While I wish these actors could be immortal, continually offering talented performances that leave you thinking about the film even months after you’ve left the movie theater, sadly these men have all passed away – but by no means leaving us empty handed with films like The Godfather and Casablanca to remember them by. So here’s a compiled list of some of my favorite actors who may have been mortal in life, but have certainly proven to be immortal on the screen. Leave a comment if you’d like to add any actors or films to the list.
Marlon Brando was truly a gifted actor. The first role I ever saw him in was Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, which he was nominated for an academy award for. I was honestly impressed at the depth which he portrayed the character with. While many people will remember that one scene in which Brando vulnerably and desperately yells “Stella” after he hit his pregnant wife, I think Brando’s acting was flawless and memorable throughout the entire film.
But Streetcar is just one of the many outstanding films Brando was apart of. On the Waterfront, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Julius Caesar, and Last Tango in Paris are all gems Brando has left us with. One other film I enjoyed which seems to be rarely available on DVD is Desiree in which Brando portrays Napoleon Bonaparte.
While I could go on and on about how much I simply adore Brando and his legendary acting performances, one thing I really appreciate about him was his gift for improvising. In many of his later movies such as The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now, he refused to memorize his lines because he believed real people rarely memorize what they’re going to say from moment to moment. He relied on cue cards and a special hearing aid to feed him his lines. In Apocalypse Now most of Brando’s speeches were ad libbed, with Coppola filming hours of footage, and then cutting down to the most interesting parts.
Brando died on July 1, 2004 of pulmonary fibrosis.
Cary Grant’s real name was actually Archibald Leach. He was discovered on Broadway and taken under Hollywood’s wing where “Cary Grant,” was created . In fact, he was once quoted as saying, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”
First cast as a romantic star, he went on to give many diverse performances. Some of my favorites include The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer, Monkey Business, Notorious, North by Northwest, Suspicion, and His Girl Friday.
Grant actually ran away to join a troupe of comedians at age 14, where he learned acrobatic skills he would use later in his comedy films. In many of his films, he actually reminds me a bit of a modern day Hugh Grant with his often dry British humor.
An interesting anecdote I enjoy is that once when he was staying at a Hilton hotel, he phoned Conrad Hilton in Turkey to find out why his breakfast only came with one and a half english muffins instead of two. Afterwards, the hotel began serving two english muffins. Cary Grant joked of forming an english muffin lovers society that would report any hotel that had english muffins on its menu and then served any less than two.
Cary Grant passed away on November 29, 1986 of a stroke.
That’s because few can compare to the performance Bogart gave in Casablanca. I’m actually surprised Bogart’s performance as Rick Blaine lost the oscar win (he lost to Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine). Still, Bogart’s performance was so brilliant that Casablanca continues to be watched by million’s of viewers today (in fact Harvard University actually established a Bogie Cult that watched Bogart movies regularly – they watched Casablanca every finals week).
But Bogart gave many outstanding performances besides his role as the American cafe owner. I also enjoyed him in The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The African Queen, and Dark Passage. I especially enjoyed when he teamed up with Lauren Bacall – the chemistry was just great!
One interesting fact I enjoy about Bogart is that he was actually the original leader of “the Rat Pack.” A lot of people remember the Pack as Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Peter Lawford. But Bogart was actually the leader until he died and Sinatra took over.
Bogart died of throat cancer on January 14, 1957.
Okay technically I enjoyed his dancing more than his acting – but in my opinion an Astaire film trumps Glee any day. My all-time favorite performance was his firecracker dance in Holiday Inn but I also enjoyed the Fred Astaire – Ginger Rogers duo that embraced the screen for a total of ten films.
Fred Astaire truly made some great musicals during his career. My favorite song of his was Steppin’ Out With my Baby in which he references the top hat and tails that marked his wardrobe – becoming a staple in many men’s closets.
Astaire passed away on June 22, 1987 of pneumonia.
Only Fred Astaire would dance on ceilings.
A long time ago when I was in class we were playing a game of “Apples to Apples” and one of the cards was James Stewart. The guy next to me in all seriousness said, “you probably don’t even know who that is do you?” I just had to laugh, considering I can basically recite every line “Elwood P. Dowd” ever said in Harvey in my sleep (my favorite being “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it”).
Many people probably remember Stewart as that lovable family man in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. While I can in no way say anything derogatory about that movie (it’s actually a holiday tradition of mine to watch it every Christmas Eve), Stewart’s career spanned much further than that one Holiday film.
It’s hard for me to choose a favorite among Stewart’s largely diverse roles. Although I would say that Harvey, Vertigo, The Philadelphia Story, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, and Come Live With Me are all up there.
I really admired Stewart both on screen and off screen though. He actually served in the military during World War II, and sent the only Oscar he ever won (for his role in The Philadelphia Story) to his father, where it stood in the family’s Indiana PA hardwood store for 25 years.
Stewart died on July 2, 1997 of pulmonary embolism following respiratory problems.
My favorite Keaton flicks include Sherlock Jr. Steamboat Bill Jr., The Camera Man, and College.
One thing I didn’t realize about Keaton was that he was actually both a director and actor. He was actually a great experimenter with special effects, in which he achieved some of the greatest comic performances during his career. An interesting anecdote about Keaton is that, when he died, his wife Eleanor buried him with a rosary in one pocket and deck of cards in the other saying, “that way wherever he was going, he was ready.”
Keaton died on February 1, 1966 from lung cancer.
Gangster screen legends. That’s what immediately pops into my head when I think of these two actors. What’s funny about Cagney is that he started on Broadway, singing and dancing, later he was a gun-toting killer who embraced the screen with his fearless stance and aggressive attitude. My favorite Cagney films is by far The Public Enemy, with Angels with Dirty Faces coming in close second.
Robinson was as diverse as Cagney, but I enjoyed him most in his role as a mobster in Little Caesar, although Double Indemnity was also a solid film performance.
Robinson, who never won any Oscars, was presented with an honorary Oscar in 1973 to “a player, a patron of the arts, and a dedicated citizen.” Cagney on the other hand won an Oscar for best actor in Yankee Doodle Dandy (ironically a musical).
Robinson died on January 26, 1973 of cancer.
Cagney died on March 30, 1986 of a heart attack following a prolonged bout with diabetes.
Of course millions of fans will forever remember Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, and while I definitely enjoyed the film (okay I’ve watched it 5 times to date), there are many other Gable films I think should be recognized.
First on my list of “the other Gable films” would definitely be It Happened One Night, the chemistry between Colbert and Gable was absolutely perfect, and it’s actually the only film Gable ever won an Academy Award for.
I also enjoyed Red Dust, Wive vs. Secretary, Comrade X, No Man of Her Own, and China Seas, among others.
An interesting thing about Gable is that one of his first screen tests was actually for the lead role in Little Caesar. But Darryl F. Zanuk, the production chief of Warner Bros. said, “his ears are too big. He looks like an ape.”
Gable died on November 16, 1960 of a heart attack.
Leave a comment if I left out any actors you think should be immortal, or you’d like to add to the film list/anecdotes of the actors listed above.
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