By our definition “a working actor” is an actor or actress who, while he may never achieve stardom, has a long and productive career, earns a better than decent living, and has the admiration of his peers.
Back in the Golden age of Hollywood there were many such beings. Margaret Hamilton comes to mind. So does Harry Davenport.
You’ll undoubtedly remember her because of her immortal “witch” in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Davenport’s name might not ring a bell, but when we say he was Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind and Grandpa in Meet Me in St. Louis, you’ll immediately conjure up his face.
One of Joe’s personal favorites is Bruce Davidson. Not to long ago Joe taped a Movie for Television, Christmas Angel, because he’d seen Davidson’s name in the credits and knew if he was in it, the project had merit. He wasn’t disappointed.
Davidson (above) has had a career that’s been interesting to follow. He started playing a teenager (although he was 23) in Frank Perry’s landmark film Last Summer. He worked constantly in films and on stage. He hit it big with a supporting role in Longtime Companion, one of the first films about the AIDS epidemic, and received an Oscar nomination.
And he reminds us of another “working actor,” Richard Jaeckel, a man Joe interviewed several times over the years. Jaeckel DID start as a teenager (17) in 1943’s Guadalcanal Diary, then went on to one of the most successful careers of any “working actor.”
A particular favorite of ours is his performance in 1971’s Sometimes a Great Notion, where he has an unusual death scene with star (and director) Paul Newman. Jaeckel received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his efforts. People also remember him for his part in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen.
He told Joe he took great pride in being known as “a working actor.” Jaeckel worked in films and TV until the end. He died of cancer in 1997, much too early at 70.
Frank’s pick as the greatest “working actor” ever is Charles McGraw, a beer-drinking blue collar guy who convincingly played cops and bad guys in nearly 70 movie roles beginning in the 1940’s and lasting right into the mid-1970’s.
Among general moviegoers, he is probably best known as a solid utility actor with supporting roles in such major productions as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.
But it’s McGraw’s principal parts in a series of classic, low-budget film noirs that have burnished his movie legacy to contemporary audiences. Check him out as a hit man in 1946’s The Killers. As a brutal gangster in 1947’s T-Men. Or, as a tough, terse cop in 1950’s Armed Car Robbery.
In his introduction to author Alan K. Rode’s biography of the actor (Charles Mcgraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy, McFarland & Co.), commentator Jim Steranko asks:
Is it my imagination or is there a note of irony in the fact that so many of yesterday’s leading men (and women) have vanished from the public consciousness, while certain actors who supported them on the big screen have not only remained cultural favorites, but often become cult icons?
Cult figures or no, these are some of our picks as distinguished “working actors.”