She was flat-out great.

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