Saturday, July 17, 2010

R.I.P, James Gammon

Once again, Bill Crider enacts the role of the harbinger of death—I just read on his blog where character actor James Gammon has passed on at the age of 70. (In all fairness to Bill, I generally get the bad news from his blog first because he shows up first in the rotation—I could just have easily learned about this from Edward Copeland; Bill even admits he learned about it from Toby O'Brien.)

Gammon was one of my favorites—and I didn’t know until I read the Los Angeles Times obituary that he was such an accomplished stage actor…my experience has always been seeing him in films like Macon County Line (1974), Urban Cowboy (1980), Any Which Way You Can (1980), Ironweed (1987), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), Major League (1989—one of his very best), I Love You to Death (1990), Cabin Boy (1994), The Cell (2000), Cold Mountain (2003) and Silver City (2004). The very first movie I saw him in where he made such a distinct impression on me was Silverado (1985), in which growled the memorable line: “I think there's just a couple o' guys up there and this asshole is one of them!”

Gammon’s gravel voice and craggy appearance made him a natural for Westerns—he frequently guested on many of the tube’s most memorable oaters: The Monroes, Bonanza, The Virginian, Lancer, The High Chapparal, Gunsmoke, etc. Many of his TV roles were in made-for-TV sagebrush sagas like The Sacketts (1979), Conagher (1991), Monte Walsh (2003) and the 1995 mini-series Streets of Laredo. He also had regular roles on shows like The Waltons, Homefront and Bagdad Café…and perhaps his most famous TV gig was playing the role of Nick Bridges—father to Nash Bridges in the Don Johnson crime drama of the same name. (Gammon was only nine years older than his TV “son”—tell me that’s not acting.)

R.I.P, Jimmy. You’ll never know how much you’ll be missed.

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Scott C. said...

Well, this saddens me more than any recent entertainment industry death. He was one of the last of that breed of character actor that flourished during the Golden Age of Hollywood -- (S.Z. Sakall, Eugene Pallette, Frank Morgan, etc.), the kind of guy who, as soon as he walked on screen you thought, "well at least this scene's gonna be good."

Speaking of great acting, it always amazed me how memorably, and convincingly Jesse Royce Landis pulled off the role of Cary Grant's mother in North By Northwest when she was only 8 years older than him.

Toby O'B said...

My favorite of his Toobworld characters was the Sheriff Ketch Monroe in an episode of 'The Heat Of The Night". I always thought Monroe was a warden, but he and Carroll O'Connor's character were to be witnesses at an execution. Gammon's Ketch couldn't take looking when he attended those things; he'd stare at a postcard he'd bring along.

The episode was a strong condemnation against capital punishment and a lot of that is due to Gammon's performance, showing its detrimental effects on others, instead of on the criminal element.

I met him a few times - he'd hang out at the Rum House here in the Edison when he was in a play down the street. I thought it was "The Iceman Cometh", but it might have been one of the Shepherd plays. He was a pleasant easy-going guy, just as you might imagine he'd be. One of the last great character actors and we're in short supply of those, so he'll definitely be missed.