James Harrison Coburn III
August 31, 1928
Laurel, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||November 18, 2002 (aged 74)|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, California, U.S.|
|Education||Compton Junior College|
|Alma mater||Los Angeles City College|
|The Magnificent Seven|
Hell Is for Heroes
The Great Escape
Our Man Flint
Duck, You Sucker!
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Cross of Iron
(m. 1959; div. 1979)
|Awards||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
James Harrison Coburn III (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002) was an American actor who was featured in more than 70 films, largely action roles, and made 100 television appearances during a 45-year career.
Coburn was a capable, rough-hewn leading man, whose toothy grin and lanky physique made him a perfect tough guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in westerns and action films, such as The Magnificent Seven, Hell Is for Heroes; The Great Escape; Charade, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, The President's Analyst, Hard Times, Duck, You Sucker!, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Cross of Iron. In 1997, Coburn won an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction. In 2002, he received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries nomination for producing The Mists of Avalon.
During the New Hollywood era, Coburn cultivated an image synonymous with "cool" and, along with such contemporaries as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood, he became one of the most prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.
James Harrison Coburn III was born in Laurel, Nebraska on August 31, 1928, the son of James Harrison Coburn II (1902–1975) and Mylet S. Coburn (née Johnson; 1900–1984). His father was of Scots-Irish ancestry and his mother was an immigrant from Sweden. The elder Coburn had a garage business that was destroyed by the Great Depression. Coburn himself was raised in Compton, California, where he attended Compton Junior College.
In 1950, Coburn enlisted in the United States Army, in which he served as a truck driver and occasionally a disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany. Coburn attended Los Angeles City College, 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.
Coburn's first professional job was a live television play for Sidney Lumet.
He 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, while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part.
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. Butch Cassidy aired in 1958.
Coburn's third film was a major breakthrough for him - as the knife-wielding Britt in The Magnificent Seven (1960), directed by John Sturges for the Mirisch Company. Coburn was hired through the intervention of his friend, Robert Vaughn.
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," respectively. In 1962, he portrayed the role of Col. Briscoe in the episode "Hostage Child" on CBS's Rawhide.
Supporting actor in films
Coburn had a good role in Hell Is for Heroes (1962), a war movie with Steve McQueen. Coburn followed this with another war film with McQueen, The Great Escape (1963), directed by Sturges for the Mirisches; Coburn played an Australian. For the Mirisches, Coburn narrated Kings of the Sun (1963).
Coburn was one of the villains in Charade (1963), starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. He was then cast as a glib naval officer in Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily, replacing James Garner, who had moved up to the lead when William Holden pulled out. This led to Coburn being signed to a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox.
He followed it with What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), a wartime comedy from Blake Edwards which was made for the Mirisches; Coburn was top billed. The film was a commercial disappointment. Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966) was a crime movie made at Columbia.
Back at Fox, Coburn made a second Flint film, In Like Flint (1967), which was popular but Coburn did not wish to make any more. He went over to Paramount to make a Western comedy, Waterhole No. 3 (1967), and the political satire The President's Analyst (1967). Neither film performed particularly well at the box office but over the years The President's Analyst has become a cult film. In 1967 Coburn was voted the twelfth biggest star in Hollywood.
Over at Columbia, Coburn was in a swinging sixties heist film, Duffy (1968) which flopped. He was one of several stars who had cameos in Candy (1968) then played a hitman in Hard Contract (1969) for Fox, another flop.
In July 1970 Richard F Zanuck of Fox dropped the $300,000 option it had with Coburn.
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. In 1964 Coburn said he would do A Fistful of Dollars if they paid him $25,000, which was too expensive for the production's tiny budget. Duck You Sucker, also called A Fistful of Dynamite, was not as highly regarded as Leone's four previous Westerns but was hugely popular in Europe, especially France.
Back in the US he made another film with Blake Edwards, the thriller The Carey Treatment (1972). It was badly cut by MGM and was commercially unsuccessful. So too was The Honkers (1972), in which Coburn played a rodeo rider.
Coburn went back to Italy to make another Western, A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (1973), aka Massacre at Fort Holman. He then re-teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, in which he played Pat Garrett. In 1973 Coburn was voted the 23rd most popular star in Hollywood.
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 was one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Bruce Lee along with Steve McQueen, Bruce's brother, Robert Lee, Peter Chin, Danny Inosanto, and Taky Kimura. Coburn gave a speech: "Farewell, Brother. It has been an honor to share this space in time with you. As a friend and a teacher, you have given to me, have brought my physical, spiritual and psychological selves together. Thank you. May peace be with you"
Coburn was one of several stars in the popular The Last of Sheila (1973). He then starred in a series of thrillers: Harry in Your Pocket (1974) and The Internecine Project (1975). Neither was widely seen.
Decline as star
Coburn began to drop back down the credit list: he was third billed in writer-director Richard Brooks' film Bite the Bullet (1975) behind Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen. He co-starred with Charles Bronson in Hard Times (1975), the directorial debut of Walter Hill, but it was very much Bronson's film. The movie was popular.
Coburn played the lead in the action film Sky Riders (1976) then played Charlton Heston's antagonist in The Last Hard Men (1976). He was one of the many stars in Midway (1976), then had the star role in Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron (1977) playing a German soldier. This critically acclaimed war epic performed poorly in the United States but was a huge hit in Europe. Peckinpah and Coburn remained close friends until Peckinpah's death in 1984.
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." In Japan his masculine appearance was so appealing he became an icon for its leading cigarette brand. He also supported himself in later years by exporting rare automobiles to Japan. He was deeply interested in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, and collected sacred Buddhist artwork. He narrated a film about the 16th Karmapa called The Lion's Roar.
Coburn starred in Firepower (1979) with Sophia Loren, replacing Charles Bronson when the latter pulled out. He had a cameo in The Muppet Movie (1979) and had leading roles in Goldengirl (1980) and The Baltimore Bullet (1980). He was Shirley MacLaine's husband in Loving Couples (1980) and had the lead in a Canadian film, Crossover (1980).
In 1981, Coburn moved almost entirely into supporting roles such as those of the villains in both High Risk (1981) and Looker (1981). He hosted a TV series of the horror-anthology type, Darkroom, in 1981 and 1982. He supported Walter Mondale's campaign in the 1984 presidential election. Coburn also portrayed Dwight Owen Barnes in the PC video game C.E.O., developed by Artdink as a spin-off of its A-Train series.
Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films during the 1980s, despite continuing to work during his final years. This disease had left Coburn's body deformed and in pain. He told ABC News in an 1999 interview: "You start to turn to stone. See, my hand is twisted now because tendons have shortened." For twenty years, Coburn tried a host of both conventional and unconventional treatments, but none of them worked. "There was so much pain that...every time I stood up, I would break into a sweat," he recalled. Then, in 1996, Coburn tried methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a sulfur compound available at most health food stores. The result, he said, was nothing short of miraculous. "You take this stuff and it starts right away," said Coburn. "Everyone I've given it to has had a positive response." Though the MSM did not cure Coburn's arthritis, it did relieve his pain, allowing him to move more freely and resume his career.
Coburn was in a four-year relationship with British singer-songwriter Lynsey de Paul from the late 1970s. They co-wrote her songs "Losin' the Blues For You" and "Melancholy Melon" that appeared on her album Tigers and Fireflies. Coburn resumed his film career in the 1990s, where he appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. His performance as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also provided the voice of Henry J. Waternoose III in the Pixar animated film Monsters, Inc..
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. 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.
Cal Spyder #2377 was repainted several times during Coburn's ownership; it has been black, silver, and possibly red. 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 the Mustang GTs used in the filming of McQueen's Bullitt. Coburn sold the Spyder in 1987 after twenty-four years of ownership. The car was restored, had several owners, and was sold in 2008 for $10,894,400 to English broadcaster Chris Evans. At that time it set a new world record for the highest price ever paid for an automobile at auction.
Over time he also owned a Ferrari Daytona, at least one Ferrari 308 and a 1967 Ferrari 412P sports racer. From 1998 until his death, Coburn did the voiceovers for Chevrolet's Like a Rock commercials.
He later married actress Paula Murad Coburn, on October 22, 1993 in Versailles, France; they remained married until Coburn's death in 2002. The couple set up "The James and Paula Coburn (charitable) Foundation".
Coburn died of a heart attack at the age of 74 on November 18, 2002 while listening to music with his wife Paula at his Beverly Hills home. She later said he literally died in her arms. Less than two years later, Paula died of cancer on July 30, 2004, at age 48.
In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, critic David Thomson states that "Coburn is a modern rarity: an actor who projects lazy, humorous sexuality. 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". 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". George Hickenlooper, who directed Coburn in The Man from Elysian Fields called him "the masculine male". Andy García called him "the personification of class, the hippest of the hip", and Paul Schrader noted "he was of that 50s 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."
|Face of a Fugitive||Purdy|
|1960||The Magnificent Seven||Britt|
|1961||The Murder Men||Arthur Troy||Television film|
|1962||Hell Is for Heroes||Cpl. Frank Henshaw|
|1963||The Great Escape||Fg. Off. Louis Sedgwick, "The Manufacturer"|
|Kings of the Sun||Narrator||Uncredited|
|The Man from Galveston||Boyd Palmer|
|1964||The Americanization of Emily||Lt. Cmdr. Paul "Bus" Cummings|
|1965||Major Dundee||Samuel Potts|
|A High Wind in Jamaica||Zac|
|The Loved One||Immigration Officer|
|1966||Our Man Flint||Derek Flint|
|What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?||Lieutenant Christian|
|Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round||Eli Kotch|
|1967||In Like Flint||Derek Flint|
|Waterhole No. 3||Lewton Cole|
|The President's Analyst||Dr. Sidney Schaefer||Also producer|
|Candy||Dr. A.B. Krankheit|
|1969||Hard Contract||John Cunningham|
|1970||Last of the Mobile Hot Shots||Jeb Thornton|
|1971||Duck, You Sucker!||John H. Mallory||Renamed A Fistful of Dynamite for U.S. release|
|1972||The Carey Treatment||Dr. Peter Carey|
|The Honkers||Lew Lathrop||Steve Ihnat|
|A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die||Colonel Pembroke||Renamed Massacre at Fort Holman for U.S. release|
|1973||Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid||Pat Garrett|
|The Last of Sheila||Clinton Green|
|Harry in Your Pocket||Harry|
|1974||The Internecine Project||Robert Elliot|
|1975||Bite the Bullet||Luke Matthews|
|1976||Sky Riders||Jim McCabe|
|The Last Hard Men||Zach Provo|
|Midway||Capt. Vinton Maddox|
|Cross of Iron||Sergeant Rolf Steiner|
|1978||California Suite||Pilot in Diana Barrie's Film on Airplane||Uncredited|
|The Muppet Movie||El Sleezo Cafe Owner||Cameo|
|1980||The Baltimore Bullet||Nick Casey|
|Loving Couples||Dr. Walter Kirby|
|Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls||Henry Bellamy|
|1983||Malibu||Tom Wharton||Television film|
|Digital Dreams||Television film|
|1984||Draw!||Sam Starret||Television film|
|1985||Martin's Day||Lt. Lardner|
|Sins of the Father||Frank Murchison||Television film|
|1986||Death of a Soldier||Maj. Patrick Dannenberg|
|The Wildest West Show of the Stars||Grand Marshall||Television film|
|1989||Train to Heaven||Gregorius|
|Call from Space||Short|
|1990||Young Guns II||John Simpson Chisum|
|1991||Hudson Hawk||George Kaplan|
|1992||Silverfox||Robert Fox||Television film|
|True Facts||Television film|
|Crash Landing: The Rescue of Flight 232||Jim Hathaway||Television film|
|Mastergate||Major Manley Battle||Television film|
|1993||The Hit List||Peter Mayhew|
|Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit||Mr. Crisp|
|Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice||Jeffrey Winslow||Television film|
|1995||The Set-Up||Jeremiah Cole|
|The Avenging Angel||Porter Rockwell||Television film|
|Ray Alexander: A Menu for Murder||Jeffery Winslow||Television film|
|Christmas Reunion||Santa||Television film|
|1996||The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson||Himself|
|Eraser||WitSec Chief Arthur Beller|
|The Nutty Professor||Harlan Hartley|
|Football America||Narrator||Television film|
|Okavango: Africa's Savage Oasis||Narrator||Television film|
|The Cherokee Kid||Cyrus B. Bloomington||Television film|
|1997||Keys to Tulsa||Harmon Shaw|
|Skeletons||Frank Jove||Television film|
|The Second Civil War||Jack Buchan||Television film|
|Affliction||Glen Whitehouse||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
|Noah's Ark||The Peddler||Television film|
|Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story||Morris Gunn||Television film|
|2000||Intrepid||Captain Hal Josephson|
|Missing Pieces||Atticus Cody||Television film|
|The Good Doctor||Dr. Samuel Roberts||Short|
|The Yellow Bird||Rev. Increase Tutwiler||Short|
|The Man from Elysian Fields||Alcott|
|Monsters, Inc.||Mr. Henry J. Waternoose (voice)|
|Walter and Henry||Charlie||Television film|
|2002||Snow Dogs||James "Thunder Jack" Johnson|
|American Gun||Martin Tillman||Final role|
|1957||Studio One in Hollywood||Sam||"The Night America Trembled"|
|1958||Suspicion||Carson||"The Voice in the Night"|
|General Electric Theater||Claude Firman||"Ah There, Beau Brummel"|
|Wagon Train||Ike Daggett||"The Millie Davis Story"|
|1958–1959||The Restless Gun||Vestry / Tom Quinn||2 episodes|
|Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color||Jack - Outlaw Leader / Mexican Police Captain||Uncredited|
|Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Union Sergeant / Andrews||2 episodes|
|1958–1961||The Rifleman||Ambrose / Cy Parker||2 episodes|
|1958–1962||Tales of Wells Fargo||Ben Crider / Idaho||2 episodes|
|1959||Trackdown||Joker Wells||"Hard Lines"|
|State Trooper||Dobie||"Hard Money, Soft Touch"|
|Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre||Jess||"A Thread of Respect"|
|Black Saddle||Niles||"Client: Steele"|
|M Squad||Harry Blacker||"The Fire Makers"|
|The Rough Riders||Judson||"Deadfall"|
|The Californians||Deputy Anthony Wayne||2 episodes|
|Johnny Ringo||Moss Taylor||"The Arrival"|
|Whirlybirds||Steve Alexander||"Mr. Jinx"|
|Tombstone Territory||Chuck Ashley||"The Gunfighter"|
|The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp||Buckskin Frank Leslie||"The Noble Outlaws"|
|The DuPont Show with June Allyson||"The Girl"|
|The Millionaire||Lew Bennett||"Millionaire Timothy Mackail"|
|Dead or Alive||Henry Turner||"Reunion for Revenge"|
|Bat Masterson||Pole Otis||"The Black Pearls"|
|1959–1960||Bronco||Jesse James / Adam Coverly||2 episodes|
|Wichita Town||Wally / Fletcher||2 episodes|
|Bat Masterson||Leo Talley||"Six Feet of Gold”|
|Have Gun – Will Travel||Bill Sledge / Jack||2 episodes|
|Wanted: Dead or Alive||Howard Catlett / Jesse Holloway / Henry Turner||3 episodes|
|Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre||Doyle / Jess Newton||2 episodes|
|1959–1961||Laramie||Finch / Gil Spanner||2 episodes|
|1959–1966||Bonanza||Pete Jessup / Ross Marquette / Elmer Trace / Heckler||4 episodes|
|1960||The Texan||Cal Gruder||"Friend of the Family"|
|Sugarfoot||Rome Morgan||"Blackwater Swamp"|
|Men into Space||Dr. Narry||"Contraband"|
|Bourbon Street Beat||Buzz Griffin||"Target of Hate"|
|Peter Gunn||Bud Bailey||"The Murder Clause"|
|The Deputy||Coffer||"The Truly Yours"|
|Richard Diamond, Private Detective||"Coat of Arms"|
|Death Valley Days||"Pamela's Oxen"|
|Lawman||Lank Bailey / Blake Carr||2 episodes|
|1960–1961||Klondike||Jeff Durain / Jefferson Durain||10 episodes|
|The Untouchables||Dennis Garrity||"The Jamaica Ginger Story"|
|The Tall Man||John Miller||"The Best Policy"|
|Stagecoach West||Sam Murdock||"Come Home Again"|
|The Detectives||Duke Hawkins||"The Frightened Ones"|
|The Aquanauts||Joe Casey||"River Gold"|
|1961–1962||Perry Mason||General Addison Brand / Donald Fletcher||2 episodes|
|1962||Naked City||Harry Brind||"Goodbye Mama, Hello Auntie Maud"|
|The Dick Powell Show||Charlie Allnut||"The Safari" (based on The African Queen)|
|Checkmate||Gresch||"A Chant of Silence"|
|Rawhide||Colonel Briscoe||"Hostage Child"|
|Cain's Hundred||Arthur Troy||"Blues for a Junkman: Arthur Troy"|
|1963||Stoney Burke||Jamison||"The Test"|
|Combat!||Corporal Arnold Kanger||"Masquerade"|
|The Greatest Show on Earth||Kelly||"Uncaged"|
|The Eleventh Hour||Steve Kowlowski||"Oh, You Shouldn't Have Done It"|
|The Twilight Zone||Major French||"The Old Man in the Cave"|
|1964||Route 66||Hamar Neilsen||"Kiss the Monster - Make Him Sleep"|
|The Defenders||Earl Chafee||"The Man Who Saved His Country"|
|1977||The Rockford Files||Director||"Irving the Explainer"|
|1978||The Dain Curse||Hamilton Nash||Miniseries|
|1980||The Muppet Show||Himself||Guest appearance|
|1981||Darkroom (TV series)||Host||Series|
|1981||Valley of the Dolls||Henry Bellamy||Miniseries|
|1982||Saturday Night Live||Himself||"James Coburn/Lindsey Buckingham"|
|1984||Faerie Tale Theatre||The Gypsy||"Pinocchio"|
|1990–1992||Captain Planet and the Planeteers||Looten Plunder (voice)||15 episodes|
|1991–1998||Streak||Noah Reynolds||Main cast|
|1992||The Fifth Corner||Dr. Grandwell||2 episodes|
|Murder, She Wrote||Cyrus Ramsey||"Day of the Dead"|
|1995||Picket Fences||Walter Brock||"Upbringings"|
|1997||Profiler||Charles Vanderhorn||2 episodes|
|1998||Mr. Murder||Drew Oslett, Sr.||Television miniseries|
|Stories from My Childhood||The Archbishop (voice)||"The Wild Swans"|
|1999||Vengeance Unlimited||Boone Paladin (uncredited voice)||"Judgment"|
|2000||Scene by Scene||Himself|
|2002||Arliss||Slaughterhouse Sid Perelli||"The Immortal" (final appearance)|
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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."
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