Richard Weedt Widmark was born on December 26, 1914 in Sunrise, Minnesota, U.S.A. Richard’s father Carl Widmark, ran a general store, and then became a traveling salesman. The family moved around a lot before settling in Princeton, Illinois.
After a turbulent childhood, lightened by his frequent trips to the movies, Widmark became an accomplished high school scholar, a college football star, and eventually a teacher of speech and drama at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
Two years out of college, Widmark headed to New York City in 1938 when a friend offered him an audition for a radio soap opera. Widmark won the role and soon became a busy player in broadcasting and on the Broadway stage (debuting in 1943).
But despite his rising career, and happy marriage to his college sweetheart, Ora Jean Hazlewood, the 1940s were a time of great stress for the actor. Unable to serve in World War II due to a perforated eardrum, he spent three anxious years fearing for the life of his brother Donald, a bomber pilot who was injured and held as a prisoner-of-war by the Nazis. Although Donald Widmark was freed at the war's end, his failing health over the next decade would be the most agonizing tragedy in Richard's life.
In 1947, the crime drama “Kiss of Death” catapulted Widmark to movie stardom. The actor made one of the most shocking film debuts in movie history as his character, the cackling psychopath Tommy Udo, shoved an elderly wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs to her death. The role earned Widmark an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and proved to be the beginning of a distinguished five-decade film career.
Stereotyped onscreen as a hot-headed villain, Widmark fought for better roles and went on to give complex performances in such film classics as “Panic in the Streets”, “No Way Out”, “Night and the City” (all 1950), “Broken Lance” (1954), and “Madigan” (1968).
Widmark appeared in only one Euro-western as Major William Patten in 1969’s “A Talent for Loving”.
Widmark died March 24, 2008, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, after a long illness.
Today we remember Richard Widmark on what would have been his 100th birthday.
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