A great character actor is like a cool friend who pops up every once in a while to dazzle us with his wit and charm. Once he’s gone, it’s a genuine loss. Here are half a dozen Hollywood gents whose talents I deeply miss.
Bruno Kirby had a way of making many of his performances seem as though he was confiding inside information to the audience. There was a subtle humor in his dramatic roles, such as “Godfather II,” and subtle drama in his comedy roles, such as “When Harry Met Sally.” He was in so many films I liked: “Donnie Brasco,” “Modern Romance,” “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Freshman,” “Tin Men.” He died way too young, in 2006.
I loved this man’s voice, which was like a jolly rumbling in the back of the throat, broadcast into an echo chamber. He had sparkle and timing and warmth and a sort of slouchy nimbleness. Jacobi was brilliant in “Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask.” Likewise, in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “My Favorite Year,” “Arthur” and “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.” He died in 2009.
He was much better known as Larry “Bud” Melman, the character he played in many appearances on David Letterman’s TV shows on NBC and CBS. DeForest looked like a cartoon character, had a classic kind of New York accent and seemed totally unaware of himself on camera. It would have been easy to dismiss him as an oddity being exploited by TV, but he had an endearing quality that ultimately won over the audience. He died in 2007.
ROSCOE LEE BROWNE
Another wonderful voice here – a baritone dipped in honey, with exquisite elocution. He was a stage actor who brought his Shakespearean chops to such fare as westerns (“The Cowboys,” with John Wayne), science fiction (a crazed robot in “Logan’s Run”) and just about every sitcom made in the 1970s. He also did a ton of narration work, including the movie, “Babe.” His 2007 death stilled an amazing talent.
Everyone remembers him as the gregarious dad in “A Christmas Story.” So do I. But McGavin always brought a larger-than-life, sly quality to his roles. He was game to tackle all TV genres, from westerns, cop shows and hospital dramas, to his memorable gig chasing down supernatural foes in “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” I liked him in “The Natural,” too. He’s been gone since 2006.
What a craftsman Burgess Meredith was. Here was a guy who could end up with the girl in a romantic comedy (“Tom Dick and Harry”), handle literary drama with ease (“Winterset,” “Of Mice and Men”) and be completely convincing as a war correspondent (“The Story of G.I. Joe”). His TV career was long and varied, from beautiful turns in “The Twilight Zone” to his gloriously funny take on the Penguin in “Batman.” As an old man, he elevated the stock character of a boxing coach into something big and grand in the “Rocky” movies. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 15 years since his passing, because his performances are still talked about and admired.
I’m sure you have your own favorites, too. I’d love to hear them.