Richard Widmark, My Favorite Actor

For years, I didn’t know who Richard Widmark was.  I had seen a few of the movies he had been in, including “The Alamo”, and the TV movies “All God’s Children”, and “A Gathering of Old Men”. I had also seen the episode of “I Love Lucy” he had guest-starred in. However, for some reason, he never grabbed my attention. He was just another actor. Things slightly began to change around 2002. I was at my sister’s, watching “I Love Lucy” one night, when the Richard Widmark episode came on again. Everyone kept mentioning his name, saying “Richard Widmark this, Richard Widmark that.” I kept saying to myself “who is Richard Widmark?” Finally, he appeared on the screen, with Desi Arnaz. From his demeanor, he seemed quiet, shy, and intelligent, with a certain amount of underlying no-nonsense toughness and strength. He didn’t have this dominating, intimidating presence like John Wayne or Rock Hudson. He was a smaller man in size, but he had a captivating presence of his very own. I was surprised and impressed.

A few months later, in February of 2003, there was a Sidney Poitier marathon on Turner Classic Movies, to commemorate his birthday. Among the films shown were “Paris Blues”, “Lilies of the Field”, “A Patch of Blue”, and one I hadn’t heard of before- “The Bedford Incident”. When I heard it starred Richard Widmark, I surprisingly thought, “oh, the guy from I Love Lucy.” I decided to watch it. By the time the movie ended, I was  knocked out by his performance as the tough, hard captain of a ship, obsessed with doing battle with a Russian submarine. It became one of my favorite movies, and Richard Widmark became one of my favorite actors. He soon became my favorite. I had literally fallen head over heels for “the guy from I Love Lucy.” I went online to look him up. I assumed he had passed away, like many of the actors of his era. Instead, I found out he was alive and well, living in CT.

One by one, I began to search out his movies. I liked every single one I saw. One thing I really admired about him was how very well he could play almost any kind of part. From a villain to a drill sergeant, from a doctor to a general, to a prosecutor to a cop to a sheriff- there was no role he could not successfully master. I began taping and buying his films in droves. I had a brand new passion, and I was enjoying it to the fullest. When I saw “No Way Out”, I was shocked by his portrayal of a staunch bigot, out to kill a black doctor, portrayed by newcomer Sidney Poitier. The language he used was atrocious. Don’t let that movie fool you, though. Behind the scenes, after each take, he would apologize to “Sid” ( as he called him), and the two became lifelong friends. Lena Horne, his love interest in 1969’s “Death of a Gunfighter”, later called him her “blue-eyed soul brother.” He was a devoted liberal, and loving husband and father. He once admitted to being crazy about kids, dogs, and milk.

One day, I decided to write him a letter. I was also going to pursue getting his autograph. I found his address online, bought a black and white, 8×10 pic on eBay, and sent everything off. Writing fan letters can be a risk. I have since given it up. Around a month later, I saw a large brown envelope in the mailbox. I nervously opened it, and saw the familiar picture. I didn’t see an autograph at first. It was over on the side, signed vertically in blue.  I was thrilled and relieved.  However, there was more. When I put the picture back in the envelope, I noticed something on the front. There was more writing. It said “Photo- Do Not Bend Pls.”  The words were also underlined. It was the same color of ink, the same writing. In a way, this touched me more than the autograph itself. To actually have shown such concern about the picture itself meant a lot to me. This alone makes it the most special autograph experience I have ever had, and there have been quite a few through the years. I think it made me love him even more.  About a year later, I found out he had become too ill to accept fan mail anymore, so I was very glad I wrote to him when I did.

In March of 2008, I was on my way out one day when I switched over to CNN’s Headline News, and heard he had passed away. He was 93. I was saddened by the news, and at the same time very thankful I had been blessed to discover him when he was still with us. I had been a fan for 5 years. Most people I have read about have been fans since childhood, but I was 31 when I discovered his brilliant talent. My favorite film remains “The Bedford Incident”. However, I also love “Death of a Gunfighter”, “Panic in the Streets”, “Madigan”, “Warlock”, “Backlash”, “Hell and High Water”, “Take the High Ground”, “The Halls of Montezuma”… The list is endless. So is my admiration for him.

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~ by kmnnz on May 2, 2011.

6 Responses to “Richard Widmark, My Favorite Actor”

  1. Loved your post. I had to dig around for it as the link on the yahoo RWFC site is not working. I believe you repeated http accidentally. I have blogged about RW’s films, if u are curious it is also on WordPress & I believe linked to my signature. Will have to read your blog more but hope I can add it to my blog roll, with your permission of course.

    Best wishes,
    Ann

    • Hi Ann!

      I’m so glad you stopped by, and that you liked the blog. 🙂 That made my day! I’ll go fix that error over at the club. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I would really like to read your blog about his films! Yes, please feel free to add mine to your blog roll. What an honor that would be. Again, thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thank you Kelli,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog. I am only a couple years older than you and so I can relate to many of your pop cultural references. Having picked up the Facts of Life DVD’s and watched some of them with my girls, they really hold up well. I must dust them off and watch them again.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my blog! I still enjoy watching The Facts of Life. I didn’t realize how relevant a lot of the storylines still are until recently. You’re right, they do hold up well. I plan to make time to resume blogging again, b/c I’ve missed it. It’s so cathartic! 🙂

  3. I’ve just seen your blog on the fanclub website and love it – so much resonates with my own experience except I found him again only earlier this year. But like you, I was captivated by the first film I saw him in (Last Wagon) which drew me to purchasing every DVD and downloading every radio play I could find – it’s a process that’s still ongoing. Congratulations on your autograph, that must be so very special. Best wishes, Ruth

    • Hi Ruth! So very nice to meet you. 🙂 I’m so glad you dropped by. I’m always happy to get to know another fan! Have fun as you continue to collect your DVDs and downloads. 🙂 Hope you share more of which ones you become acquainted with! Best wishes to you, too. 🙂

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