Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
After serving in the Army during World War II (he was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and three Purple Hearts), Charles Durning broke into acting in the early 1960s and went on to receive two Academy Award nominations for his roles in the films “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982) and “To Be Or Not To Be” (1983).
Durning, who made his film debut in Ernest Pintoff's “Harvey Middleman, Fireman” (1965), has also starred in such films as "Hi, Mom!" (1970), "The Sting" (1973), "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975), "Tootsie" (1982), "State and Main" (2000), "Dirty Deeds" (2005), "Deal" (2008) and "The Drum Beats Twice" (2008). The 85-year-old actor is now working on his upcoming films, "iMurders," "A Bunch of Amateurs" and "Room and Board."
The veteran actor also received praise for his stage work and won Broadway's Tony Award for Best Actor (Featured Role – Play) for his performance in a revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1990). Durning also starred in Broadway productions of "Inherit the Wind" (1996), "The Gin Game" (1997) and Gore Vidal's "The Best Man" (2000).
On television, he portrayed John 'Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald in the miniseries "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" (1990) and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. He also received Emmy nominations for starring in the TV movie "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" (1975), the miniseries "Captains and the Kings" (1976), the television movie "Attica" (1980), and the CBS adaptation of Arthur Miller's 1949 play, "Death of a Salesman" (1985). He also guest-starred in a 1998 episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" and in a 2004 episode of "Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service."
Meanwhile, Durning starred as Officer Frank Murphy in the short-lived NBC sitcom "The Cop and the Kid" (1975), played the Emmy-nominated role of Dr. Harlan Elldridge on the popular CBS ensemble sitcom "Evening Shade" (1990-1994), and co-starred as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Hoskins in the short-lived CBS court-room drama "First Monday" (2002). He played the recurring role of Father Hubley (1998-2002) in the CBS Emmy Award-winning sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Mike Gavin (2004-2007) in the FX series "Rescue Me."
The diversely talented stage and screen actor, who was kicked out of the American Academy of Dramatic Art drama school very early in his acting career, was honored with the Life Achievement Award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Ceremony on January 27, 2008.
Childhood and Family:
On February 28, 1923, Charles Durning, nicknamed Chuck, was born in Highland Falls, New York, to James and Louise Durning. After his Army officer father died when he was very young, Durning was raised by his mother who supported the family working as a laundress at the nearby West Point military academy.
Young Durning attended Columbia University, in New York and New York University. He also trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Art drama school, but was kicked out because they thought he had no talent. Another famous thespian to be booted from the school was Jason Robards.
Durning served with the 1st Infantry Division in World War II and landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, during the Normandy invasion, where he was the only member of his unit to survive the Omaha Beach "D-Day" invasion. He was wounded in the hip (he still carries the bullet in his hip) and legs three days after he got off the boat. He was also one of a few survivors to the infamous massacre of American POWs by German SS troops at Malmedy, Belgium, during World War II. Durning later was awarded several decorations, including the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and three Purple Hearts. He is well-known for participating in various functions to honor American veterans and was the chairman one year of the U.S. National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans.
"I dropped into a void for almost a decade. The physical injuries heal first. It's your mind that's hard to heal." Charles Durning (on his post war years)
Despite the wounds he received in WWII, Durning went on to become a professional dancer and dance teacher. He taught at the Fred Astaire studio.
Durning has three children, Jeanine, Michelle, and Douglas Durning with his first wife Carol. They divorced in 1972 and Durning went on to marry his present wife the next year, Mary Ann Amelio, his childhood sweetheart. Durning has 2 stepchildren from Mary Ann Amelio's previous marriage.
To Be Or Not To Be
"Dancing came easy for me. Acting came hard." Charles Durning
After serving in the Army during World War II, Charles Durning worked as an iron worker, elevator operator, construction worker, cabbie, waiter, nightclub singer, ballroom dancer, dance instructor and professional boxer, despite the wounds he received during the war. Durning, who worked in his first professional play in Buffalo before going off to war, eventually turned to acting in the early 1960s and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He soon began landing stage roles in regional and touring productions.
By the early 1960s, he was an in-demand performer on the New York stage, appearing in 35 plays for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare Festival beginning in 1962 and in between 40 and 50 plays in Brooklyn stock companies. He soon entered television and made his first appearance with a guest spot in a 1963 episode of the CBS drama series "East Side/West Side."
The following year, Durning made his Broadway debut in “Poor Bitos” (1964) and followed it up with performances in Broadway's musicals “Drat! The Cat!” (1965) and “Pousse-Café” (1966). He then played Ned Buntline in “Indians” (October 13, 1969 - January 3, 1970) and Louis Bonnard in the comedy/musical “The Happy Time” (January 18, 1968 - September 28, 1968).
Durning made his film acting debut in "Harvey Middleman, Fireman" (1965), a drama/comedy written and directed by Ernest Pintoff starring Eugene Troobnick. In the early 1970s, credited as Charles Durnham, he acted in Brian De Palma's dark comedy movie "Hi, Mom!" (1970) and had a regular role as Police Chief Gil McGowan #1 (1972) on the NBC soap "Another World."
In 1972, Durning was "discovered" by producer George Roy Hill in the NY production of Jason Miller's "That Championship Season" (September 14, 1972 - April 21, 1974), in which he played George Sikowski. During this time, he played Harold in Broadway's drama “Boom Boom Room” (November 8, 1973 - December 9, 1973) and appeared opposite Julie Harris in Broadway's "The au Pair Man" (December 27, 1973 - January 27, 1974), playing Eugene Hartigan. He also scored a breakthrough feature supporting role in George Roy Hill's acclaimed Oscar-winning caper film set in September of 1936, "The Sting" (1973; with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw), portraying corrupt police Lieutenant William Snyder..
Durning subsequently booked his first starring TV role, that of Officer Frank Murphy, in the short-lived NBC sitcom "The Cop and the Kid" (1975), and starred opposite Maureen Stapleton in the CBS romantic/drama TV-movie that served as the basis for the 1978 Broadway musical "Ballroom," "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" (1975), which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy.
Charles earned praise for his role in Sidney Lumet's Academy Award-winning crime/drama/thriller film based on the events of a Brooklyn bank robbery in 1972, "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975). He won a Best Supporting Actor Award from the National Board of Review and was nominated for Golden Globe's Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture.
After returning to Broadway in the comedy “Knock Knock” (February 24, 1976 - July 3, 1976), Durning appeared in the miniseries inspired by Taylor Caldwell's novel, "Captains and the Kings" (1976), which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Television. He also received another Emmy nomination, this time for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special, for his performance as Commissioner Russell Oswald in the made-for-television movie “Attica” (1980).
The early 1980s saw Durning portray Father Tim Farley in Bill C. Davis' two-person, Catholic-themed comedy production of "Mass Appeal" at the American Stage Company in Aspen, CO, in 1982 and Jessica Lange's father in Sydney Pollack's award-winning comedy film "Tootsie.” He then received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his role in Colin Higgins' feature film adaptation of the Broadway musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
In 1983, Durning earned his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his humorous performance of Erhardt in Alan Johnson's remake of the 1942 comedy film, "To Be or Not to Be," starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. His performance in the film also earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.
Afterward, Durning was nominated for Emmy's Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for his supporting performance opposite Dustin Hoffman in the CBS television adaptation of Arthur Miller's 1949 play, "Death of a Salesman" (1985). He was also nominated for CableACE's Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries for playing Warden Hardy in the true story-based TV movie “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains” (1987; opposite Val Kilmer).
Entering the new decade, Durning played Dr. Harlan Elldridge on the popular CBS ensemble sitcom, "Evening Shade" (1990-1994). He also starred in "Harlan & Merleen" (1993), an unsold pilot spun off from "Evening Shade."
During his "Evening Shade" tenure, Durning won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV for his standout performance as John 'Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald in the miniseries "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" (1990). He also returned to Broadway and received praise for his portrayal of Big Daddy in the revival of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (March 21, 1990 - August 1, 1990), which won him Tony's Best Actor (Featured Role – Play).
From April 4, 1996, to May 12, 1996, Durning portrayed the role of Matthew Harrison Brady in the Broadway revival of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee's dramatic play “Inherit the Wind,” and starred opposite Julie Harris in a revival of D.L. Coburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning two-person, two-act play, "The Gin Game.” In 1998, he was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for playing Thomas Finnegan in an episode of the NBC highly-acclaimed police procedural series "Homicide: Life on the Street," and began playing the recurring role of Father Hubley in the CBS Emmy Award-winning sitcom starring Ray Romano, "Everybody Loves Raymond," in which he stayed until 2002.
Hitting the new millennium, Durning played Shelly Levine in the New Jersey revival of David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play "Glengarry Glen Ross" and returned to Broadway co-starring as Ex-President Arthur Hockstader in a revival of Gore Vidal's "The Best Man." As for the big screen, Durning was seen in writer/director David Mamet's comedy "State and Main," in which he portrayed Mayor George Bailey.
In 2002, Durning co-starred as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Hoskins in the short-lived CBS court-room drama "First Monday," alongside Joe Mantegna and James Garner. Also that year, he appeared on stage in "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.”
From 2004 to 2007, Durning played Mike Gavin, the retired firefighter father of Denis Leary's character, in the FX series "Rescue Me." He left the show in its Season 4 finale when his character died. Meanwhile, he delivered an Emmy-nominated guest starring role as a Marine veteran named Ernie Yost in a November 2004 episode of the CBS police procedural drama "Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service." He also starred in David Kendall's American Pie-like teen comedy "Dirty Deeds" (2005; with Lacey Chabert and Milo Ventimiglia) and headlined Wendy Wasserstein's "Third" at the Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, in New York, in October 2005. Additionally, he co-starred with Armin Mueller-Stahl, Trevor Morgan, and Ray Liotta in writer/director George Gallo's drama film "Local Color," and with Michael Paré and Beverly Lynne in George Lekovic's crime/horror/thriller "Kinky Killers" (2007).
Durning was honored with the Life Achievement Award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Ceremony on January 27, 2008. That same year, the 85-year-old veteran actor starred in the films "Chatham," a novel-based romantic comedy set on Cape Cod in 1905 directed by Daniel Adams, "Good Dick," an independent film by newcomer Marianna Palka, and "Deal," a drama comedy by Gil Cates Jr. in which he co-stars with Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison, and Shannon Elizabeth. He was also seen in "Break," writer/director Marc Clebanoff's drama starring Frank Krueger, Sarah Thompson, and Chad Everett, and "The Drum Beats Twice," Ken Del Vecchio's dramatic film in which he portrayed Satan.
Durning will soon complete his upcoming films projects, "iMurders," Robbie Bryan's horror/mystery/thriller starring Gabrielle Anwar and William Forsythe, "A Bunch of Amateurs," Andy Cadiff's comedy starring Burt Reynolds, and "Room and Board," a horror film directed by Julia Davis.
"There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls that we don't want anyone to know about. There's terror and repulsion in us, horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting." Charles Durning (on acting)
Screen Actors Guild: Life Achievement, 2008
Florida Film Critics Circle: Best Ensemble Cast, "State and Main," 2001
Online Film Critics Society: Best Ensemble Cast Performance, "State and Main," 2001
National Board of Review: Best Acting by an Ensemble, "State and Main," 2000
Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV, "The Kennedys of Massachusetts," 1991
Tony: Best Actor (Featured Role - Play), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," 1990
National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actor, "Dog Day Afternoon," 1975