Publicity photo of Steiger in A Short Happy Life (1961)
|Born||Rodney Stephen Steiger
April 14, 1925
Westhampton, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 9, 2002
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Sally Gracie (1952–58)
Claire Bloom (1959–69)
Sherry Nelson (1973–79)
Paula Ellis (1986–97)
Joan Benedict (2000–02)
Rodney Stephen "Rod" Steiger (April 14, 1925 – July 9, 2002) was an American actor known for his performances in such films as On the Waterfront, The Big Knife, Oklahoma!, The Harder They Fall, Across the Bridge, The Pawnbroker, Doctor Zhivago, In the Heat of the Night, Waterloo, and Duck, You Sucker!, as well as the television programs Marty and Jesus of Nazareth.
Steiger was born in Westhampton, New York, the son of Lorraine (née Driver) and Frederick Steiger, of French, Scottish, and German descent. Steiger was raised as a Lutheran. He never knew his father, a vaudevillian who had been part of a traveling song-and-dance team with Steiger's mother (who subsequently left show business). Steiger grew up with his alcoholic mother before running away from home at age sixteen to join the United States Navy during World War II, where he saw action on destroyers in the Pacific.
Steiger appeared in over 100 motion pictures. He began his acting career in theatre and on live television in the early 1950s. On May 24, 1953, an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse jump-started his career. The episode was the story of Marty written by Paddy Chayefsky. Marty is the story of a lonely homely butcher from the Bronx in search of love. Refusing to sign a seven-year studio contract, Steiger later turned down the role in the film version in 1955. Signing a studio contract at that time would have restricted the range of roles Steiger could play and determined the image he portrayed onscreen; those were two things Steiger objected to throughout his career.
He won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Chief of Police Bill Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night (1967) opposite Sidney Poitier. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954), in which he played Marlon Brando's character's brother. He was nominated again, this time for Best Actor, for the gritty The Pawnbroker (1965), a Sidney Lumet film in which Steiger portrays an emotionally withdrawn Holocaust survivor living in New York City.
He played Jud Fry in the film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, in which he did his own singing. One of his favorite roles was as Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago (1965). Steiger, one of only two Americans in the cast of that film, was initially apprehensive about working with such great British actors as Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness and was afraid that his performance would not blend with theirs, but he won acclaim for this role. He also befriended fellow actor Tom Courtenay on this film.
He also appeared in The Big Knife as an unduly aggressive film studio boss who berates film star Jack Palance; as Al Capone in Al Capone (1959); as Mr. Joyboy in The Loved One; as the serial killer in No Way to Treat a Lady; as a repressed gay NCO in The Sergeant (1968); and as Rabbi Saunders in The Chosen (1981).
He also played well-known figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte in Waterloo (1970); Benito Mussolini in The Last Four Days (1974) and again in Lion of the Desert (1981); W. C. Fields in W. C. Fields and Me (1976); Pontius Pilate in Franco Zeffirelli's TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977); U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman in Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981), and mob boss Sam Giancana in the TV miniseries, Sinatra (1992). Steiger appeared in several Italian films, including Hands Over the City (1963) and Lucky Luciano (1974) (both Francesco Rosi's), and also Sergio Leone's Duck, You Sucker! (1971) starring James Coburn. In France, he starred in Claude Chabrol's Innocents with Dirty Hands opposite Romy Schneider.
In his later years he appeared in The Amityville Horror (1979); The Neighbor (1993), The Specialist (1994), and Mars Attacks!. On television, he appeared in the miniseries Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives (1985), Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1993), and a 1995 Columbo television film, Strange Bedfellows. Among his final roles was the judge in the prison drama, The Hurricane (1999). The film reunited him with director Norman Jewison, who had directed him in In the Heat of the Night. His last film was Poolhall Junkies (2002).
Steiger also starred in the film version of Kurt Vonnegut's play Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971). In 1969, he appeared in the film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man with his then-wife, Claire Bloom. He was offered the title role in Patton, but turned it down because he did not want to glorify war. The role was then given to George C. Scott, who won a Best Actor Oscar. Steiger called this refusal his "dumbest career move".
Personal life and death
Steiger was married five times: he married actress Sally Gracie (1952–1958), actress Claire Bloom (1959–1969), Sherry Nelson (1973–1979), Paula Ellis (1986–1997) and actress Joan Benedict Steiger (married 2000 until his death). He had a daughter, opera singer Anna Steiger (born in 1960) by Bloom, and a son, Michael Steiger (born in 1993), from his marriage to Ellis.
Steiger died of pneumonia and complications from surgery for a gall bladder tumor on July 9, 2002 in Los Angeles and was buried in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery. The film Saving Shiloh, released in 2006, was dedicated to his memory.
- Current Biography, H.W. Wilson Co., 1991, p. 407, ISBN
- Rod Steiger Biography
- Ross, Helen; Lillian Ross (1962), The Player: A Profile of an Art, Simon and Schuster, p. 275, ISBN
- Rod Steiger, Telegraph.co.uk, 2002-07-09, archived from the original on 2007-11-09
- Time magazine
- Obituary: Rod Steiger
- McNeal, Jeff (2001-11-01), Rod Steiger interview, bigpicturedvd.com, archived from the original on 2007-10-10
- Cornwell, Rupert (2002-07-10), Rod Steiger, 'brooding and volatile' Hollywood tough guy for more than 50 years, dies aged 77, The Independent, retrieved 2009-05-21
- 10 July 2002 "Rod Steiger" The Guardian.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rod Steiger.|
- Rod Steiger at the Internet Movie Database
- Rod Steiger at the Internet Broadway Database
- He Blowed Up Real Good (TCM Movie Morlocks on Rod Steiger in Hennessy)
- Rod Steiger on BBC Radio Desert Island Discs