Friday, January 11, 2013

Remembering Lionel Stander

Born in the Bronx, New York on January 11, 1908, hulking, raspy-voiced comic actor Lionel Stander attended the University of North Carolina before making his professional stage debut at age 19. He appeared in a number of two-reel comedies produced at Vitaphone's Brooklyn studio before heading to Hollywood in 1935. At first he was cast as a brutish gangster with intellectual pretensions, he was also memorable as the acerbic Corny Cobb in Frank Capra's “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), the vengeful press agent Libby in the original “A Star Is Born” (1937), and Archie Goodwyn in a brace of Nero Wolfe mysteries produced by Columbia. An outspoken political liberal, Stander ran into trouble with the Dies Committee during the first Communist witch-hunt in the early 1940s, and by the end of the decade was blacklisted altogether when he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. He supported himself as a stockbroker and journeyman stage actor until he was "rescued" by director Tony Richardson, who cast Stander in an important role in “The Loved One” (1965). After his riveting portrayal of an American mobster in Roman Polanski's “Cul-de-Sac” (1966), he became something of a cult figure in Europe, working steadily in Euro-westerns such as “Beyond the Law” (1967) and “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and crime thrillers. Back in the U.S.A. in the 1970s, he essayed one of his best roles as Liza Minelli's agent in Martin Scorsese's “New York, New York” (1977). TV fans knew Lionel Stander best as resourceful general factotum Max on the Robert Wagner-Stefanie Powers adventure series ‘Hart to Hart’ (1979-1994). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi. Stander died of lung cancer on November 30, 1994 in Los Angeles. Today we remember Lionel Stander on what would have been his 105th birthday.

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