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Princeton’s effect on Widmark ... and vice versa

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 1:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 1:18 p.m. CDT

One can never say enough about the effect of a good teacher on a student. Teachers can shape lives, inspire and help a young person find what is already there.

Doris Fetherston taught English, dramatics and public speaking, circa 1930, at Princeton High School. Richard Widmark was one of her students, and she had a very positive effect on his life. He credited her with bringing about an awareness that he was in command when he had to speak in front of an audience. 

Richard Widmark found something about himself as a student at Princeton High School with the help of Ms. Fetherston and teachers like her. He graduated as senior class president in 1932 and graduated as senior class president of Lake Forest College in 1936. He started his film career in 1947, received an Oscar nomination for his role as killer Tommy Udo in “The Kiss of Death,” and went on to act in a total 72 movies.

The first Widmark film that really stuck in my mind was “The Law and Jake Wade” that I saw when I was 11. I loved westerns, and Widmark as outlaw Clint Hollister was superb. He could play a guy you both liked and hated. I always looked for movies of his after that. His last performance was in “True Colors” in 1991. He lent his voice to three documentaries following “True Colors,” the last being “Dobe and a Company of Heroes” in 2001.

Widmark was himself and spoke of his good friend Harry Carey Jr., aka Dobe (from adobe, his hair color), son of the great western actor Harry Carey Sr. Harry Carey Sr. is one of my all-time favorite western performers.

Widmark, wife, Jean, and daughter, Anne, lived in Mandeville Canyon outside of Los Angeles, Calif., in the early 1950s. They bought the Carey family home, where Junior grew up, after the death of Senior. If you are a Western movie fan, you have seen Harry Carey Jr. on the screen, as he appeared in more than 90 movies, the majority of them westerns. 

Richard Widmark and Harry Carey Jr. made six films together, five of them westerns.  One-fourth (19) of Widmark movies were in the western genre. I really like the fact that they had a connection in real life as well as on film. 

I think it is great that I live in the town where Widmark grew up, and that lingers in my mind when watching his films, especially his westerns. Westerns are usually simple, beautiful to look at, and have a clear-cut line between good and evil. The days of the Wild West will never come again, but we can escape there for a couple of hours with a western. 

Thanks in part to Ms. Fetherston, Widmark found his footing and made it west.  Princeton Public Library, Westerns Channel, and Turner Classic Movies are where you’ll find our Richard Widmark, as well as buying his movies on DVD.

Bartlett Lee Kassabaum    

Princeton

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