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Would characters actors please refrain from dying long enough for me to unwrap my Christmas presents?

First Jack Klugman and now Charles Durning.

Charles Durning, the man who played Santa Claus five times (It Nearly Wasn't Christmas, Mrs. Santa Claus, Elmo Saves Christmas, Mr. St. Nick, and A Boyfriend for Christmas) died on Christmas Eve of natural causes at his home in New York City. He was 89.

Durning was a powerhouse, a compact, barrel-chested dynamo who quietly, or otherwise, commanded every scrap of film he graced. He even proved to be light on his tootsie when the former dance instructor appeared as the side-stepping Governor of Texas -- and the only bright ray -- in the otherwise slow-footed big screen adaptation of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.


His talent as a dancer is even more amazing when you take into consideration the fact that at age 21 he took a bullet to the hip -- which he carried to his dying day -- at Omaha Beach. Durning was the only member of his platoon to survive the "D-Day" invasion.

In addition to finding work as a dance instructor, Durning was a professional boxer before the acting bug nipped him. Long after he began his career in television, Durning would turn to the Fred Astaire Dance Studios when acting jobs became hard to find. His daughter, Jeanine Durning, is a respected New York-based modern dance performer and choreographer.

Durning was in no hurry to become a movie star. His origins were on the New York stage where he would continue to return once or twice a decade. With but a few big screen credits to his name (bit roles in The Password is Courage and Hi, Mom!), Durning didn't begin leaving celluloid fingerprints of any significance until The Sting (1973). He was 50 at the time of its release.

For a period in the '70's it was virtually impossible to find a film shot that didn't feature Durning. Sisters, Dog Day Afternoon, Twilight's Last Gleaming and Starting Over are but a few of the many memorable films Durning added weight to.

His last performance -- a retired firefighter Michael Gavin on the tele-drama, Rescue Me, earned the actor an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series.

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dwbat Dec. 25, 2012 @ 3:45 p.m.

Durning had a juicy part in Mass Appeal (1984), starring Jack Lemmon and Zeljko Ivanek. Durning played homophobic, autocratic Monsignor Burke who clashed with the other two. I worked on that film for a few days as an extra, wearing priest seminary garb.



Scott Marks Dec. 25, 2012 @ 5:38 p.m.

Got behind-the-scenes production stills, dwbat?


dwbat Dec. 25, 2012 @ 6:07 p.m.

Nope. Extras were not allowed to take photos. That would get you kicked off the production. I was also an extra in "Raging Bull" (for 5 weeks), "Blues Brothers" and "Billy Jack Goes To Washington."


Scott Marks Dec. 25, 2012 @ 9:33 p.m.

"BJ Goes to Washington" felt like five weeks. Got any Marty stories from the set of "Bull?"


Duhbya Dec. 25, 2012 @ 6:11 p.m.

Possibly one of the most underrated actors of his generation. One of my favorites was "True Confessions", with De Niro and Duvall. He danced an impressive jig in that one, too. I've never forgotten a line he addressed to (Monsignor) De Niro: "Who absolves you?" Sole survivor of his platoon that landed on Omaha Beach, by the way.


Colonna Dec. 26, 2012 @ 5:03 a.m.

Jon Favreau created, produced, and starred in the IFC talk show "Dinner For Five". Jon invites four different actors/actresses/industry insiders to dinner and everything is filmed and edited later.

How Charles Durning ended up with Dom DeLuise (with cap), Charles Nelson Reilly (without toupee), and Burt Reynolds (with bad toupee) is beyond me. And surprise, surprise - Durning outshines them all by not saying much.

Feel free to skip ahead to 6:22 to hear Durning talk about "Tootsie", 11:45 about his WWII experiences related by Burt (oy!), and 17:29 about his early life (in which he brings down the house over parfaits).

RIP Chuck - a great body of work. You'll be missed.


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