The recent passing of David Huddleston, a character actor who played title roles in the films “Santa Clause” and “The Big Lebowski,” caught my attention. Character actors are performers who can blend in or stand out. They are “working actors,” actors who have long and productive careers but may never achieve stardom. They are those actors who do not seek stardom and prefer the craft of performing smaller, more nuanced parts.
Huddleston played roles in numerous television programs, films and theater roles from 1960 through 2014, the entertainment website IMDb lists 145 acting credits. He considered his crowning achievement to be the role of Benjamin Franklin in the 1998 Broadway production of “1776.” “Even when I play heavies I try to play them with a twinkle in my eye,” he is quoted as saying on IMDb.
Huddleston also played the Mayor in Mel Brookes “Blazing Saddles” alongside Peninsula Players alumnus Harvey Korman, who played the conniving State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr. Harvey earned his Actors’ Equity card while performing at Peninsula Players in the 1950s, before he met Mel Brooks, Carole Burnett, Tim Conway or voiced The Great Gazoo, a helmeted space man, on “The Flinstones” in 1960.
Great character actors are rarely out of work, highly regarded by fellow actors, and their on-stage personas are very different from their own. Character actors thrive at summer stock theaters, regional theaters and in film and television.
Some famous character actors include Harry Davenport (co-founder of Actors’ Equity Association), Christopher Lloyd, Keith David, Dame Maggie Smith, Jason Robards, Anne Bancroft, Brian Huskey, Robert Morley, Joan Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Catherine O’Hara, Robert Prosky, Tom Wilkinson, Angela Lansbury and Dianne Wiest.
You might recognize some of the above by name alone, others you would once you see their photo and go “oh-that guy!”
Others include Basil Rathbone (the father-in-law of our founder Caroline Fisher); John C. Riley (a classmate of former General Manager Todd Schmidt) and Karl Malden (a classmate of Players’ Grand Poobah Robert Thompson who performed more than 100 roles at the Players from 1938 to 2013).
Rudy Bond, another Peninsula Players alumus, appeared in four films that were nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, “12 Angry Men,” “The Godfather,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront.” Bond had a very lucrative career as a character actor in Hollywood after leaving the Peninsula Players in 1947 and studying at the famed “Actors Studio” in New York where his classmates were Paul Newman, James Dean and Marlon Brando.
Alumnus Lawrence Pressman is still an active character actor and has been since his Peninsula Players debut in 1961. His 32 film credits include “Dr. Doolittle 2,” “Beyond the Heavens” and “American Pie” while his 136 television credits vary from “Cannon” and “Hawaii Five-O” to “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Hart of Dixie” and “Transparent.”
Margaret Hamilton, known for her crisp voice and excellent elocution, was another great character actor with more than 122 credits from 1933 through 1982. She performed with Buster Keaton, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and is mostly associated with her famous role as the The Wicked Witch of the West opposite Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.” Hamilton’s last stage role was Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sonheim’s musical “A Little Night Music,” singing the song “Liaisons” for the national tour.
Players’ character actor Peggy Roeder played Madame Armfeldt in our 2010 production of “A Little Night Music” alongside Carmen Roman, who will be featured in our next production “Alabama Story” with Greg Vinkler. Roeder returned to Door County this summer after closing a stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” at The Muny in St. Louis alongside Peninsula Players alumnus Stephen Wallem, who played they Cowardly Lion. Wallem played Nurse Thor on the series “Nurse Jackie.”
“Margaret was an idol of mine and it was a thrill to play that part,” Roeder said. Roeder’s extensive film, television and stage credits include teaching Bill Murray to play piano in the film “Groundhog Day” and hiding Tom Hanks on a farm in “Road to Perdition.” She has appeared in “Law & Order,” “E.R.” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” At Peninsula Players you will recall her performances as Sister Clarissa in “Over the Tavern;” or roles in “The Game’s Afoot,” “Making God Laugh,” “Noises Off” or “Miracle on South Division Street.” Her musical appearances include “Cabaret” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Roeder plays Jeanette Burmeister, a tough saucy show-bizz gal who has “seen it all,” in our production of “The Full Monty.” Jeanette shows up at auditions, piano and all, to help the guys spice up their striptease act. Jeanette is a blunt dame who offers advice, shares yarns from the road and encourages the guys up when they get stage fright.
There are still a few performances remaining to catch the lively and upbeat musical comedy, “The Full Monty” before it closes August 14. Jeanette, the guys and the other women in their lives, will touch your heart and funny bone. “The Full Monty” does contain mature language and nudity.
Opening August 17 is “Alabama Story,” based on actual events around the children’s book “The Rabbit’s Wedding.” The riotous spy adventure, “The 39 Steps,” opens Sept. 7. All have wonderful parts for character actors that audiences will take a shine to.
If you would like more information about shows at Peninsula Players or to purchase tickets, phone the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com. Join us by the bay where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!