Richard Widmark, the Hollywood star who grew up in Princeton in the 1920s and 1930s, is somewhat forgotten today, five years after his death on March 24, 2008.
I believe people in Widmark’s hometown owe it to themselves to rediscover his impressive acting career.
To encourage that rediscovery, members of the Richard Widmark Fan Club, to which I belong, donated DVDs of some of Widmark’s movies to the Princeton Public Library last fall. The donations helped increase the library’s Widmark film collection from two to 15 and prompted the library’s Widmark Wednesday film series in September and October.
This month, I donated 12 more Widmark movies to the library. They are “Slattery’s Hurricane” and “Down to the Sea in Ships” (both from 1949), “The Frogmen” (1951), “Destination Gobi” (1953), “Hell and High Water” and “Garden of Evil” (both from 1954), “Run for the Sun” (1956), “The Law and Jake Wade” (1958), “Warlock” (1959), “The Alamo” (1960), “Coma” (1978), and “Hanky Panky” (1982).
The “Hell and High Water” DVD contains a fascinating documentary about Widmark’s career titled, “Strength of Characters” as seen on “Biography” on the A&E Network. The documentary features interviews with Widmark, three of his friends, actors Sidney Poitier, Karl Malden and Robert Wagner, and his daughter, Anne Heath Widmark.
What deeply impresses me about Widmark is how this Princeton High School graduate could hold his own against one Hollywood legend after another. Based on the 1999 American Film Institute list of 50 movie legends (25 men, 25 women), Widmark acted with at least 10 of the men and four of the women.
I am also impressed by how Widmark chose to live his life – the fact that he refused to be corrupted by Hollywood, stayed true to his wife for 55 years until her death, and extended the hand of friendship to a young Sidney Poitier during the dark days of segregation.
Widmark’s strong personal character shines through in many of his film characters, in my opinion, even when he plays conflicted anti-heroes. That knowledge allows me to further appreciate his roles as unrepentant villains, knowing how opposite those bad guys were from Widmark’s true self.
I encourage Princeton area residents to head to the library, check out a Widmark movie, and rediscover this remarkable actor.