It’s been a really tough year on Hollywood. We’ve lost many, many people who were so important to the film industry. So many that I couldn’t possibly write about them all here. From the legends like Arthur C. Clarke and Jules Dassin, to the young ones who still had their best years ahead of them, like Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro. Some stars, like Evelyn Keyes, were quite old, so while their deaths hurt, the weren’t surprising. But some, like Sidney Pollack, Anthony Minghella, George Carlin and Michael Crichton, took me completely off guard.
Like I said, there’s no way I can write something up for everyone. Here are the ones whose careers meant the most to me, whose deaths effected me the most.
First foremost, the great Richard Widmark. Certainly one of the most underrated actors of all time, and one of my absolute favorites. He was 93 years old, and just days before his death I had mentioned in a thread on Rotten Tomatoes that he was still alive an kicking. Handsom in a troubled and smoldering way, Widmark was the face of cynical, jaded Americans in a post-WWII, cold-war era country. His villains were vicious and frightening, unparralleled in their ferociousness. Even his heroes were conflicted, complicated, and cynical.
In Kiss of Death he created a giggling, sociopathic maniac, and earned his sole Academy Award nomination for it. One of Widmark’s greatest strengths was that he wasn’t afraid of being disliked by the audience. That gave him the freedom to create a truly snarling, terrifying character. I don’t think any other actor could have tied a woman to a chair and thrown her down the stairs as convincingly as Widmark.
In Pickup on South Street he played one of his most morally ambiguous characters. He was some sort of hero, but his first obligation was to himself. No other actor could have pulled off that combination of moral ambiguity and conflict. Widmark was truly one of a kind. His filmography is really just a string of excellent, diverse movies. Night and the City, Judgement at Nuremburg, The Law and Jake Wade, No Way Out, Panic In the Streets, Murder on the Orient Express.
The death of actress Anita Page hit me pretty hard. She was 98 years old, and I was really hoping she’d make it to 100. She was the last known person living who attended the first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1929, and one of the few silent film actors to live into the 21st century.
Anita Page’s initial career was fairly short, and it seemed like she stopped making films just as her celebrity was on the rise. Though she was in mostly supporting roles, in 1930 she was the most photographed actress in Hollywood (yes, even moreso than Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer). Page’s sweet face made her perfectly suited for the good girl, sweet heart roles. And she was great at playing a broken heart, because that was a face that truly hurt you to see sad. She perfected this kind of role in films like Our Blushing Brides, playing the sweet best friend to Joan Crawford, who falls in love with a rich man and allows herself to be kept by him, only to find out he has no intention of marrying her.
She was Buster Keaton’s leading lady in two of his sound films, Free and Easy and Sidewalks of New York. Initially, it seems like an odd pairing, but Page’s genuine vibrancy gave Keaton’s stone faced, comically morose performances the perfect light and balance.
As sweet as she usually was, the were a few times where she excelled at playing the bad girl. She was a downright bitch in Our Dancing Daughter. She used her angelic face to be deceptive and sneaky. Her character in Skyscraper Souls wasn’t quite as bad and evil, but she gave a really fantastic performance (one of the best in the movie) as the charismatic and slightly slutty best pal to Maureen O’Sullivan.
Cyd Charisse was one of my favorite dancers, and one of my favorite Astaire partners. She was extremely gorgeous, talented, and had tremendous screen presense. Even in films like Singin’ In the Rain, where she didn’t have a speaking role and only dance, she completely electrified the screen
Her most famous films are those made with Astaire and Gene Kelly. The Band Wagon is one of the all time great musicals, and one of the best films about show business. She and Astaire had amazing chemistry and just fit so well when they danced. The Girl Hunt Ballet is an incredible number, with Charisse giving the film a huge amount of sex appeal. Silk Stockings, another pairing with Astaire and a remake of Ninotchka, is also a lovely film.
As evidenced in Singin’ In the Rain, she also had wonderful chemistry with Gene Kelly when they danced. Brigadoon isn’t a particularly great film, but Charisse gave it so much class. It’s Always Fair Weather is a better effort from them.
She even proved that she had acting chops outside of dancing. She was an extremely beautiful woman, which made her perfect for films like Party Girl, a noir in which she gave a smoldering, sexy performance opposite Robert Taylor.
And then, of course, there’s Paul Newman. I wrote an article for the site after his death, and there’s really not much more I can say than that. He was more than just one of tehfinest actors ever. He was also a truly good human being, with a generous soul. His contributions to both film and humanity will be greatly missed. With his passing, the earth is a little more empty, and heaven is a little bit cooler.
By Katie Richardson