Stuart Whitman, who costarred with John Wayne and Lee Marvin in 1962’s The Comancheros, has died at the age of 92 from skin cancer.
The age of 92 is a ripe one for any person, but for a veteran actor know for his dark, brooding good looks to survive for that period of time, is quite an accomplishment.
In all honesty, I was not much of a fan, despite his lengthy and prolific career listed in this online obit.
An apt description was given his career in British David Quinlan’s 1981 compendium, The Illustrated Directory of Film Stars: “Black-haired, craggy-faced American leading man who played a lot of very small roles before breaking into the big time via a Fox contract. These years at the studio (1958-1965) were his only ones as a top Hollywood star, and contain his best performances. Since then, he has remained a regular, if somewhat immobile, second-line leading man.”
Whitman also had a small role in the underrated Randolph Scott & Lee Marvin western, Seven Men From Now (1956). That aside, I just always thought of him as part of that generation of actors who for a brief period starred in films at the tail of the studio system, as Quinlan mentioned. Hollywood’s feudal studio system was beginning to crumble so the attempts to make superstars out of the likes of Stuart Whitman and George Hamilton was short-lived. The changing cultural landscape did allow audiences a glimpse at early roles of actors who supported the likes of Hamilton and Whitman, and would become lasting major superstars later in the 1960s and 1970s, Such as Charles Bronson, and yes, Lee Marvin.
Don’t get me wrong, Whitman was a serviceable presence in the right role, such as Pau Regret in The Comancheros — the making of which is detailed in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Personally, despite his well-deserved Oscar-nomination for The Mark (1961), I liked him best in the gritty true-life crime drama, Murder Inc. (1960). Granted, Whitman’s all-American good looks seemed out of place among the ethnic faces, but his scene towards the end of the film in which he confronts Abe “Kid Twist” Reles (Peter Falk), may very well be Stuart Whitman’s best acting ever, in my humble opinion.
Until then, with all the social isolation in place, it might not be a bad idea to catch up on some classic films made by Whitman and others so you can judge for yourself. The ranks are clearly thinning.
– Dwayne Epstein