Charles Durning’s plain features ensured he was never the leading man. His talent ensured you remembered him in whatever role he played. His name might not immediately jump into your mind, but moviegoers know the face.The actor and World War II vet died Christmas Eve at age 89.
The Academy honored him with Oscar nominations for his sleazy governor in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and a Nazi colonel in “To Be or Not to Be.” Most movie buffs probably remember him as the man who fell head over heels for Dustin Hoffman’s female impersonation in “Tootsie.”
The prolific Durning was also a Broadway icon, who won a 1990 Tony for Best Featured Actor thanks to his portrayal of Big Daddy in “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.” Broadway will dim its bright lights at 8 p.m. Thursday night in his memory. It will honor Jack Klugman in the same fashion 8 p.m. Friday night.
TV tapped Durning for roles including a priest on sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and a retired firefighter in Rescue Me. He earned nine Emmy nominations for his TV work.
Durning won accolades as a soldier in World War II. Unlike his acting honors, he didn’t seek these out and didn’t like to talk about them. He won a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. The actor told Parade Magazine of a life or death struggle with a German boy he said couldn’t have been more than 15. He couldn’t bring himself to shoot the young man, so they fought. Durning eventually had to beat him to death with a rock. He told the magazine he held the boy in his arms and cried at the futility of it all.
The horrible things he saw forced Durning to seek help for battlefield trauma. He said the darkness of those combats never truly left him, and that he was able to release some of that pent up pain and frustration through acting.