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Richard Weedt Widmark Raises the Level of Character Complexity
Well, if you watch the scene in "Kiss of Death" (1947) in which Richard Widmark's Tommy Udo ties Mrs. Rizzo (Mildred Dunnock) to her wheelchair and lunges her down the staircase before cackling, then you are experiencing Richard Widmark's work from his first day of filming in his motion picture acting career.
Director Henry Hathaway finds in Widmark a difficult personality for the role, deciding to fire him. But when 20th Century Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck views the film rushes, he tells Hathaway to keep Widmark because Widmark has the right laugh for the part.
As a result of this performance, 20th offers Richard a seven-year contract. College Fraternities initiate "Tommy Udo" societies. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates Richard Widmark for an acting award (Richard says that this is the only time they do).
But "Tommy Udo" also creates drawbacks, as ladies along the sidewalk smack Richard Widmark with purses and umbrellas, and a man in Texas knocks him from a restaurant chair and beats Richard unconscious after what that Tommy Udo has done on screen.
While Tommy Udo comes to life in 1947, Richard Weedt Widmark has been around since his 1914 birth, in Sunrise, Minnesota, the elder of two sons born to Ethel Mae Barr Widmark and Carl H. Widmark, who relocates the family to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and several other communities, before settling in Princeton, Illinois, working as a traveling salesman.
Younger brother, Donald, becomes Richard's closest friend during their formative years, when Richard becomes his high school's 1932 senior class president and particularly enjoys delivering his commencement address. From here, he enrolls in Illinois' Lake Forest College, studying acting, and also teaches after graduation.
In 1937, Richard and friend Fred Gottlieb travel to Germany to film indoctrination camps for boys to learn military operations, footage to plan to produce a documentary, they sensing something massive about to occur in Germany, but plans are folded when Widmark and Gottleib discover no interest in these military youth camps in the States.
In 1938, Richard begins his radio acting career in the serial "Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories," continuing in radio into the WWII years, when Richard is not accepted into active service because of a severed ear drum, but brother, Donald Widmark is drafted and stationed in Europe, where his airplane is gunned down over the Netherlands.
A Dutch family cares for Donald, suffering from a brain injury, but Germans invade and imprison Donald in a concentration camp through War's end, in 1945. Donald survives for another 10 years, but loses his life shortly before does his and Richard's mother.
In 1943, Richard Widmark stars in the Broadway play "Kiss and Tell," talent scouts from 20th Century Fox Studio taking notice, leading to his 1947 film debut.
During Richard Widmark's seven years with 20th, he is assigned "bad guy" roles and requests diversity to showcase his versatile talents as a sympathetic leading man. This leads to films as "Panic in the Streets" (1950), in which Jack Palance secretly substitutes the prop rubber gun with a genuine metal one to clobber Richard over the head. So, when you see this scene, remember that the surprise, and the pain, are real.
The Widmarks live the quiet domestic life behind the scenes, for theirs is not the Hollywood lifestyle of celebration and parties, but quite time away from the city with daughter, Anne Heath Widmark.
During those years of racial segregation, actor Sidney Poitier reminisces that Richard Widmark continually apologizes for his character's slurs, but says that Richard makes Sidney's debut film, "No Way Out" (1950) a pleasant experience because Sidney is also only acting. But he adds that Richard Widmark is the first person in Hollywood to invite Sidney to dinner.
After his contract with 20th expires, Richard forms his own production company to continue to star in many more wonderful films with his fine talent for decades to follow. When Jean takes ill during the early 1990's, the Widmarks relocate to Connecticut. Richard says that he does not retire from films, but he merely quits.
Richard Widmark's marriages are with Jean Hazlewood (194297), with whom he welcomes daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, and Susan Blanchard (not to be confused with the actress, but an ex of Henry Fonda, whom he marries in 1999).
Interview Guests for this episode consist of Richard Widmark (Self), Anne Heath Widmark (Daughter), Karl Malden (Actor/friend), Sidney Poitier (Actor/friend), Robert Wagner (Actor/friend), Eddie Muller (Film Historian), with Harry Smith (Host) and Peter Graves (Narrator).
Still Photographs include Richard Widmark, Ethel Mae Barr Widmark, Carl H. Widmark, Donald Widmark, Laura Jean Hazlewood, Fred Gottlieb, Karl Malden, Henry Hathaway, Darryl F. Zanuck, John Ford and many group photographs.
Archive film footage includes Richard Widmark, Tom Mix, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mildred Dunnock, Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, Darryl F. Zanuck, Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Gregory Peck, Lionel Barrymore, Dean Stockwell, Paul Douglas, Jack Palance, Gene Tierney, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner, Marilyn Monroe, Murvyn Vye, Jean Peters, Rip Torn, John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, James Whitmore, Harry Guardino, Sheree North, John Cusack, plus various unidentified performers.
Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Richard Widmark through the years, in scenes from Kiss of Death (1947), Road House (1948), Yellow Sky (1948), Down to the Sea in Ships (1949), Panic in the Streets (1950), Night and the City (1950), No Way Out (1950), Halls of Montezuma (1950), Don't Bother to Knock (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Broken Lance (1954), Time Limit (1957), The Alamo (1960), Two Rode Together (1961), The Bedford Incident (1965), Madigan (1968), "Madigan" (TV series, 1972-73), and True Colors (1991), in addition to home movies, Newsreel coverage, including Richard Widmark's hand and footprints in cement signing ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre (1949), and footage promoting "Inner Sanctum Mysteries" (Radio series, 1940's).
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