Thursday, March 27, 2008


Some family members used to joke that if a famous person in Connecticut passed away while I was home on a visit, then they probably died to avoid any possible chance encounter with me.

If that's to be believed, Richard Widmark probably thought I was heading for Roxbury.....

The legendary movie tough guy passed away this week at the age of 93.

People know him for his movies, especially "Kiss Of Death"; but also for "Judgement At Nuremberg", "Murder On The Orient Express", "Cheyenne Autumn", "Pickup On South Street", "How The West Was Won", and "Coma".

But he had several television credits of interest for Toobworld, even though he waited until 1971 to take in an interest in any TV roles offered to him (unlike many of his contemporaries).

It's my opinion, of course, but there are five TV roles taken by Widmark that call for remarks.

1] "Vanished"
This was the role that broke the embargo against working in Television. Widmark plays US President Paul Roudebush, caught in an ever-growing scandal after the disappearance of one of his closest advisors. "Vanished" was one of the first TV mini-series (actually a two-part TV movie) with an all-star cast; it was based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel.

Roudebush's term in the Oval Office took place around the early 1970s, late 1960s, in the alternate TV dimension I've dubbed Earth Prime-Time MOTW in which the line of succession for the Presidents come mostly from TV movies of the week.

2] "Benjamin Franklin"
Franklin is the most colorful character in American history, so it's little wonder that he has been played so often in TV. (In fact, currently he's being portrayed by Tom Wilkinson in the HBO mini-series 'John Adams'.) And with so many different portrayals, there's a different Franklin for quite a few alternate TV dimensions.

For "Benjamin Franklin", a mini-series portrait of the statesman, four films featured six different actors playing the role at various stages in the life of Franklin. Widmark played him in the early days of the American Revolution. (The other actors playing Franklin were Melvyn Douglas, Eddie Albert, Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, and Willie Aames.)

The four main actors (Widmark, Douglas, Albert, and pere Bridges) would thus be relegated to different TV dimensions.

3] "Once Upon A Texas Train"
This is part of the "Over The Hill Gang" trilogy, with the other films being "The Over The Hill Gang" and "The Over The Hill Gang Rides Again". But even though it was the last film in the series, "Once Upon A Texas Train" (also known as "Texas Guns") is the first in the Toobworld timeline. Richard Widmark plays former Texas Ranger Oren Hayes, who was played by Pat O'Brien in the first film. (The lists the role as "Owen Hayes", but his first name was "Oren".)

As he was playing the role at a (slightly) younger age, Widmark's interpretation of Oren Hayes doesn't have to be relegated to an alternate TV dimension. The argument could be made that with the passage of two decades, his version of Hayes could have aged into that of O'Brien's portrayal. (The other members of the gang played at an earlier stage in their lives: Chuck Connors for Walter Brennan as Nash Crawford, Stuart Whitman for Chill Wills as Gentleman George Agnew, and Jack Elam for Edgar Buchanan as Jason Fitch.)

4] 'Madigan'
Lt. Daniel Madigan is one of those characters who exist in more than one creative universe. (A great example is the Pigeon Sisters of "The Odd Couple. They were played by Monica Evans and Carole Shelley in theatre, the movies, and on TV.)

Widmark played Madigan in a gritty 1968 movie which co-starred Henry Fonda and Inger Stevens and a host of great character actors like Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, and Michael Dunn.
About five years later, NBC asked Widmark to star in a TV adaptation of his character from the movie (after another pilot - "Brock's Last Case" - didn't do so well in the ratings.

But unlike movies connected to other TV shows, like the 'Star Trek' films, "Maverick", and the 1966 'Batman', we can't make the assertion that the movie "Madigan" should be absorbed into the TV Universe. That's because Dan Madigan died at the end of the film.

I could perhaps go for the pretzel logic splainin that the movie takes place after the six episodes of the series, but I think it's better for everybody to keep the two Madigan Men in their separate universes, just as we do for Radar O'Reilly even though Gary Burghoff played them both.

And finally.....

5] 'I Love Lucy' - "The Tour"
In the season finale of the show's fourth season, Lucy and Ethel took a bus tour of the Hollywood homes to relieve their boredom. With her usual sense of entitlement which always turned me off to her character, Lucy decided to climb over the wall onto Richard Widmark's property to steal one of his grapefruits. But then she fell and was stuck in his yard.

According to, Widmark didn't want his property used for the scene, so the house recently bought by Desi and Lucy stood in for Widmark's home. As it turned out, this was a smart decision by the actor, since fans would come around for years after to recreate the stunt.

Here's a list of the other TV roles of Richard Widmark:

Lincoln (1992) (TV) (voice) .... Ward Hill Lamon
Cold Sassy Tree (1989) (TV) .... Enid Rucker Blakeslee
A Gathering of Old Men (1987) (TV) .... Sheriff Mapes
Blackout (1985) (TV) .... Joe Steiner
A Whale for the Killing (1981) (TV) .... Tom Goodenough
All God's Children (1980) (TV) .... Judge Parke Denison
The Last Day (1975) (TV) .... Will Spence
Brock's Last Case (1973) (TV) .... Lieutenant Max Brock

As Red Skelton would have said, May God Bless.....

Toby OB

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