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Widmark in Princeton

Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 5:00 p.m. CST

Fifteen years after Richard Widmark graduated as president of the Princeton High School Class of 1932, he made “one of the most electrifying movie debuts ever,” to quote Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osborne.

But as a high school senior, he did what other students did – attended classes, studied, took tests, and got involved. He belonged to the French Club, Science Club, school newspaper and yearbook staffs, and acted in “Captain Applejack,” the senior class play.

And he played football for the Tigers.

“Wid,” as he was known, played end. He “showed real fight,” according to the 1932 PHS yearbook. “He was a hard tackler, and a good man in getting down the field under punts.”

The Tigers, unfortunately, had to punt the ball a lot in the fall of 1931. They were shut out seven times and outscored 259-13 en route to a 0-7-2 record.

“Wid” no doubt would have sympathized with this year’s Tigers. He might have told them to keep their chins up, give it their all, and then move on.

Widmark certainly moved on. Appearing in more than 70 Hollywood movies over a 44-year career, he carved a reputation as “an enduring and exceptional actor,” to again quote Osborne.

I hope Princeton area residents will continue rediscovering Richard Widmark’s remarkable career by attending Widmark Wednesday movies (6:30 p.m. Wednesdays during October) at the Princeton Public Library. Also, people can check out and watch an assortment of about 40 Widmark movies, marked with blue dots, from the library’s DVD collection.

I encourage the community to celebrate Widmark’s centennial next year. He would have turned 100 on Dec. 26, 2014.

Winterset, Iowa, embraces its native son, John Wayne, through a museum and annual film festival.

Marshalltown, Iowa, the home of actress Jean Seberg, has an annual symposium and film festival dedicated to her.

The other day, Woodstock, Ill., announced it would celebrate its association with Orson Welles, the famous actor, writer and director. Woodstock will name a community stage in Welles’ honor, hold a festival in May, and carry the festivities on into 2015 for Welles’ 100th birthday.

Last year, I had a conversation with a local resident about Widmark. The person asked, “What do you want me to do about it?”

My response: “Just watch a Widmark movie.”

Watch Widmark as a sailor, gangster, hoodlum and doctor. Watch him as a soldier, Marine, sea captain and gambler. Watch him as a lawyer, pilot, cowboy and pickpocket.

By doing so, I believe people will understand what a fine actor he was, and why today’s Princeton residents really ought to celebrate this talented former resident’s life and legacy.

Jim Dunn

Ohio, Ill.

Note to readers: Dunn may be reached at RediscoverRichardWidmark@gmail.com.

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