James Coburn

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For other people named James Coburn, see James Coburn (disambiguation).
James Coburn
James Coburn The Californians 1959.JPG
Coburn as Anthony Wayne in The Californians (1959)
Born (1928-08-31)August 31, 1928
Laurel, Cedar County
Nebraska, U.S.
Died November 18, 2002(2002-11-18) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Nationality American
Education Compton Junior College
Alma mater Los Angeles City College
Occupation Actor
Years active 1958–2002
Home town Compton, California
Spouse(s) Beverly Kelly (1959–1979)
Paula Murad (1993–2002, his death)
Children James Coburn IV,
Lisa Coburn
Parents James Harrison Coburn, Jr.
Mylet Johnson Coburn

James Harrison Coburn III[1] (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002)[2] was an American film and television actor. Coburn appeared in nearly 70 films and made more than 100 television appearances during his 45-year career,[3][4] winning an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.[5]

A capable, rough-hewn leading man, his toothy grin, and lanky body made him a perfect tough guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in westerns and action films,[6] such as The Magnificent Seven, Snow Dogs, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Major Dundee, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Duck, You Sucker!, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Charade, and Cross of Iron.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Coburn cultivated an image synonymous with "cool",[7] and along with such contemporaries as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson became one of the prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.

Early life[edit]

Coburn was born James Harrison Coburn III in Laurel, Nebraska on August 31, 1928, the son of James Coburn, Jr. and Mylet Johnson. The elder Coburn had a garage business that was destroyed by the Great Depression.[8] Coburn himself was raised in Compton, California, where he attended Compton Junior College. In 1950, he enlisted in the United States Army, in which he served as a truck driver and an occasional disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany.[9] Coburn attended Los Angeles City College,[10] where he studied acting alongside Jeff Corey and Stella Adler, and later made his stage debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in Herman Melville's Billy Budd.[11] Coburn was selected for a Remington Products razor commercial in which he was able to shave off 11 days of beard growth in less than 60 seconds,[12] while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part.[13]

Career[edit]

Early work[edit]

Coburn's film debut came in 1959 as the sidekick of Pernell Roberts in the Randolph Scott western Ride Lonesome.[14] Coburn also appeared in dozens of television roles including, with Roberts, several episodes of NBC's Bonanza. Coburn appeared twice each on two other NBC westerns Tales of Wells Fargo with Dale Robertson, one episode in the role of Butch Cassidy, and The Restless Gun with John Payne in "The Pawn" and "The Way Back", the latter segment alongside Bonanza's Dan Blocker.[15]

During the 1960-1961 season, Coburn co-starred with Ralph Taeger and Joi Lansing in the NBC adventure/drama series, Klondike, set in the Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway. When Klondike was cancelled, Taeger and Coburn were regrouped as detectives in Mexico in NBC's equally short-lived Acapulco. Coburn also made two guest appearances on CBS's Perry Mason, both times as the murder victim in "The Case of the Envious Editor" and "The Case of the Angry Astronaut." In 1962, he portrayed the role of Col. Briscoe in the episode "Hostage Child" on CBS's Rawhide.

Stardom[edit]

Coburn in Charade (1963)

Coburn became well known in the 1960s and the 1970s for his tough-guy roles in numerous action and western films. He first appeared with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the John Sturges films, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Coburn played the part of a villainous Texan in the successful Charade (1963). He was then cast as a glib naval officer in Paddy Chayevsky's The Americanization of Emily. Coburn was signed to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox.[16] His performance as a one-armed Indian tracker in Major Dundee (1965) gained him much notice. In 1966, Coburn became a bona fide star following the release of the James Bond parody film Our Man Flint. In 1967, Coburn was voted the twelfth biggest star in Hollywood.[17]

In 1971, Coburn starred in the Zapata Western Duck, You Sucker!, with Rod Steiger and directed by Sergio Leone, as an Irish explosives expert and revolutionary who has fled to Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century. Coburn teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, in which he played Pat Garrett. The two had worked together in 1965 on Major Dundee. The producer of the film, Jerry Bresler, took editing responsibilities away from Peckinpah during post-production. Peckinpah accused Bresler of engaging in sabotage of his film, and he threatened the studio with a lawsuit. Columbia Studios relented, mainly because Charlton Heston, the star of Major Dundee, said that he would no longer work for the studio unless Peckinpah was allowed editing rights to the film.

Though some of Peckinpah's demands were met, the finished product was still not satisfactory to him, and Peckinpah disowned it. Peckinpah and Coburn were greatly disappointed and turned next to Cross of Iron, a critically acclaimed war epic that performed poorly in the U.S. but was a huge hit in Europe. Peckinpah and Coburn remained close friends until Peckinpah's death in 1984. In 1973, Coburn was among the featured celebrities dressed in prison gear on the cover of the album Band On The Run made by Paul McCartney and his band Wings. Coburn returned to television in 1978 to star in a three-part mini-series version of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Dain Curse, tailoring his character to bear a physical resemblance to the author. During that same year as a spokesman for the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company, he was paid $500,000 to promote its new product in television advertisements by saying only two words: "Schlitz. Light."[18]

Final years[edit]

Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films during the 1980s. Coburn continued working until his death in 2002. Coburn spent much of his life writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul and doing television series as his work on Darkroom. He claimed to have healed himself with pills containing Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) a dietary supplement.[19] Coburn returned to film in the 1990s and appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. Coburn's performance in Affliction eventually earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Cars[edit]

Bob Bondurant teaching Coburn in 1972

Coburn's interest in fast cars began with his father's garage business and continued throughout his life, as he exported rare cars to Japan.[10] Coburn was credited with having introduced Steve McQueen to Ferraris, and in the early 1960s owned a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso and a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California SWB. His Spyder was the thirteenth of just fifty-six built. Coburn imported the pre-owned car in 1964, shortly after completing The Great Escape. [20] The car was restored and sold for $10,894,400 to English broadcaster Chris Evans, setting a new world record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.[21]

Cal Spyder #2377 was repainted several times during Coburn's ownership; it has been black, silver and possibly burgundy. He kept the car at his Beverly Hills-area home, where it was often serviced by Max Balchowsky, who also worked on the suspension and frame modifications on those Mustang GTs used in the filming of McQueen’s"Bullitt." Coburn sold the Spyder in 1987 after twenty-four years of ownership. Over time he also owned the above-noted Lusso, a Ferrari Daytona, at least one Ferrari 308 and a 1967 Ferrari 412P sports racer.[22]

Death[edit]

Coburn's bench

Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002 while listening to music at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was survived by his second wife, Paula (née Murad), son James IV, and a stepdaughter. Coburn was cremated and his ashes were interred in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, and marked by a stone bench inscribed with his name. At the time of his death, Coburn was the voice of the "Like a Rock" Chevrolet television ad campaign. James Garner succeeded Coburn for the remainder of the campaign.[citation needed]

Critical analysis[edit]

In his New Biographical Dictionary Of Film, American-based British Film critic David Thomson stated that "Coburn is a modern rarity: an actor who projects lazy, humorous sexuality. It is the lack of neurosis, an impression of an amiable monkey, that makes him seem rather dated: a more perceptive Clark Gable, perhaps, or even a loping Midwest Cary Grant. He has made a variety of flawed, pleasurable films, the merits of which invariably depend on his laconic presence. Increasingly, he was the best thing in his movies, smiling privately, seeming to suggest that he was in contact with some profound source of amusement".[23]

Film critic Pauline Kael remarked on Coburn's unusual characteristics, stating that "he looked like the child of the liaison between Lt Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly".[24] George Hickenlooper, who directed Coburn in The Man From Elysian Fields called him "the masculine male".[25] Andy Garcia called him "the personification of class, the hippest of the hip", and Paul Schrader noted "he was of that 50's generation. He had that part hipster, part cool-cat aura about him. He was one of those kind of men who were formed by the Rat Pack kind of style."[26]

Filmography[edit]

Films[edit]

Year Movie Role Director Notes
1959 Ride Lonesome Whit Budd Boetticher
Face of a Fugitive Purdy Paul Wendkos
1960 The Magnificent Seven Britt John Sturges
1961 The Murder Men Arthur Troy John Peyser
1962 Hell Is for Heroes Cpl. Frank Henshaw Don Siegel
1963 The Great Escape Louis Sedgwick John Sturges
Charade Tex Panthollow Stanley Donen
The Man from Galveston Boyd Palmer William Conrad
Kings of the Sun Narrator J. Lee Thompson
1964 Action on the Beach Himself Unknown Documentary
The Americanization of Emily Lt. Cmdr. Paul "Bus" Cummings Arthur Hiller
1965 Major Dundee Samuel Potts Sam Peckinpah
A High Wind in Jamaica Zac Alexander Mackendrick
The Loved One Immigration Officer Tony Richardson
1966 Our Man Flint Derek Flint Daniel Mann
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? Lieutenant Christian Blake Edwards
Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round Eli Kotch Bernard Girard
1967 In Like Flint Derek Flint Gordon Douglas
Waterhole No. 3 Lewton Cole William A. Graham
The President's Analyst Dr. Sidney Schaefer Theodore J. Flicker Also Produced
1968 Duffy Duffy Robert Parrish
Candy Dr. A.B. Krankheit Christian Marquand
1969 Hard Contract John Cunningham S. Lee Pogostin
1970 Last of the Mobile Hot Shots Jeb Sidney Lumet
1971 Duck, You Sucker! John H. Mallory Sergio Leone Renamed A Fistful of Dynamite for U.S. release
1972 The Carey Treatment Dr. Peter Carey Blake Edwards
The Honkers Lew Lathrop Steve Ihnat
A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die Colonel Pembroke Tonino Valerii Renamed Massacre At Fort Holman for U.S. release
1973 Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend Himself (uncredited) Shih Wu Documentary
Harry in Your Pocket Harry Bruce Geller
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Pat Garrett Sam Peckinpah
The Last of Sheila Clinton Herbert Ross
1974 The Internecine Project Robert Elliot Ken Hughes
1975 Bite the Bullet Luke Matthews Richard Brooks
Hard Times Speed Walter Hill
1976 Sky Riders Jim McCabe Douglas Hickox
The Last Hard Men Zach Provo Andrew V. McLaglen
Midway Capt. Vinton Maddox Jack Smight
1977 White Rock Narrator Tony Maylam
Cross of Iron Sergeant Rolf Steiner Sam Peckinpah
1978 California Suite Pilot Herbert Ross Uncredited
The Dain Curse Hamilton Nash E.W. Swackhamer TV Mini-series
1979 Speed Fever Narrator Ottavio Fabbri
Firepower Fanon Michael Winner
The Muppet Movie Owner of El Sleezo Cafe James Frawley Cameo appearance
Goldengirl Jack Dryden Joseph Sargent
1980 The Baltimore Bullet Nick Casey Robert Ellis Miller
Loving Couples Walter Jack Smight
Mr. Patman Patman John Guillermin
1981 High Risk Serrano Stewart Raffill
Looker John Reston Michael Crichton
1984 Draw! Sam Starret Steven Hilliard Stern
1985 Martin's Day Lt. Lardner Alan Gibson
1986 Death of a Soldier Maj. Patrick Dannenberg Philippe Mora
1988 Walking After Midnight Himself Jonathon Kay
1989 Call from Space Richard Fleischer
1990 Train to Heaven Gregorius Torgny Anderberg
Young Guns II John Chisum Geoff Murphy
1991 Hudson Hawk George Kaplan Michael Lehmann
1992 Mastergate Major Manley Battle Michael Engler
The Player Himself Robert Altman Cameo
1993 Deadfall Mike Donan/Lou Donan Christopher Coppola
Curse of the Dragon Himself Tom Khun, Fred Weintraub Documentary
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Mr. Crisp Bill Duke
1994 Maverick Commodore Duvall Richard Donner
1995 The Set-Up Jeremiah Cole Strathford Hamilton
1996 Skeletons Frank Jove David DeCoteau
Eraser WitSec Chief Arthur Beller Chuck Russell
The Nutty Professor Harlan Hartley Tom Shadyac
Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right Himself Tom Thurman Documentary
1997 Keys to Tulsa Harmon Shaw Leslie Greif
The Disappearance Of Kevin Johnson Himself Francis Megahy
1998 Affliction Glen Whitehouse Paul Schrader Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
1999 Payback Fairfax Brian Helgeland
2000 The Good Doctor Dr. Samuel Roberts Kenneth Orkin Short Subject
Intrepid Captain Hal Josephson John Putch
2001 Proximity Jim Corcoran Scott Zheil
Texas Rangers Narrator Steve Miner
The Yellow Bird Rev. Increase Tutwiler Faye Dunaway
The Man from Elysian Fields Alcott George Hickenlooper
Monsters, Inc. Henry J. Waternoose III Pete Docter
Kurosawa Himself Adam Low Documentary
2002 Snow Dogs James "Thunder Jack" Johnson Brian Levant
American Gun Martin Tillman Alan Jacobs

Television[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society[dead link]
  2. ^ Biography for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Allmovie Biography
  4. ^ James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Awards for James Coburn at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Rhys, Timothy. "Quintessential Cool". Moviemaker 1999/04/09
  8. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/participant.jsp?spid=36024
  9. ^ Published: 12:03AM GMT 20 Nov 2002 (2002-11-20). "Obituary in ''The Telegraph''". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  10. ^ a b Horwell, Veronica (2002-11-20). "James Coburn". The Guardian (London). 
  11. ^ "James Coburn Biography - Yahoo! Movies". Movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  12. ^ "The Hollywood Interview blogsite". Thehollywoodinterview.blogspot.com. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  13. ^ "Allbusiness.com". Allbusiness.com. Retrieved 2010-03-14. 
  14. ^ Miller, Ron (1995-01-22). "Coburn's Comfort Zone at Home in Western with Heston and Berenger Supporting". San Jose Mercury News. p. 6. "JAMES COBURN began his movie career in a saddle 36 years ago, playing the gangly and not-too-bright sidekick to bad guy Pernell Roberts in the 1959 Randolph Scott western "Ride Lonesome."" 
  15. ^ The Restless Gun, DVD, Timeless Media Group
  16. ^ Entertainment: Coburn Wins Pact, Role in 'High Wind' He'll Star With Anthony Quinn; Mrs. Ames Pens Kidnaping Tale Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 June 1964: A10.
  17. ^ 'Star Glitter Is Catching' By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 07 Jan 1968: H1.
  18. ^ Tarshis, Barry. What It Costs. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1977.
  19. ^ 'Coburn beats back tough disease' By Ann Oldenburg. USA Today [McLean, VA] 29 Dec 1998: 02.D Life.
  20. ^ Valdes-Dapena, Peter (2008-05-19). "$11 million: Ferrari nets record price". CNN. 
  21. ^ http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/classic/112_0901_1961_ferrari_250_gt_spyder_california/test_drive.html
  22. ^ January, 2009, Motor Trend
  23. ^ Thomson, David. "The New Biographical Dictionary Of Film". Knopf 2004
  24. ^ Rule, Vera. "James Coburn". The Guardian, Friday 3/6/99
  25. ^ "Tough Guise". People Magazine. December 2, 2002
  26. ^ Breznican, Anthony. "Actor James Coburn dead of heart attack at age 74". Today's News-Herald. Nov, 20, 2002
  27. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp; The Noble Outlaws (24 Nov. 1959)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 24, 2013. 
  28. ^ "The Texan". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 

External links[edit]