September 11, 2010

Unforgettable: Part I

character - adjective Theater
a. (of a part or role) representing a personality type, esp. by emphasizing distinctive traits, as language, mannerisms, physical makeup, etc.
b. (of an actor or actress) acting or specializing in such roles.

Earlier this week saw the sudden passing of actor Glenn Shadix. Len and I were totally shocked and deeply saddened by the news as we had previously corresponded with him at various points over the past couple of years. Glenn came across as an extremely friendly and generous man with great style and a terrific sense of humor. In early 2009, he had invited us to a housewarming party he was planning on having when he moved into his new home in Birmingham, Alabama. For whatever reason we were unable to go, but the very notion of him inviting us was a sweet and kind gesture on his part. He seemed like such a great guy and I'm terribly sad that Len and I never had the opportunity to get to meet him in person and share some time with him.

I first noticed Glenn (as I'm sure most people did) in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988), where he played Otho, the snotty interior designer. It was a funny and memorable role and he got to deliver some great lines. The famous quote, "Don't mind her. She's still upset because somebody dropped a house on her sister", was his own and he was thrilled that Burton let him use it in the famous "Day-O" dinner scene. Soon after, I began seeing him in more films, like his bit as Father Ripper in Heathers (1989), Meet the Applegates (1991), Sleepwalkers (1992) and his second most well-known bit; as Associate Bob in Demolition Man (1993). I loved his role in this film - he was like an outrageous Buddha with his flowing, heavy robes and that sneaky, smarmy gleam in his eye. It reminded me of a 1960s Batman villain. In addition to numerous voice over roles in a wide variety of animated series - and, most notably, in his third most famous role, the voice of The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas - Glenn was also an amazing photographer and overall champion and supporter of the arts - most recently, working closely with The Museum of Modern Art for the opening and closing of the Tim Burton career retrospective.

When I was a teenager, I would constantly make lists of all the character actors that fascinated me. For some reason I loved to write out their names and make up fake movies in my head in which I would cast them. Names like Nancy Parsons, Vincent Gardenia, Shirley Stoler, Pat Ast, Sydney Lassick, Don Calfa, Carrie Nye and many more. Glenn Shadix, by the way, was always on this list. Seeing one their faces pop up in a movie was thrilling and, more often than not, made the film much more watchable and certainly a lot more fun. The main detail that they all shared was their often unusual appearance, be it through age, body type, acting style, line delivery or just simply by having a memorable and unforgettable face. It's these people that further enhanced and reignited my passion and love for film.

Starting today, I am going to profile a couple of interesting character actors that have found their way into my heart. I will spotlight more over the next few days.

Glenn, this article is dedicated to you.

Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

I recently watched James Whale's 1932 film, The Old Dark House and was immediately taken by the appearance of actor Ernest Thesiger who played Horace Femm, an incredibly effeminate and grotesque old man who's amazing, emaciated skull-like face was used perfectly in his role as the snotty and nervous host to a group of stranded motorists. His delivery of dialogue is impeccable - try not to smile when he articulates the line, "Have a potato". Thesiger would reunite with director Whale for his most notorious role; that of Dr. Septimus Pretorius (best name ever?) in Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Browne in Basket Case (1982)

Probably THE most obscure actress I've ever been interested in. Basket Case (1982) features what is most likely the only role she has ever played on screen. Diana plays the evil Dr. Judith Kutter, a ruthless veterinarian who separates an unfortunate set of conjoined twins. They are on a mission of revenge and she is not pleased about it. The thing that immediately drew me to her was her wacky, Ruth Buzzi-on-steroids appearance and her persistent nastiness. Plus she meets a memorable demise at the hands of the monstrous Belial in a truly unforgettable example of amazing, low-budget special effects makeup. I asked director Frank Henenlotter about her, asking "Who was that incredible lady?" Turns out she was a friend of a friend and he ultimately lost touch with her. What a shame. I would have loved to have seen her in other films. I could have seen her playing parts like The Evil Judge, The Evil High School Principal or The Evil Department of Motor Vehicles Lady.