Edit
Richard Widmark Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trivia (47)  | Personal Quotes (25)

Overview (5)

Born in Sunrise Township, Chisago County, Minnesota, USA
Died in Roxbury, Connecticut, USA  (complications following a fall)
Birth NameRichard Weedt Widmark
Nickname Dick
Height 5' 10" (1.78 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Richard Widmark established himself as an icon of American cinema with his debut in the 1947 film noir Kiss of Death (1947) in which he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination as the killer "Tommy Udo". Kiss of Death (1947) and other noir thrillers established Widmark as part of a new generation of American movie actors who became stars in the post-World War II era. With fellow post-War stars Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum, Widmark brought a new kind of character to the screen in his character leads and supporting parts: a hardboiled type who does not actively court the sympathy of the audience. Widmark was not afraid to play deeply troubled, deeply conflicted, or just down right deeply corrupt characters.

After his debut, Widmark would work steadily until he retired at the age of 76 in 1990, primarily as a character lead. His stardom would peak around the time he played the U.S. prosecutor in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) as the 1950s segued into the 1960s, but he would continue to act for another 30 years.

Richard Weedt Widmark was born in Sunrise Township, Minnesota, to Ethel Mae (Barr) and Carl Henry Widmark. His father was of Swedish descent and his mother of English and Scottish ancestry. He has said that he loved the movies from his boyhood, claiming "I've been a movie bug since I was 4. My grandmother used to take me". The teen-aged Widmark continued to go to the movies, and was thrilled by Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). "I thought Boris Karloff was great", Widmark said. Although he loved the movies and excelled at public speaking while attending high school, Widmark attended Lake Forest College with the idea of becoming a lawyer. However, he won the lead role in a college production of, fittingly enough, the play "Consellor-at-Law", and the acting bug bit deep. After taking his bachelor of arts degree in 1936, he stayed on at Lake Forest as the Assistant Director of Speech and Drama. However, he soon quit the job and moved to New York to become an actor and, by 1938, he was appearing on radio in "Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories". He made his Broadway debut in 1943 in the play "Kiss and Tell", and continued to appear on stage in roles that were light years away from the tough cookies he would play in his early movies.

After World War II, he was signed by 20th Century Fox to a seven-year contract. After seeing his screen-test for the role of "Tommy Udo", 20th Century Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that the slight, blonde Widmark - no one's idea of a heavy, particularly after his stage work - be cast as the psychopath in Kiss of Death (1947), which had been prepared as a Victor Mature vehicle. Even though the role was small, Widmark stole the picture. 20th Century Fox's publicity department recommended that exhibitors market the film by concentrating on thumbing the tub for their new anti-hero. "Sell Richard Widmark" advised the studio's publicity manual that an alert 20th Century Fox sent to theater owners. The manual told local exhibitors to engage a job-printer to have "Wanted" posters featuring Widmark's face to be printed and pasted up. He won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod for the part, which lead to an early bout with typecasting at the studio. Widmark played psychotics in The Street with No Name (1948) and Road House (1948), and held his own against new Fox superstar Gregory Peck in the William A. Wellman's Western, Yellow Sky (1948), playing the villain, of course. When he finally pressured the studio to let him play other parts, his appearance as a sailor in Down to the Sea in Ships (1949) made headlines: "Life" magazine's March 28, 1949 issue featured a three-page spread of the movie, headlined, "Widmark the Movie Villain Goes Straight". He was popular, having captured the public imagination, and before the decade was out, his hand and footprints were immortalized in concrete in the court outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

The great director Elia Kazan cast Widmark in his thriller Panic in the Streets (1950) not as the heavy - that role went to Jack Palance - but as the physician who tracks down Palance, who has the plague, in tandem with detective Paul Douglas. Widmark was establishing himself as a real presence in the genre that later would be hailed as "film noir". Having proved he could handle other roles, Widmark didn't shy away from playing heavies in quality pictures. The soon-to-be-blacklisted director Jules Dassin cast him in one of his greatest roles, as the penny-ante hustler "Harry Fabian" in Night and the City (1950). Set in London, Widmark's Fabian manages to survive in the jungle of the English demimonde, but is doomed. Widmark was masterful in conveying the desperation of the criminal seeking to control his own fate but who is damned, and this performance also became an icon of film noir. In that same year, he appeared in Oscar-winning writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's No Way Out (1950) as a bigot who instigates a race riot.

As the 1950s progressed, Widmark played in Westerns, military vehicles, and his old stand-by genre, the thriller. He appeared with Marilyn Monroe (this time cast as the psycho) in Don't Bother to Knock (1952) and made Pickup on South Street (1953) that same year for director Samuel Fuller. His seven-year contract at Fox was expiring, and Zanuck - who would not renew the deal - cast him in the Western Broken Lance (1954) in a decidedly supporting role, billed beneath not only Spencer Tracy but even Robert Wagner and Jean Peters. The film was well-respected, and it won an Oscar nomination for best screenplay for the front of Hollywood 10 blacklistee Albert Maltz. Widmark left Fox for the life of a freelance, forming his own company, "Heath Productions". He appeared in more Westerns, adventures and social dramas, and pushed himself as an actor by taking the thankless role of "The Dauphin" in Otto Preminger's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (1957), a notorious flop that didn't bring anyone any honors, neither Preminger, his leading lady Jean Seberg or Widmark. In 1960, he was appearing in another notorious production, John Wayne's ode to suicidal patriotism, The Alamo (1960), with the personally liberal Widmark playing "Jim Bowie" in support of the very-conservative Wayne's "Davy Crockett". Along with character actor Chill Wills, Widmark arguably was the best thing in the movie.

In 1961, Widmark acquitted himself quite well as the prosecutor in producer-director Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), appearing with the Oscar-nominated Spencer Tracy and the Oscar-winning Maximilian Schell, as well as with superstar Burt Lancaster and acting genius Montgomery Clift and the legendary 'Judy Garland' (the latter two winning Oscar nods for their small roles). Despite being showcased with all this thespian-firepower, Widmark's character proved to be the axis on which the drama turned. A little later, Widmark appeared in two Westerns directed by the great John Ford, with co-star James Stewart in Two Rode Together (1961) and as the top star in Ford's apologia for Indian genocide, Cheyenne Autumn (1964). On Two Rode Together (1961), Ford feuded with Jimmy Stewart over his hat. Stewart insisted on wearing the same hat he had for a decade of highly successful Westerns that had made him one of the top box office stars of the 1950s. Both he and Widmark were hard-of-hearing (as well as balding and in need of help from the makeup department's wig-makers), so Ford would sit himself far away from them while directing scenes and then give them directions in a barely audible voice. When neither one of the stars could hear their director, Ford theatrically announced to his crew, that after over 40 years in the business, he was reduced to directing two deaf toupees. It was testimony to the stature of both Stewart and Widmark as stars that this was as far as Ford's baiting went, as the great director could be extraordinarily cruel.

Widmark continued to co-star in A-pictures through the 1960s. He capped off the decade with one of his finest performances, as the amoral police detective in Don Siegel's gritty cop melodrama Madigan (1968). Watching "Madigan", one can see Widmark's characters as a progression in the evolution of what would become the late 1960s nihilistic anti-hero, such as those embodied by Clint Eastwood in Siegel's later Dirty Harry (1971). Im the 1970s, he continued to make his mark in movies and, beginning in 1971, in television. In movies, he appeared primarily in supporting roles, albeit in highly billed fashion, in such films as Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), and Stanley Kramer's The Domino Principle (1977). He even came back as a heavy, playing the villainous doctor in Coma (1978).

In 1971, in search of better roles, he turned to television, starring as the President of the U.S. in the TV movies Vanished (1971). His performance in the role brought Widmark an Emmy nomination. He resurrected the character of "Madigan" for NBC, in six 90-minute episodes that appeared as part of the rotation of "NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie" for the Fall 1972 season. Widmark was married for 55 years to playwright Jean Hazlewood, from 1942 until her death in 1997 (they had one child, Anne, who was born in 1945). He lived quietly and avoided the press, saying in 1971, "I think a performer should do his work and then shut up". "Los Angeles Times" critic Kevin Thomas thought that Widmark should have won an Oscar nomination for his turn in When the Legends Die (1972), playing a former rodeo star tutoring 'Frederic Forrest'.

It is surprising to think that Kiss of Death (1947) represented his sole Oscar nomination, but with the rise of the respect for film noir around the time his career began tapering off in 70s, he began to be reevaluated as an actor. Unlike Bogart, who did not live to see his reputation flourish after his death, well before he retired, Widmark became a cult figure.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Martin Lewison and Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Susan Blanchard (27 September 1999 - 24 March 2008) ( his death)
Jean Hazlewood (5 April 1942 - 2 March 1997) ( her death) ( 1 child)

Trivia (47)

Unforgettable in his screen debut in Kiss of Death (1947) as Tommy Udo, a psychopathic mob hit-man, who giggles gleefully even as he shoves a wheelchair-bound old woman, portrayed by Mildred Dunnock, tumbling down a long stairway to her demise.
Following his death, he was interred at Roxbury Center Cemetery in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (2002).
His sole Academy Award nomination was for best actor in a supporting role for Kiss of Death (1947) in 1948. Though he had won the Golden Globe Award for the role, he lost the Oscar to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
Was honored with a retrospective of his films by the Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York). [May 2001]
When Kiss of Death (1947) was released to theaters in 1947, 20th Century Fox's publicity department encouraged theater owners to "Sell Richard Widmark!" Fox's publicity manual advised theaters to have a local printer make up "Wanted" with Widmark's face on them to advertise the film, in which he made his debut. The role was small, but Widmark made this one of the most indelible performances in the history of cinema.
His daughter with wife Jean Hazlewood, Anne Heath Widmark, an artist and author, married baseball legend Sandy Koufax on January 1, 1969. Former father-in-law Sandy Koufax.
Has significantly contributed to the preservation of land and nature in his adopted hometown of Roxbury, Connecticut. As one of the founding members of the Roxbury Land Trust, he has tenaciously worked to preserve the pristine character of the Litchfield County town which has been the longtime home of celebrities the likes of Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and artist Alexander Calder. Actor and Widmark's friend, Walter Matthau also owned property in bucolic Roxbury and at Widmark's urging, Matthau made a generous contribution of property to the trust shortly before his death.
At 5' 10", he was one of the shorter leading men of his era.
His father was Swedish by descent; his mother was English, Scottish and Irish.
In September 1999, Widmark married Susan Blanchard, who was Henry Fonda's third wife. He was the stepfather of Amy Fonda, their adoptive daughter.
In fall 2007, he sustained a fractured vertebrae after a fall. He died about six months later of complications.
When his contract at 20th Century Fox expired in 1954 after seven years, he deliberately went independent in order to have more artistic control over his films. He formed his own company, Heath Productions.
Was not able to see active duty during World War II due to a perforated eardrum, but did serve as an air raid warden and entertained servicemen as a member of the American Theatre Wing.
Despite playing heartless killers and bigots on film, he personally denounced all kinds of violence and the usage of guns. He admitted that once he went fishing and regretted the fact he caught a trout and took its life. He also apologized profusely to Sidney Poitier during the shoot of the movie No Way Out (1950) after filming scenes together which called for Widmark to spew out racist remarks.
Earned several awards in oratory contests while a pre-law student at Lake Forest College. He was also active in the drama department and played the lead in the play "Counselor-at-Law" as a sophomore.
President of his high school class. He wrote for the high school newspaper.
Born in Sunrise, Minnesota, his father, Carl Widmark, was a general store manager before becoming a traveling salesman. The family eventually settled in Princeton, Illinois, where his father owned a downstairs bakery.
Spent his later years divided between a ranch in Hidden Valley, California, and a farm in Connecticut.
John Wayne/Richard Widmark is the sign/countersign used by soldiers holding the Alamo in Viva Max (1969).
Activist for strengthening gun control laws in the United States.
Resided on his mansion in Roxbury, Connecticut from the 1950s until his death.
Was on the first cover of German teen magazine "Bravo" together with Marilyn Monroe (1956).
Born to Carl Widmark, a salesman, and his wife Ethal Mae.
His acting idol was Spencer Tracy.
Before he ever became a film actor, Widmark was busy with voice-over work on various radio programs during the 1930s and 1940s.
Featured in "Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir" by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (McFarland, 2003).
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6800 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California in February 8, 1960.
Although 27 years old at the time, Widmark was considered for the role of the cocky young sailor eventually played by Robert Walker in Bataan (1943).
He was a lifelong liberal Democrat.
From Sidney Poitier's speech about Widmark at the D. W. Griffith Award for Life Achievment: "... the generosity of spirit that lights his way will also warm your heart...".
Very touched by Sidney Poitier presenting him with the D. W. Griffith Lifetime Achievment Award in 1990, Widmark said to his old friend, "Sid, I can't believe you came all the way to California to do this for me." Poitier replied, "For you I would have walked!".
He was the first choice of playwright Robert Anderson for both the stage and film versions of I Never Sang for My Father (1970) in the role eventually played by Gene Hackman.
He appeared in a public service short entitled "Off the Highway", which was made by USC students and directed by Fred Zinnemann, who talked Widmark--his neighbor at the time--into appearing in it.
Was Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal's first choice to play the character based on him in Casino (1995). Being that Widmark was 80 years old at the time, the role eventually went to Robert De Niro.
Director Henry Hathaway thought Widmark's high forehead looked too intellectual to play Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947), so he had the young actor wear a hairpiece for his screen test.
Widmark and Jean Hazlewood had a daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, who was married to Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax (1969-82). Hazlewood died in March 1997.
In 1947, the crime drama Kiss of Death catapulted Widmark to movie stardom. The actor made one of the most shocking film debuts in movie history as his character, the cackling psychopath Tommy Udo, shoved an older wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs to her death. The role earned Widmark an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and proved to be the beginning of a distinguished five-decade film career.
Actor Richard Widmark was offered an audition for a radio soap opera two years after college and soon after made his screen debut as the cackling psychopath Tommy Udo in the crime drama Kiss of Death (1947).
Despite his rising career, and happy marriage to his college sweetheart, Ora Jean Hazlewood, the 1940s were a time of great stress for the actor. Unable to serve in World War II due to a perforated eardrum, he spent three anxious years fearing for the life of his brother Donald, a bomber pilot who was injured and held as a prisoner-of-war by the Nazis. Although Donald Widmark was freed at the war's end, his failing health over the next decade would be the most agonizing tragedy in Richard's life.
Stereotyped onscreen as a hot-headed villain, Widmark fought for better roles and went on to give complex performances in such film classics as Panic in the Streets (1950), No Way Out (1950) (which introduced him to close friend Sidney Poitier), Night and the City (1950), Broken Lance (1954) (co-starring his idol, Spencer Tracy), and Madigan (1968).
After a turbulent childhood, lightened by his frequent trips to the movies, Widmark became an accomplished high school scholar, a college football star, and eventually a teacher of speech and drama at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
Two years out of college, Widmark headed to New York City in 1938 when a friend offered him an audition for a radio soap opera. Widmark won the role and soon became a busy player in broadcasting and on the Broadway stage (debuting in 1943).
Good friends with Sidney Poitier. They co-starred together in three films: No Way Out (1950), The Long Ships (1964) and The Bedford Incident (1965).
Had appeared with Karl Malden in five films: Kiss of Death (1947), Halls of Montezuma (1951), Take the High Ground! (1953), How the West Was Won (1962) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
Had appeared with Henry Fonda in five films: Warlock (1959), How the West Was Won (1962), Madigan (1968), Rollercoaster (1977) and The Swarm (1978).
Was in three Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Alamo (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and How the West Was Won (1962).

Personal Quotes (25)

[speaking in 1976] The heavies in my day were kid's stuff compared to today. Our villains had no redeeming qualities. But there's a new morality today. A villain is a guy with a frailty. Heroes are villains.
The more takes I do, the worse I get.
[on his giggling psychopathic killer in his debut film Kiss of Death (1947)] I'd never seen myself on the screen, and when I did, I wanted to shoot myself. That damn laugh of mine! For two years after that picture, you couldn't get me to smile. I played the part the way I did because the script struck me as funny and the part I played made me laugh, the guy was such a ridiculous beast.
I suppose I wanted to act in order to have a place in the sun. I'd always lived in small towns, and acting meant having some kind of identity.
It's weird, the effect actors have on an audience. With the [bad guy] roles I played in those early movies, I found that quite a few people wanted to have a go at me.
It's a bit rough priding oneself that one isn't too bad an actor and then finding one's only remembered for a giggle.
Marilyn Monroe wanted to be this great star but acting just scared the hell out of her. That's why she was always late--couldn't get her on the set. She had trouble remembering lines. But none of it mattered. With a very few special people, something happens between the lens and the film that is pure magic. And she really had it.
[in 2001] I'm a lifelong liberal. I've never been a real activist--I just shoot my mouth off. When I knew Ronald Reagan, he was an affable, boring fellow. Now he's an icon. It's incredible. Like half of America, I'm doubly mystified by Reagan's spiritual heir, our current president.
[in 1976] I know I've made kind of a half-assed career out of violence, but I abhor violence. I am an ardent supporter of gun control. It seems incredible to me that we are the only civilized nation that does not put some effective control on guns.
Movie audiences fasten on to one aspect of the actor, and then they decide what they want you to be. They think you're playing yourself. The truth is that the only person who can ever really play himself is a baby.
I could choose the director and my fellow actors. I could carry out projects which I liked but the studios didn't want. The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect. What interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at Dumb and Dumber (1994), which turns idiocy into something positive, or Forrest Gump (1994), a hymn to stupidity. 'Intellectual' has become a dirty word.
When I see people destroying their privacy--what they think, what they feel--by beaming it out to millions of viewers, I think it cheapens them as individuals.
[on Spencer Tracy] What an actor should be is exemplified, for me, by him. I like the reality of his acting. It's so honest and seems so effortless, even though what Tracy does is the result of damn hard work and extreme concentration. Actually, the ultimate in any art is never to show the wheels grinding. The essence of bad acting, for example, is shouting. Tracy never shouts. He's the greatest movie actor there ever was.
I won't have a gun in my house.
Many of my friends were blacklisted. America should be ashamed forever.
[upon receiving the D.W. Griffith Award for Lifetime Achievment in 1990] It's my second award. The other was for sight reading in the eighth grade.
[1986 interview, on his Kiss of Death (1947) character Tommy Udo] Ben Hecht wrote the script. I don't know whether he had indicated the laugh or whether I did it out of nervousness. I think it was probably a combination. [Director Henry Hathaway] liked it and said, "We could use a little more of that".
[on Movie Madness (1982)] What a disaster! Who directed that? Oh, Henry Jaglom. Enough said!
[on Hanky Panky (1982)] That went down the tunnel; but I never had so much fun on a dog.
[In a 1971 N.Y. Times interview] I don't care how well known an actor is - he can still live a normal life, if he wants to. I still believe it. That's the trouble with actors. If they're not recognized, they think it's all over.
[in 1985, on Henry Hathaway] Through the years Henry and I became very close friends. We did a few pictures together, and he was always tough as nails. Off the set he was a charmer; on the set, he was Hitler!
[in 1986, on Darryl F. Zanuck] We weren't crazy about each other. He wasn't my cup of tea; he was a first-rate administrator, but a little Napoleon. He had gemutlich with writers and with directors, but no sympathy at all for actors. Of all the moguls, Zanuck was the only one who could make a film. He was a good utter. I didn't admire the type of fellow he was. So I was never invited to Palm Springs--or all that nonsense. We had a business relationship, and it worked out very well.
[in 1988, on director William Keighley] Bill Keighley was a very nice man, an elegant gut; he was married to an actress named Genevieve Tobin. He had been with [Darryl F. Zanuck] for years over at Warners. Directed oodles of gangster movies, but he himself was a drawing room type of fellow.
[in 1986 interview, on Marilyn Monroe] She was a vulnerable kid. Murder to work with because she was scared to death of acting--even when she became a big movie actress. We had a hell of a time getting her out of the dressing room. When it was five o'clock, it got irritating: "C'mon, Marilyn, we want to go home!: She was a movie animal. Something happened between the lens and the film. Nobody knew what the hell it was. On the set, you'd think: "Oh, this is impossible; you can't print this". You'd see it, and she's got everyone backed off the screen. [Laurence Olivier] said the same thing. She had that phenomenal something! Nobody knows what it is, but she had it. She certainly was never a professional actress. She always had a coach with her, lurking in the background, giving her signals. And she could never remember three words in a row--so it was all piece-work. Beyond all the technical deficiencies, she was a nice girl. We got along fine.
[on not resigning with Fox after seven years] I didn't sign a new contract because I was tired of being shot from one movie to another--finishing one on a Saturday and starting another on Monday. I could get more money on the outside and get a wider variety of stuff.

See also

Other Works |  Publicity Listings |  Official Sites

View agent, publicist, legal and company contact details on IMDbPro Pro Name Page Link

Contribute to This Page


Recently Viewed