Dennis Weaver

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Dennis Weaver
Dennis Weaver 1960.JPG
President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
1973–1975
Preceded by John Gavin
Succeeded by Kathleen Nolan
Personal details
Born (1924-06-04)June 4, 1924
Joplin, Missouri, U.S.
Died February 24, 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 81)
Ridgway, Colorado, U.S.
Resting place Cremated
Spouse(s) Gerry Stowell (m. 1945–2006)
Occupation Actor

William Dennis Weaver[1] (June 4, 1924 – February 24, 2006) was an American actor, best known for his work in television, including his role as Matt Dillon's trusty helper Chester Goode on the long-running western series Gunsmoke. He later played Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud, and appeared in the 1971 TV movie Duel, the first film of director Steven Spielberg. He is also remembered for his role as the twitchy motel attendant in Orson Welles' film Touch of Evil (1958).

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Weaver was born in Joplin, Missouri, son of Walter Weaver and his wife Lenna Prather. His father was of Irish, Scottish, English, Cherokee and Osage ancestry. Weaver wanted to be an actor from childhood. Lived in Shreveport Louisiana for a couple of years and then for a short time during his teenage years he lived in Manteca, California. He studied at Joplin Junior College, now Missouri Southern State University and then transferred to the University of Oklahoma at Norman, where he studied drama and was a track star, setting records in several events. During World War II he served as a pilot in the United States Navy. At the war's end, he married Gerry Stowell and they had three children. He tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in the decathlon.[2] He finished sixth and only the top three were chosen for the team. Weaver later said, "I did so poorly [in the Olympic Trials], I decided [to]... stay in New York and try acting."[2]

Career[edit]

Weaver's first role on Broadway came as an understudy to Lonny Chapman as Turk Fisher in Come Back, Little Sheba. He eventually took over the role from Chapman in the national touring company. Solidifying his choice to become an actor, Weaver enrolled in The Actors Studio,[3] where he met Shelley Winters. In the beginning of his acting career, he supported his family by doing odd jobs, including selling vacuum cleaners, tricycles and women's hosiery.

In 1952, Shelley Winters helped him get a contract from Universal Studios. He made his film debut that same year in the movie The Redhead from Wyoming. Over the next three years, he played in a series of movies, but still had to work odd jobs to support his family. It was while delivering flowers that he heard he had landed the role of Chester Goode, the limping, loyal assistant of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) on the new television series Gunsmoke. It was his big break; the show would go on to become the highest-rated and longest-running live action series in US television history (1955 to 1975). He received an Emmy Award in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.

According to the Archive of American Television interview with Weaver, the producer had him in mind for Chester, but could not locate him, and was delighted when he showed up to audition. Never having heard the radio show, Weaver gave Chester's "inane" dialog his best Method delivery. Disappointed in his delivery, however, the producer asked for something humorous, and Weaver nailed it. The stiff leg came about when the producer pointed out that sidekicks almost always have some failing or weakness that makes them less-capable than the star. Weaver decided that a stiff leg would be just the right thing.[4]

Having become famous as Chester, he was next cast in an offbeat supporting role in the 1958 Orson Welles film Touch of Evil,[5] in which he played an employee of a remote motel who nervously repeated, "I'm the night man." In 1960, he appeared in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled "Insomnia," in which his character suffers from sleeplessness due to the tragic death of his wife. In 1961, he did an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Shadow Play" where he was trapped inside his own dream.[5]

From 1964 to 1965, he portrayed a friendly veterinarian in NBC's comedy-drama Kentucky Jones. His next substantial role was as Tom Wedloe on the CBS family series Gentle Ben, with co-star Clint Howard, between 1967 and 1969.

In 1970, Weaver landed the title role of the NBC series McCloud, for which he received two Emmy Award nominations. In 1974, he was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series (McCloud) and in 1975, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. The show, about a modern western lawman who ends up in New York City, was loosely based on the Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff. His frequent use of the affirming Southernism, "There you go," became a catchphrase for the show. During the series, in 1971, Weaver also appeared in Duel, a television movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg selected Weaver based on the intensity of his earlier performance in Touch of Evil.[6]

From 1973 to 1975, Weaver was president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Later series during the 1980s (both of which lasted only one season) were Stone, in which Weaver played a Joseph Wambaugh-esque police sergeant turned crime novelist, and Buck James, in which he played a Texas-based surgeon and rancher. (Buck James was loosely based on real-life Texas doctor Red Duke.) He portrayed a Navy rear admiral for 22 episodes of a 1983–84 series, Emerald Point N.A.S..

In 1978, Weaver played the trail boss R.J. Poteet in the television mini-series Centennial, in the installment titled "The Longhorns." Weaver also appeared in many acclaimed television films. In 1980, he impersonated Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned for involvement in the Lincoln assassination, in The Ordeal Of Doctor Mudd. Also in 1980, he starred with his real-life son Robby Weaver in the short lived NBC police series Stone.[7] In 1983, he played a real estate agent addicted to cocaine in Cocaine: One Man's Seduction. Weaver received probably the best reviews of his career when he starred in the 1987 film Bluffing It, in which he played a man who is illiterate. In February 2002, he appeared on the animated series The Simpsons (episode DABF07, "The Lastest Gun in the West") as the voice of aging Hollywood cowboy legend Buck McCoy.[8]

Weaver in August 1997.

For his contribution to the television industry, Dennis Weaver was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6822 Hollywood Blvd, and on the Dodge City (KS) Trail of Fame. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame with the Bronze Wrangler Award at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In the 1980s and 90s Weaver, as McCloud, was used to promote a rock show in NYC.

Weaver's last work was done on an ABC Family cable television show called Wildfire, where he played Henry Ritter, the father of Jean Ritter and the co-owner of Raintree Ranch. His role on the show was cut short due to his death.

Personal life[edit]

He married Gerry Stowell after World War II and they had three children – Richard, Robert and Rustin Weaver. Dennis Weaver was a vegetarian since 1958 and student of yoga and meditation since the 1960s and a devoted follower of Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian guru who established the Self Realization Fellowship in the US.

The "Earth Ship", the personal home he commissioned architect Michael Reynolds to design and build in Ridgway, Colorado during the late 1980s, incorporated recycled materials in its construction and featured advanced eco-technologies.

In July 2003, Weaver lost a daughter-in-law, Lynne Ann Weaver (who was married to his son, Robby Weaver), in Santa Monica, California, when a car driven at high speed plowed through shoppers at an outdoor bazaar. She was one of ten people killed in the incident.

Activism[edit]

He was renowned as an environmentalist, promoting eating lower on the food chain, use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, and wind power, through an educational organization he founded, The Institute of Ecolonomics. Ecolonomics is a neologism formed by combining "ecology" and "economics".[9][10] He was also involved with John Denver's WindStar Foundation and he founded an organization called L.I.F.E. (Love is Feeding Everyone) which provided food for 150,000 needy people a week in Los Angeles.[9]

Weaver was also active in liberal political causes. He used his celebrity status in instrumental roles as a fundraiser and organizer for George McGovern's campaign for president in 1972.[11]

In 2004, he led a fleet of alternative fuel vehicles across America in order to raise awareness about America's dependence on oil.[9]

Weaver was consistently involved with the annual Genesis Awards, which were created by The Ark Trust to honor those in the media who bring attention to the plight and suffering of animals.

There will come a time … when civilized people will look back in horror on our generation and the ones that preceded it: the idea that we should eat other living things running around on four legs, that we should raise them just for the purpose of killing them! The people of the future will say “meat-eaters!” in disgust and regard us in the same way we regard cannibals and cannibalism – Dennis Weaver

Death[edit]

Weaver died of complications of cancer at his home in Ridgway, Colorado on February 24, 2006.[12]

Select filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dennis Weaver". The Independent (London). March 1, 2006. 
  2. ^ a b [1] "Dennis Weaver, Olympic hopeful," GunsmokeNet.com
  3. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8. 
  4. ^ Colman, Henry (24 September 2002). "Dennis Weaver – Archive Interview". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  5. ^ a b [2]"Touch of Evil," GunsmokeNet.com
  6. ^ From the director's commentary on Duel: Special Edition DVD, 2005.
  7. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1133. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  8. ^ [3]"Buck McCoy," GunsmokeNet.com
  9. ^ a b c "A TV hero for real-life change: Dennis Weaver, actor, 1924–2006" in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 29, 2006, p. 29
  10. ^ [4] Institute of Ecolonomics
  11. ^ McGovern, George S., Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, Random House, 1977, pp. 173, 247
  12. ^ "Dennis Weaver, 81; Star of `Gunsmoke,' `McCloud' Also Was Environmental Activist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 

External links[edit]