Reel Characters

There are some actors, aren’t there, whom you seem to know intimately.

They are beyond the clever catchphrase of being well known for their well knowness. Since you see them so often.

Character actors.

Seemly, they pop up in virtually every movie or TV show. Though they may be nameless to most viewers, they’re most assuredly not face-less.

Martin Balsam, for instance.

Was there a movie made in the 1960s in which he did not appear?

IMDb reports Balsam’s career as beginning in the 1950s, with steady work through 1997. Oh, and he picked up an Oscar along the way: Best Supporting Actor for A Thousand Clowns (1965).

The character actors I’m most familiar with, though, were all prominent (albeit inside limited spaces) players in 70s pictures. Though the examples below are clustered at the end of the 60s.

It’s hard to say whether Strother Martin was a great actor or if, instead (and like Jack Nicholson), he was great at playing himself. His breakout role came in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, where he made famous the line, “What we have here, is failure to communicate.” (and there is no “a” between “is” and “failure.”)

Personally, I preferred his much smaller role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). There, memorably, he got to call Paul Newman and Robert Redford “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team!”

Dub Taylor played C.W.’s Moss’s father in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). (C.W. was pronounced “See-Dubya” and played by fringe actor Michael J. Pollard.) The scene where Taylor whips his boy with his hat over the chest tattoo “Miss Bonnie Parker” convinced him to get is first rate.

Bo Hopkins appeared in The Wild Bunch (1969) and got killed off early in the picture; Strother Martin appeared in the same film. More significant and enduring is Hopkins’ performance in American Graffiti (1973) where he plays Joe, leader of the greaser gang, The Pharaohs (pronounced with a twang, “Fay-rows”).

Even if we might not recognize them should we bump into them in public, off the screen, these character actors were all second-tier performers with top-shelf talent.

They are also all males.

The list I cannot come up with, is an analogous list of actresses. Who are the female character actresses we’ve seen over and over?

I’d like to say ZaSu Pitts. But that’s only because I really do like saying “ZaSu.”

Who can you name?

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