Stuart Whitman, leading man on big and small Screens, dies at 92
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Stuart Whitman, leading man on big and small Screens, dies at 92
Flowers Placed On Stuart Whitman's Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on March 17, 2020 in Hollywood, California. Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/AFP.

by Ashley Southall

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Stuart Whitman, a ruggedly handsome actor who appeared in countless films and television shows over 50 years, earning an Oscar nomination for his role as a convicted child molester in the 1961 movie “The Mark” died on Monday at his home in Montecito, California. He was 92.

His son Scott confirmed the death.

In a career that began in the early 1950s, Whitman went from bit player to dependable leading man. He was known for his studied portrayals of complex characters, whether heroes or rogues.

Television viewers in the 1960s knew Whitman best as the brusque, gravel-voiced Marshal Jim Crown on “Cimarron Strip,” a CBS Western series set in the 1880s in what would later become the Oklahoma Panhandle. Armed with a .44-caliber Colt revolver, Marshal Crown worked to maintain order among the territory’s homesteaders, Native Americans and brawling cowboys.

“Cimarron Strip” was a weekly 90-minute show, a rarity on network television then and now. While it drew a cult following and favorable reviews, it lasted only one season, 1967-68, before being canceled because of low ratings and high production costs.

Among Whitman’s other notable roles were a gambling prison escapee opposite John Wayne in “The Comancheros” (1961) and a clumsy cowboy in “Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines,” the 1965 British comedy about early aviators.

In the 1957 film “Johnny Trouble,” he played a wayward college student reformed by the guidance of a grandmotherly woman played by Ethel Barrymore. In “Murder Inc.” (1960), he was a singer recruited as a Mafia informant who later testifies against a crime boss to avenge his wife’s murder.

In earning his best-actor Oscar nomination, in “The Mark,” Whitman appeared opposite Rod Steiger and Maria Schell as a recovering child molester battling psychological torment.

He recalled hearing his Oscar nomination announced on the radio as he was driving in Los Angeles. “I almost drove off the road,” he said.

Reviewing the film in The New York Times, A.H. Weiler wrote: “Stuart Whitman is fine as the former Canadian, caught in a terrifying world he never made, but one he is desperately trying to conquer. Although Whitman’s performance is largely laconic, he does manage to convey the turmoil that would unnerve a physically strong, but mentally sensitive, man.”

Whitman faced strong competition from his fellow nominees, Charles Boyer, Paul Newman, Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell. The award went to Schell, Maria Schell’s younger brother, for his role in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Whitman was a member of the all-star cast in “The Longest Day,” the 1962 ensemble film about the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, alongside John Wayne, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery and others. He was in three movies in 1964 alone, notably the western “Rio Conchos.”

But by 1966, Whitman, in the words of Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, still lacked “the shine of a bright movie star.”

“People come up to me and say, ‘How come?’” Whitman told Skolsky. “I guess I wasn’t ready.”

He expected stardom finally to arrive that year with his role as a television newscaster who murders his wife in “An American Dream,” adapted from the novel by Norman Mailer.

But the film was a flop, avoided by moviegoers and panned by critics, who saw major flaws in the translation from page to screen. Howard Thompson of The Times called it a “tired, jaded, mire-splattered old turkey.”

If movie stardom eluded Whitman, he became a familiar face on television. Beginning in the late 1960s, he played more than 100 roles on various series. He was Clark Kent’s adoptive father on “The Adventures of Superboy” (1988-92). He had a recurring role on “Knots Landing” in 1990. He was a guest on several episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” from 1984-92, and appeared in a two-part episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” in 1994.

Stuart Maxwell Whitman was born on Feb. 1, 1928, in San Francisco to Joseph and Cecilia (Gold) Whitman.

His father was a real estate developer whose work took the family from San Francisco to New York and eventually to Los Angeles. The family moved so often that by the time Stuart graduated from Hollywood High School in 1945, he once said, he had attended 26 schools.

He enlisted in the Army in 1945 and served in the Corps of Engineers. He boxed as a light heavyweight during his three years in the Army, winning 32 fights and losing one. In that one loss, however, he suffered a broken nose that ended his boxing career.

After he was discharged in 1948, he studied acting at the Ben Bard Drama School and Los Angeles City College. To support himself, he bought a bulldozer from his father, which he used to clear lots, uproot trees and level rugged terrain.

As his career blossomed, Whitman earned roles alongside some of the most prominent actors of his generation. In 1959, he appeared in the film adaptation of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” with Yul Brynner and Joanne Woodward, and shared one of Hollywood’s first interracial kisses with Dorothy Dandridge in “The Decks Ran Red.”

His marriage to Patricia Lalonde, a former model, ended in divorce. In 1966 he married Caroline Bubois, the daughter of a wealthy French industrialist; they divorced in 1974. In 2006 he married Julia Paradiz. In addition to his son Scott, from his first marriage, she survives him, as do three other children from his first marriage, Tony, Michael and Linda Whitman; a son from his second marriage, Justin; a brother, Kipp; seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

He also amassed a fortune as a real estate investor.

“I didn’t need to act to make a living, but had a real passion for it,” he said in an interview for this obituary in 2014. “I just loved to act.”

Whitman continued to act in films and on television until 2000, when he appeared in the “The President’s Man,” a television movie starring Chuck Norris.

In 1964, as his first marriage was falling apart, Whitman was released by 20th Century Fox. The move took him by surprise.

“I thought that since I had proved I could do comedy as well as play heavies, and since I had an Academy nomination for ‘The Mark,’ I would have been given a raise,” he said. “Instead, I was dropped.”

He credited the 1965 film “Sands of the Kalahari” for helping him to pull himself together after he pleaded with the producer, Joseph E. Levine, for the lead role following George Peppard’s departure.

He later recounted: “I got Joe Levine on the phone and I said, ‘You’ve promised me a role for years! You promised me Jonas Cord in “The Carpetbaggers,” and then Nevada Smith! I don’t care how big you are or how much bigger you get — if I don’t get “Kalahari,” I’ll never work for you!’”

“The next day I was told the role was mine, and I flew out immediately for Africa.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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