Friday, October 16, 2015
Remembering Ed Lauter
Ed Lauter passed away two years ago today -- but I still keep his last voice mail message to me on my cellphone. Mind you, I don't listen to it very often, for fear I will do something clumsy and stupid and wind up erasing it. But I must confess: I do occasionally listen, just to enjoy the sheer enthusiasm in his voice as he expressed his hope "to be lifting a glass" with me "sometime soon" after I introduced him and Edward Burns' The Fitzgerald Family Christmas at the 2012 Starz Denver Film Festival.
As I wrote on Oct. 16, 2013:
Among the most pleasant experiences I have enjoyed in recent years was a long, leisurely lunch with Ed Lauter, one of my all-time-favorite character actors, last November at the Starz Denver Film Festival. For the better part of two hours before we engaged in an on-stage, post-screening Q&A after the Denver Fest premiere of Ed Burns' delightful The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, we chatted about the highlights of our respective careers -- and he was graciously polite enough to indicate he found my anecdotes almost as interesting as his.
Mind you, it wasn't like we were in any sort of "Can you top this?" competition. Because, really, what could I possibly say that could top his account of being cast by Alfred Hitchcock in Family Plot after The Master of Suspense spotted him in The Longest Yard ? Lauter impressed Hitchcock so much that he was set to co-star in The Short Night, Hitchcock's next film -- the film, alas, Hitchcock didn't live to make.
Lauter passed away Wednesday at age 74, leaving behind a body of work that ranges from The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972) and French Connection II (1975) to The Artist (2011) and Trouble With the Curve (2012). "When I first started out,” he said in Denver, “I always thought, ‘Oh, I want to work with this great actor, or that great director.’ All these wonderful dinosaurs. Well, now I’ve become one of those dinosaurs, I guess.” I would be a liar if I didn't admit I felt immensely flattered when he told me that, because I'd singled him out for special praise in my Variety review of Fitzgerald Family Christmas, I'd helped get him "back in the game." I just wish he'd stuck around to play a little longer.
So what will I do with the voice mail message? Well, I am reminded of an episode of another all-time favorite, Harry O, the 1974-76 TV series starring the late, great David Janssen as private eye Harry Orwell. In the Feb. 27, 1975 episode titled "Elegy for a Cop," Harry's buddy on on the San Diego police force, Manny Quinlan (Henry Darrow), is killed by drug dealers. Harry brings the culprits to justice but, in his typical melancholy fashion, he remains seriously bummed by the death of his friend. So he goes to his favorite bar, and asks his favorite bartender to keep a bottle of his favorite whiskey -- which he has purchased, for an inflated price -- on a shelf for easy access. Says Harry:
"Every once in a while, somebody will come in here – and you’ll see that you like ‘em right away. Because they’re decent, and just good people. So give ‘em a drink out of this bottle. It doesn’t matter whether they have money or not. Tell 'em the drink’s on Manny Quinlan. Maybe they’ll remember him. If you feel like it, tell 'em he was a friend of mine."
The bartender readily agrees, but asks: "What’ll I do when the bottle runs out?"
"Nothing," Harry wistfully responds, clinking his glass in a toast against the side of the bottle. "Nobody lives forever."