Dead, Richard Weedt Widmark on March 24, 2008 at the age of 94, he was an American film, stage and television actor.
Widmark was born in Sunrise Township, Minnesota on December 26, 1914, the son of Ethel Mae (née Barr) and Carl Henry Widmark.
His father was of Swedish descent and his mother of English and Scottish ancestry.
Widmark made his debut as a radio actor in 1938 on Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories.
In 1941 and 1942, he was heard daily on the Mutual Broadcasting System in the title role of the daytime serial Front Page Farrell, introduced each afternoon as “the exciting, unforgettable radio drama… the story of a crack newspaperman and his wife, the story of David and Sally Farrell.
” Farrell was a top reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle. When the series moved to NBC, Widmark turned the role over to Carleton G. Young and Staats Cotsworth. Widmark’s first movie appearance was in Kiss of Death (1947), as the giggling, sociopathic villain Tommy Udo.
His most notorious scene found Udo pushing a wheelchair-bound woman (played by Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs to her death. Widmark was almost not cast. He said, “The director, Henry Hathaway, didn’t want me.
I have a high forehead; he thought I looked too intellectual.” Hathaway was overruled by studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck.
“Hathaway gave me kind of a bad time,” recalled Widmark. Kiss of Death was a commercial and critical success: Widmark won the Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year – Actor, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Widmark played “Dude” in the Western film Yellow Sky (1948), with Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter.
In 1952, Widmark had his handprints cast in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. During his stint at Fox, he appeared in The Street with No Name (1948), Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) with Marilyn Monroe, and Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953). Widmark appeared in two Fox westerns: Garden of Evil opposite Gary Cooper, and Broken Lance (both 1954) with Spencer Tracy. He also appeared in Vincente Minnelli’s film The Cobweb (1955) with Lauren Bacall.
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”.
In the fall of 2007 he sustained a fractured vertebrae after a fall. He died about six months later of complications.