I met Charles Durning at the Oscars, in 1983. He'd been nominated for "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," Best Supporting Actor.
I was struck by how much The Camera loved his face. It was stunning. In real life, you'd never know he was a movie star. In real life, he was startlingly, breathtakingly homely. The word "ugly" is not out of the question. Somehow, The Camera smoothed all that out on the movie screen, and fixed it.
I actually jumped, seeing him in a crowd of really pretty people, which is what the Oscars crowd is. He looked like a potato, lumpy and bumpy, in a beauty pageant.
Even more jarring, Mr. Durning had two incredibly beautiful women, each a solid Hollywood "10," one on each arm. Huge smiles all around, they clearly adored him. Whatever it takes to rise above a superficial first glance, to a Character Actor Star, he had it, in spades.
I was 27, and worried I was starting Acting too late. I asked him, and he told me he only got started Acting in his '40s, but that I should hurry. I asked if Acting had been his first choice. He told me he'd had lots of other jobs, including Dance Instructor. But Acting...He grinned, and said, "What else could I do?"
Mr. Durning was Oscar-nominated the following year, again Best Supporting, for Mel Brooks's "To Be Or Not To Be," and he's my favorite in lots of movies, notably The Coen Brothers's "The Hudsucker Proxy," "O Brother Where Art Thou," and David Mamet's "State and Main."
Rest in Peace, Charles Durning. You were great. A wonderful Actor. (And a war hero). You made your mark.
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Charles Durning Actor
O Brother Where Art Thou
State and Main
The Hudsucker Proxy
To Be Or Not To Be