16 July, 2008

James Whitmore

James Allen Whitmore, Jr. is an American two-time Academy Award-nominated, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning film actor.

Whitmore was born in White Plains, New York, the son of Florence Belle and James Allen Whitmore, Sr. He graduated from Amherst High School in Amherst, New York, and subsequently Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones, and served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.

Following World War II, Whitmore appeared on Broadway in the role of the Sergeant in Command Decision. MGM hired Whitmore on contract; however his role in the film was played by Van Johnson. Whitmore's first major movie was Battleground that was turned down by Spencer Tracy, for which Whitmore was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Other major films included The Asphalt Jungle, The Next Voice You Hear, Above and Beyond, Kiss Me, Kate, Them!, Oklahoma!, Black Like Me, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Give 'em Hell, Harry!, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former President of the United States Harry S. Truman.

In 1963, Whitmore played Captain William Benteen in The Twilight Zone episode "On Thursday We Leave for Home." In 1967 he guest starred as a security guard in The Invaders episode, Quantity: Unknown. In 1969 Whitmore played the leading character of Professor Woodruff in the TV series My Friend Tony, produced by NBC. He was also a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln Jones, in the TV Series The Law & Mr.Jones during the late 1950s. Whitmore also made several memorable appearances on the classic TV western "The Big Valley" during the late 1960s. Generally portraying a villain, his role was often that of a layered, complicated,and tormented character noted for intensity. Whitmore's natural ability to utilize the period slang terms and late 19th century language of the Old West gave credibility to the performance seldom matched by other actors. His characters dominated the scenes and episodes in which he appeared.

Whitmore also appeared as General Oliver O. Howard in the 1975 TV movie I Will Fight No More Forever, based on the 1877 conflict between the United States and the Nez Percé tribe, led by Chief Joseph. Whitmore's last major role was that of librarian Brooks Hatlen in the critically-acclaimed and Academy award-nominated 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption; who commits suicide in the middle of the film. To a younger generation, he is probably best known, in addition to his role in Shawshank, as the commercial spokesman for Miracle-Gro plant food for many years.

In addition to his film career, Whitmore has done extensive theatre work. He won a Tony Award for "Best Performance by a Newcomer" in the Broadway production of Command Decision (1948). He later won the title "King of the One Man Show" after appearing in the solo vehicles Will Rogers' USA (1970), Give 'em Hell, Harry! (1975) and as Theodore Roosevelt in Bully (1977) although the latter production did not repeat the success of the first two.

In 1999, he played Raymond Oz in two episodes of The Practice, earning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. In 2002, Whitmore got the role of the Grandfather in the Disney Channel original movie A Ring of Endless Light. Whitmore has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6611 Hollywood Blvd. In April of 2007 he also appeared in C.S.I. in an episode titled "Ending Happy" as Milton, an elderly man who provides a clue of dubious utility.

Whitmore was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2008. He died from the disease at the age of 87 on February 6, 2009, at his Malibu, California home.

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