Tuesday, December 15, 2009

R.I.P, Val Avery

There’s precious little to write about here at Rancho Yesteryear today—I’ve been catnapping rather than flexing any movie or TV-watching muscles—but I caught this blurb from Dennis Cozzalio over at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule that reports the passing of character actor great Val Avery. Avery shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 85 from undisclosed causes at his Greenwich Village residence Saturday.

Dennis mentions in his tribute one of the roles that I always remember Avery for—that of the traveling haberdasher who has a gentleman’s disagreement with undertaker Whit Bissell in the burial sequence in The Magnificent Seven (1960, when Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen volunteer to take the remains of an Indian local to Boot Hill). It was a nice change of pace for the actor, who was generally cast in parts that required him to be, as Dennis explains, “one of the many go-to guys from which Hollywood had to choose when they needed a Mafia kingpin or a neighborhood tough, a seasoned law-enforcement administrator or a nails-tough beat cop.” He goes on to say: “…he seeded each of these appearances with wit and truth and a sense of joy for acting that spoke to his sensitivity as a performer, whatever the role.”

Among the films that benefited from Avery’s presence: The Harder They Fall (1956, his feature film debut); Edge of the City (1957), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), Hud (1963), Hombre (1967), Faces (1968), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), The Anderson Tapes (1971), Papillon (1973), Let's Do It Again (1975), Up in Smoke (1978), The Wanderers (1979), Easy Money (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984, my personal favorite; Avery is marvelous as the mobster who cuts off Eric Roberts’ thumb) and Donnie Brasco (1997). He also had a lengthy C.V. on television, appearing on such shows as Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables, The Defenders, East Side/West Side, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Ironside, The F.B.I., Mannix, Barnaby Jones, Columbo and Quincy, M.E.

The New York Times’ obituary mentions that Avery married actress Margot Stevenson in 1953 and their union produced a daughter (also named Margot); Stevenson—a one-time Margo Lane on radio’s The Shadow—survives him as of this post.

R.I.P, Mr. Avery. You will be missed.

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