I remember a few months ago when a spate of celebrities seemed to be shuffling off this mortal coil in rapid succession, and my friend Scott Clevenger ended up pleading: “Death…take a holiday, already!” That sentiment crossed my mind a few minutes ago when I read a quick blurb from Tom Sutpen that actor-singer Harve Presnell has gone on to his rich reward at the age of 75…with Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden close at his heels, dead at 97.
Modern day moviegoers will remember Presnell as Wade Gustafson, the hard-assed father-in-law of William H. Macy’s hapless Jerry Lundegaard in Joel and Ethan Coen’s jet-black comedy thriller Fargo (1996), but his career stretches even further back to a healthy career on the Broadway stage, starring in productions of Annie and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Unfortunately for baritone Presnell, the golden age of movie musicals had entered a severe state of decline by the time he got a firm footing in the business, yet he did manage to make his mark in the film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and outshone the large cast of non-singers in Paint Your Wagon (1969), in which he sang They Call the Wind Mariah. His other film performances include The Whole Wide World (1996), The Chamber (1996), Face/Off (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998; in which he played General George C. Marshall), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), The Family Man (2000) and Old School (2003).
As a young sprout, I’d always ask my father as we prepared to go on vacation if he was carrying American Express traveler’s checks…only because the stern gentleman with the W.C. Fields-nose was always reminding folks on TV to “never leave home without them.” That individual was, of course, actor Karl Malden—whose film credits resume reaches to the moon and back, giving such memorable performances in features like Boomerang! (1947), Kiss of Death (1947), The Gunfighter (1950), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951; the role that nabbed him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), I Confess (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), Baby Doll (1956), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Patton (1970) and Wild Rovers (1971). (I know, tip of the iceberg…these are just my personal favorites.)
R.I.P, Messrs. Presnell and
Update: A personage on Facebook mentioned that British comic actress Mollie Sugden passed away today also, at the age of 86. Does the Great Beyond have a quota they need to meet? R.I.P, Mollie (a.k.a. Mrs. Slocombe).