This character actor more than just prolific

  • Updated: December 25, 2012 - 10:59 PM
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FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2001 file photo, actors Charles Durning, left, James Garner, center, and James Karen rehearse on the set of "First Monday" at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. Durning, the two-time Oscar nominee who was dubbed the king of the character actors for his skill in playing everything from a Nazi colonel to the pope, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 at his home in New York City. He was 89. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)

Photo: Lucy Nicholson, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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Charles Durning grew up in poverty, lost five of his nine siblings to disease, barely lived through D-Day and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge.

His hard life and wartime trauma provided the basis for a prolific 50-year career as a consummate Oscar-nominated character actor, playing everyone from a Nazi colonel to the pope to Dustin Hoffman's would-be suitor in "Tootsie."

Durning, who died Monday at age 89 in New York, 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 said in 2008 that he had no plans to stop working. "They're going to carry me out, if I go," he said.

Durning's agent and friend, Judith Moss, said he died of natural causes in his home in New York.

Durning may be best remembered by movie audiences for his Oscar-nominated, over-the-top role as a comically corrupt governor in 1982's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

Many critics marveled that such a heavy man could be so nimble in the film's show-stopping song-and-dance number, not realizing Durning had been a dance instructor early in his career. He had met his first wife, Carol, when both worked at a dance studio.

Guthrie offers tweet-friendly seats

Instead of telling patrons to put away their smartphones, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is offering a limited number of "Tweet Seats" to social media fans.

Starting Thursday, the Guthrie will offer its first Tweet Seats during four consecutive Thursday performances of the commedia dell'arte classic "A Servant of Two Masters."

Those seats will allow social media users to interact during the show. The seats are in the balcony of the McGuire Proscenium Stage in a section that won't be disruptive to other theatergoers. Tweet Seat tickets cost $15 and are available by calling the Guthrie box office. (Ironically, they're not available online.) "A Servant of Two Masters" runs through Jan. 20.

GIFTS FROM TRAGEDY: For the fourth Christmas Eve since her son's murder, Julia Hudson, along with her sister, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, tried to create something positive out of her family's tragedy. The Hudson sisters and volunteers gave Christmas gifts to thousands of youngsters Monday through a toy drive organized by the foundation Julia Hudson started to honor her son, the Julian D. King Gift Foundation. "It's a blessing to be able to give back to where you came from," Jennifer Hudson said. "To turn something so sad into such a blessing.".

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