Bart Mendoza 5 a.m., Dec. 8
Gervase Duan Spradlin. With a handle like that, it's no wonder he grew up to be one tough hombre.
G.D. Spradlin — attorney, independent oil producer, mayoral candidate, and one of the few men brazen enough to dare face down the Corleone family — died Sunday at his ranch in San Luis Obispo, Calfornia. He was 90.
Born in Daylight, Garvin County, Oklahoma, Spradlin's distinctive, soft-spoken, ever-present Midwestern twang became a trademark. On screen he made a career out of oozing sufficient amounts of artful Republican cunning. So much so, I was shocked to learn that in real life he campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1959.
Spradlin didn't break into acting until 1964 and was in his mid-40s when he joined the Oklahoma Repertory Theatre. There were a few television roles — most notably as a colonel opposite Gomer Pyle and a handful of recurring creeps on Jack Webb's Dragnet — before he made his big screen debut opposite Charlton Heston in Will Penny (1968).
The Pyle connection is not one to be taken lightly. Fred Roos worked as casting director on several TV productions, Gomer Pyle included, that featured Spradlin in small roles. Roos went on to coproduced The Godfather Part II, and he recommended Spradlin for the game-changing part of Senator Pat Geary.
Forget about Stracci, Cuneo, Bardzini, Hyman Roth, and even the pock-marked intimidation put forth by Willie Cicci: all physical threats pale in comparison to the foreboding purrs of the senator's uncomplicated delivery.
To hear Spradlin work his forked tongue around the family name is a moment to be consummately extolled. But nothing matches the bile and resentment toward the band of "oily-haired" immigrant gangsters dirtying up his "clean country" more than when Geary refers to Michael and his Mafia dynasty as, "you and your fucking family."
Other authority figures in Spradlin's oeuvre include military types (MacArthur, Apocalypse Now), coaches (One on One, North Dallas Forty), and the evangelist approached to bankroll Plan 9 from Outer Space in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.
He was married twice. Spradlin's 56-year marriage to Nell E. Hulsizer ended in her death in 2000. His nine-year marriage to Frances Hendrickson ended with his death.
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