Charles Edward Durning (February 28, 1923 – December 24, 2012) was an American actor, with appearances in over 200 movies, television shows and plays. Durning’s memorable roles included The Sting (1973) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975), along with the comedies Tootsie (1982), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and To Be or Not to Be (1983).
Durning was born in Highland Falls, New York, the ninth of ten children. His three brothers and sister, James (Roger) (1915–2000), Clifford (1916–1994), Frances (born 1919) and Gerald (born 1926), survived to adulthood but five sisters lost their lives to scarlet fever and smallpox as children. He was the son of Louise (née Leonard; 1894–1982), a laundress at West Point, and James Durning (1883 – c. 1939). His father was an Irish immigrant. and his mother was also of Irish descent. Durning was raised Catholic.
In 1959, Durning married his first wife, Carole Doughty. They divorced in 1972. He was legally separated from his second wife, Mary Ann (Amelio) Durning, in 2010. He is survived by his three children from his first marriage.
Charles Durning served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was drafted at age 20 and discharged with the rank of Private First Class on January 30, 1946.
Durning was known for participating in various functions to honor American veterans, including serving as chairman of the U.S. National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans. He was an honored guest speaker for 17 years at the National Memorial Day Concert televised by PBS every year on the Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend.
Durning was paid a special tribute at the May 26, 2013 National Memorial Day Concert when Taps was sounded in his honor.
Military Awards and Decorations
For his valor and the wounds he received during the war, Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medals. Additional awards included the Army Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, and the World War II Victory Medal His badges included the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Badge with Rifle Bar, and Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
Durning received the French National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French Consul in Los Angeles in April 2008.
While pursuing an acting career, Durning, a professional ballroom dancer, taught at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in New York City.
Referred to as “the King of Character Actors”, Durning began his career in 1951. While working as an usher in a burlesque joint, he was hired to replace a drunken actor on stage. Subsequently, he performed in roughly 50 stock company productions and in various off-Broadway plays, eventually attracting the attention of Joseph Papp, founder of The Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Beginning in 1961, he appeared in 35 plays as part of the Shakespeare Festival. “That time in my life was my best time,” Durning told Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette in 2001. “I had no money at all, and he (Joseph Papp) didn’t pay much. You were getting a salary for performance plus a rehearsal salary. We would do three plays in Central Park for the summer. And then you’d do three to six plays every year down on Lafayette Street — new plays by new writers: Sam Shepard, David Mamet, David Rabe, John Ford Noonan, Jason Miller.”
During this period, he segued into television and movies. He made his film debut in 1965, appearing in Harvey Middleman, Fireman. He appeared in John Frankenheimer’s I Walk the Line (1970) starring Gregory Peck, and two Brian DePalma movies, Hi, Mom! (1970), credited as Charles Durnham, with Robert DeNiro and Sisters (1973). He also appeared in Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972) with Barbara Hershey and John Lithgow.
Durning’s performances in Broadway productions include Drat! The Cat! (1965), Pousse-Café (1966), The Happy Time (1968), Indians (1969), That Championship Season (1972), In the Boom Boom Room (1973), The au Pair Man (1973), Knock Knock (1976), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1990), Inherit the Wind (1996), The Gin Game (1997), and The Best Man (2000).
In 2002, he performed in the Tony Randall-produced Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht with Al Pacino. He played the role of Jack Jameson in Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, Third (2005), with Dianne Wiest at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre.
Durning won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for his powerful performance in The Westwood Playhouse’s 1977 production of David Rabe’s Streamers. In 1980, he won critical acclaim for his performance as Norman Thayer, Jr. in Los Angeles’s Ahmanson Theater’s production of On Golden Pond opposite Julie Harris.
In 1972, director George Roy Hill, impressed by Durning’s performance in the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play That Championship Season, offered him a role in The Sting (1973). In the Best Picture-winner, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Durning won distinction as the crooked cop, Lt. Wm. Snyder, who polices and hustles professional con artists. He doggedly pursues the young grifter, Johnny Hooker (Redford), only to become the griftee in the end. Other film credits include Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino; When A Stranger Calls; The Final Countdown; The Hindenburg; Twilight’s Last Gleaming with Burt Lancaster; True Confessions with Robert DeNiro. Some television credits include The Connection; Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, the made-for-television musical in which he played the mailman who reaches out to Maureen Stapleton’s lonely widow on the dance floor; Attica; PBS’s Dancing Bear with Tyne Daly; the PBS production I Would Be Called John as Pope John XXIII; Hallmark Hall of Fame: Casey Stengel, in which Durning played the legendary baseball manager Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel; NBC’s mini-series Studs Lonigan with Harry Hamlin and Colleen Dewhurst; The Best Little Girl in the World with Jennifer Jason Leigh. In 1976, he received both an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the television mini-series Captains and the Kings.
In 1979, he played Doc Hopper, a man who owns a frog leg restaurant and the main antagonist in The Muppet Movie. In Tootsie, he played a suitor to a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman. The two actors worked together again in a 1985 TV production of Death of a Salesman.
In 1993, he guest starred in the Sean Penn-directed music video “Dance with the One That Brought You” by Shania Twain.
Other film roles include Henry Larson, the benevolent father of Holly Hunter’s character in Home for the Holidays (1995) and Waring Hudsucker in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). He worked with the Coen Brothers again playing “Pappy” O’Daniel, a cynical governor of Mississippi (a character loosely based on the Texas politician and showman W. Lee O’Daniel) in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
Prior to appearing in the Burt Reynolds’s TV series Evening Shade, Durning appeared with him in four films, beginning with 1979’s Starting Over, followed by 1981’s Sharky’s Machine, 1982’s Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and 1985’s Stick.
On TV, he played town doctor Harlan Eldridge on the Reynolds sitcom Evening Shade (1990–1994). From 1998-2002, he had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond as the Barone family’s long-suffering parish priest, Father Hubley. He also played the voice of recurring character Francis Griffin in the animated series Family Guy. He appeared on the FX television series Rescue Me, playing Mike Gavin, the retired firefighter father of Denis Leary’s character.
In 2005, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a Marine veteran in “Call of Silence,” an episode in the television series NCIS, first broadcast November 23, 2004. Durning’s character turns himself in to authorities, insisting that he must be prosecuted for having murdered his buddy during ferocious combat on Iwo Jima six decades earlier. The real truth of the incident only becomes known for certain when the guilt-stricken veteran goes through a cathartic reliving of the battlefield events.
For his numerous roles on television, he earned nine Emmy Award nominations. He also received Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nominations for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982 and To Be or Not to Be in 1983. He won a Golden Globe in 1990 for his supporting role in the television miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts, having had three previous nominations. That same year, he won a Tony Award for his performance as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He received two Drama Desk Awards for his performances in That Championship Season and Third.
“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he told Parade. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”
In 1999, Durning was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame on Broadway. He was honored with the Life Achievement Award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Ceremony on January 27, 2008. On July 31, 2008 he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame adjacent to one of his idols, James Cagney.
Durning died of natural causes at his home in Manhattan on December 24, 2012, aged 89 and was subsequently buried at Arlington National Cemetery. On December 27, 2012, Broadway theaters dimmed their lights to honor him. The New York Times, which commented on Durning’s more than 200 credited roles, referred to him and actor Jack Klugman, who died the same day, as “extraordinary actors ennobling the ordinary”. The Huffington Post compared the two men, calling them “character actor titans”.
Durning’s three children were with him when he died. All three live in New York City.
Durning died of natural causes at his home in Manhattan on December 24, 2012, aged 89 and was subsequently buried at Arlington National Cemetery. On December 27, 2012, Broadway theaters dimmed their lights to honor him. The New York Times, which commented on Durning’s more than 200 credited roles, referred to him and actor Jack Klugman, who died the same day, as “extraordinary actors ennobling the ordinary”. The Huffington Post compared the two men, calling them “character actor titans”. Durning’s three children were with him when he died. All three live in New York City.
|Gore Vidal’s The Best Man
|Sep 17, 2000 – Dec 31, 2000|
|The Gin Game
|Apr 20, 1997 – Aug 31, 1997|
|Inherit the Wind
[Play, Drama, Revival]
|Apr 04, 1996 – May 12, 1996|
|Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
[Play, Drama, Revival]
|Mar 21, 1990 – Aug 01, 1990|
[Play, Comedy, Original]
|Feb 24, 1976 – Jul 03, 1976|
|The au Pair Man
|Dec 27, 1973 – Jan 27, 1974|
|Boom Boom Room
[Play, Drama, Original]
|Nov 08, 1973 – Dec 09, 1973|
|That Championship Season
|Sep 14, 1972 – Apr 21, 1974|
|Oct 13, 1969 – Jan 03, 1970|
|The Happy Time
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
|Jan 18, 1968 – Sep 28, 1968|
|Mar 18, 1966 – Mar 19, 1966|
|Drat! The Cat!
[Musical, Comedy, Original]
|Oct 10, 1965 – Oct 16, 1965|
|Nov 14, 1964 – Nov 28, 1964|
|Show(s) (listed chronologically,
most recent first)
|Third||Actor||Jack Jameson||Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater|
|Trumbo: Red White and Blacklisted||Actor||Dalton Trumbo||Westside Theatre (Downstairs)|
|The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui||Actor||Old Dogsborough||National Actors Theatre/The Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University|
|Hamlet||Actor||1st Gravedigger||Delacorte Theater|
|That Championship Season||Actor||George Sikowski||Joseph Papp Public Theater/Newman Theater|
|The Happiness Cage||Actor||Orderly||Joseph Papp Public Theater/Newman Theater|
|The Chronicles of King Henry VI, Part 2||Actor||Cade||Delacorte Theater|
|The Chronicles of King Henry VI, Part 1||Actor||Mayor of London||Delacorte Theater|
|Lemon Sky||Actor||Douglas||Playhouse Theatre|
|Twelfth Night||Actor||Feste||Delacorte Theater|
|Invitation to a Beheading||Actor||Rodicon the Turnkey||Joseph Papp Public Theater/Anspacher Theater|
|Huui Huui||Actor||Daddy||Joseph Papp Public Theater/Anspacher Theater|
|Titus Andronicus||Actor||Narrator||Delacorte Theater|
|King John||Actor||James Gurney||Delacorte Theater|
|The Comedy of Errors||Actor||Dromio of Ephesus||Delacorte Theater|
|The Child Buyer||Actor||Paul Rudd||Garrick Theatre|
|The Child Buyer||Understudy||Voyolko/ Skypack/ Canfield/ Owing/ Wissey||Garrick Theatre|
|The Child Buyer||Stage Manager||Garrick Theatre|
|Too Much Johnson||Actor||A Purser||Phoenix Theatre|
|Too Much Johnson||Actor||A Cuban||Phoenix Theatre|
|Twelfth Night||Actor||Feste||Heckscher Theatre|
|The Winter’s Tale||Actor||Clown||Delacorte Theater|
|Antony and Cleopatra||Actor||Clown||Delacorte Theater|
|Macbeth||Actor||Porter/ Seyton||Heckscher Theatre|
|King Lear||Actor||Messenger from Cornwall||Delacorte Theater|
|Julius Caesar||Actor||N/A||Heckscher Theatre|
|1962||The Password Is Courage||American GI (uncredited)|
|1965||Harvey Middleman, Fireman||Dooley|
|1969||Stiletto||Bit Part (uncredited)|
|1970||I Walk the Line||Hunnicutt|
|1970||Hi, Mom!||Superintendent||as Charles Durnham|
|1971||The Pursuit of Happiness||2nd Guard|
|1972||Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues||Murphy|
|1972||Deadhead Miles||Red Ball Rider (Truck Driver in Cafe)|
|1972||Doomsday Voyage||Jason’s First Mate|
|1972-?||Another World||Gil McGowan (#1)|
|1973||All in the Family||Detective (Episode: “Gloria the Victim”)|
|1973||The Sting||Lt. Wm. Snyder|
|1974||The Front Page||Murphy|
|1975||Dog Day Afternoon||Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti||NBR Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
|1975||The Hindenburg||Capt. Pruss|
|1975||Queen of the Stardust Ballroom||Alvin “Al” Green||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|1976||Harry and Walter Go to New York||Rufus T. Crisp|
|1976||Captains and the Kings||Ed Healey||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
|1977||The Choirboys||Spermwhale Whalen|
|1977||Twilight’s Last Gleaming||President David Stevens|
|1978||An Enemy of the People||Peter Stockmann|
|1978||The Fury||Dr. Jim McKeever|
|1978||The Greek Tycoon||Michael Russell|
|1979||Starting Over||Michael “Mickey” Potter|
|1979||North Dallas Forty||Coach Johnson|
|1979||When a Stranger Calls||John Clifford|
|1979||The Muppet Movie||Doc Hopper|
|1979||Tilt||Harold ‘The Whale’ Remmens|
|1980||The Final Countdown||Senator Samuel Chapman|
|1980||Attica||Commissioner Russell Oswald||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|1981||Dark Night of the Scarecrow||Otis P. Hazelrigg|
|1981||True Confessions||Jack Amsterdam|
|1982||Tootsie||Leslie ‘Les’ Nichols|
|1982||The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas||Governor||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|1983||Two of a Kind||Charlie|
|1983||Scarface||Immigration Officer – voice (uncredited)|
|1983||To Be or Not to Be||Col. Erhardt||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
|1984||Mass Appeal||Monsignor Thomas Burke|
|1984||Hadley’s Rebellion||Sam Crawford|
|1984||Mister Roberts||The Captain|
|1985||The Man with One Red Shoe||Ross|
|1985||Stand Alone||Louis Thibadeau|
|1985||Death of a Salesman||Charley||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|1986||Where the River Runs Black||Father O’Reilly|
|1986||Meatballs III: Summer Job||Pete, Heaven Doorman (uncredited)|
|1986||Tough Guys||Deke Yablonski|
|1987||Happy New Year||Charl|
|1987||The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains||Warden Hardy|
|1987||The Rosary Murders||Father Ted Nabors|
|1988||A Tiger’s Tale||Charlie Drumm|
|1988||Case Closed||Detective Les|
|1989||Brenda Starr||Editor Francis I. Livright|
|1989||Cat Chaser||Jiggs Scully|
|1990||Fatal Sky||Colonel Clancy|
|1990||Dick Tracy||Chief Brandon|
|1990||The Kennedys of Massachusetts||John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald||Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film|
|1990–1994||Evening Shade||Dr. Harlan Elldridge||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (1991–1992)|
|1991||V.I. Warshawski||Det. Lt. Bobby Mallory|
|1993||When A Stranger Calls Back||John Clifford|
|1993||The Music of Chance||Bill Flower|
|1994||The Hudsucker Proxy||Waring Hudsucker|
|1995||The Last Supper||Reverend Gerald Hutchens|
|1995||The Grass Harp||Reverend Buster|
|1995||Home for the Holidays||Henry Larson|
|1996||Spy Hard||The Director|
|1996||Mrs. Santa Claus||Santa Claus|
|1996||One Fine Day||Lew|
|1996||The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists||Archie the Archelon|
|1997||The Secret Life of Algernon||Norbie Hess|
|1998||Jerry and Tom||Vic|
|1998||Shelter||Capt. Robert Landis|
|1998||Homicide: Life on the Street||Thomas Finnegan (Episode: “Finnegan’s Wake”)||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series|
|1998–2002||Everybody Loves Raymond||Father Hubley||6 episodes|
|1999-2009||Family Guy||(voice of ) Francis Griffin||5 episodes|
|2000||Never Look Back|
|2000||O Brother, Where Art Thou?||Pappy O’Daniel|
|2000||The Last Producer||Syd Wolf|
|2000||Very Mean Men||Paddy Mulroney|
|2000||State and Main||Mayor George Bailey|
|2001||Turn of Faith||Philly Russo|
|2001||L.A.P.D.: To Protect and to Serve||Stuart Steele|
|2002||The Last Man Club||John ‘Eagle Eye’ Pennell|
|2002||Pride & Loyalty||Dylan Frier|
|2002||First Monday||Justice Henry Hoskins|
|2002||Mr. St. Nick||King Nicholas XX (Santa Claus)|
|2003||Dead Canaries||Jimmy Kerrigan|
|2003||One Last Ride||Mr. Orlick|
|2004||Death and Texas||Marshall Ledger|
|2004||NCIS||Corporal Ernie Yost, “Medal of Honor Recipient”||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series|
|2004||A Boyfriend for Christmas||Santa Claus|
|2005||Resurrection: The J.R. Richard Story||Frank McNally|
|2005||River’s End||Murray Blythe|
|2005||Dirty Deeds||Victor Rasdale|
|2005||The L.A. Riot Spectacular||The Lawyer|
|2005||Miracle Dogs Too||Captain Pete|
|2006||Forget About It||Eddie O’Brien|
|2006||Jesus, Mary and Joey||Teddy the Bartender|
|2006||Unbeatable Harold||Harold’s Father|
|2006||The Naked Run||Congressman Davenport|
|2007||Chronicle of Purgatory: The Waiter||Frank ‘The Handler’ Maro|
|2007||Polycarp (aka Kinky Killers)||Alexander Hathaway|
|2008||The Golden Boys||John Bartlett|
|2008||The Drum Beats Twice||Satan|
|2008||Break||The Wise Man|
|2008||iMurders||Dr. Seamus St. Martin|
|2009||A Bunch of Amateurs||Charlie Rosenberg|
|2004–2011||Rescue Me||Michael Gavin||Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series|
- Thomas, Bob (December 24, 2012). “Charles Durning Obituary”. Los Angeles: AP via Legacy.com. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
- Cf. a Ancestry.com family tree search. The New York Times obituary, published December 26, 2012, writes that Charles’ father died when he was 16, placing his death between Feb 28, 1939 to Feb 27, 1940. A more exact reference is needed.
- Schudel, Matt (December 26, 2012) “In real life and on the screen, he played countless roles” The Washington Post, p. B4
- Biography for Charles Durning at the Internet Movie Database
- CHARLES DURNING; Healing the Wounds of Normandy
- “Sullivan County Democrat: Obituaries for November 7, 2000”. Sc-democrat.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
- The mother book: a compendium of trivia & grandeur concerning mothers … – Liz Smith – Google Books. Books.google.ca. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
- “Los Angeles Times: Archives – NO BLEEPS FOR DURNING’S ROLE”. Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. March 2, 1981. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
- Michaelson, Judith (September 15, 1987). “Durning Takes On The ‘Peasant Pope’ For Pbs – Los Angeles Times”. Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
- National Personnel Records Center (April 18, 2008). “Letter from NPRC to Charles Durning” (Press release). St. Louis, MO. p. 2.
- VA Voluntary Service – National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans
- Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, MND-B PAO, “Military urban legends versus true tales: real life stories prove more interesting”, www.Army.mil, retrieved 16-Sep-2011
- “Speech by Consul General of France Philippe Larrieu”. Los Angeles: French Diplomatic Mission to the United States. April 22, 2008. Archived from the original on May 6, 2008. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
- O’Hare, Kate. ‘NCIS’ Has Durning Hearing Echoes of War. tv.zap2it.com.
- “Charles Durning”. The Daily Telegraph (London). December 26, 2012.
- “Charles Durning, Oscar-nominated king of the character actors, dies at 89 in NYC”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
- “Charles Durning (1923 – 2012) – Find A Grave Memorial”. Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2014-06-23.
- Genzlinger, Neil (December 26, 2012). “AN APPRAISAL; Remembering Jack Klugman and Charles Durning”. The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
- “Charles Durning, Jack Klugman Deaths Bring New Appreciation For Character Actor Titans”. The Huffington Post. December 25, 2012. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
- Charles Durning at the Internet Movie Database
- Charles Durning at the Internet Broadway Database
- Charles Durning at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Location of Charles Durning’s grave at Find A Grave
- McCaslin, John, TownHall.com (cached) “Stars by example” at the Wayback Machine (archived December 31, 2006)
- Hayes, Richard L., Osprey Publishing. “Hollywood Stars at D-Day”
- Soldiers Online – Army.mil. “Concert on Memorial Day”