Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Joseph Wiseman (1918-2009)

Joseph Wiseman, a Canadian-born actor of considerable power, has died at 91. Perhaps best remembered as an acid-tongued burglar-junkie in Detective Story, an intellectual provocateur in Viva Zapata, and the first of many villains to bedevil James Bond when he appeared as his icy nemesis in Dr. No, this actor also brightened The Garment Jungle (1957); The Unforgiven (1960); and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974). Of his role in the precedent setting Dr. No, Wiseman said: "I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I had no idea it would achieve the success it did. I know nothing about mysteries. I don't take to them. As far as I was concerned, I thought it might be just another grade-B Charlie Chan mystery."

Standing out in a crowd: Wiseman (in striped suit) nibbles the scenery in one of his first film roles surrounded by experts in that art in Detective Story (1951-William Wyler).

While many will remember him for these iconic movies and his many appearances on Broadway in everything from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, for me, he will always be the elegantly malevolent sorcerer in a long ago television adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Wild Swans, and the fascinating "Manny Weisbord" in the underrated series of the 1980s, Crime Story. He moved like a dancer, and achieved that impossible to describe yet recognizable trait in all his roles: isolation in a crowd of actors. Though I know people who think he was far too theatrical in his film work, that aspect of his work simply enlarges the implications of his character's presence in a story, giving it flair and dimension that is often sadly lacking in many modern performances. Maybe it's just me. Here are links to obits in the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times:

The New York Times Obit for Wiseman

Los Angeles Times Obit for Wiseman


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