Actor Richard Widmark was offered an audition for a radio soap opera two years after college and soon after made his screen debut as the cackling psychopath Tommy Udo in the crime drama Kiss of Death (1947). Stereotyped onscreen as a hot-headed villain, Widmark fought for better roles and went on to give complex performances in such film classics as No Way Out, Night and the City and Madigan.
actor. Born December 26, 1914, in Sunrise, Minnesota, Richard Widmark grew up throughout the Midwest. His father, Carl Widmark, ran a general store, and then became a traveling salesman. The family moved around a lot before settling in Princeton, Illinois.
After a turbulent childhood, lightened by his frequent trips to the movies, Widmark became an accomplished high school scholar, a college football star, and eventually a teacher of speech and drama at Lake Forest College in Illinois.
Two years out of college, Widmark headed to New York City in 1938 when a friend offered him an audition for a radio soap opera. Widmark won the role and soon became a busy player in broadcasting and on the Broadway stage (debuting in 1943).
But despite his rising career, and happy marriage to his college sweetheart, Ora Jean Hazlewood, the 1940s were a time of great stress for the actor. Unable to serve in World War II due to a perforated eardrum, he spent three anxious years fearing for the life of his brother Donald, a bomber pilot who was injured and held as a prisoner-of-war by the Nazis. Although Donald Widmark was freed at the war's end, his failing health over the next decade would be the most agonizing tragedy in Richard's life.
In 1947, the crime drama Kiss of Death catapulted Widmark to movie stardom. The actor made one of the most shocking film debuts in movie history as his character, the cackling psychopath Tommy Udo, shoved an older wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs to her death. The role earned Widmark an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and proved to be the beginning of a distinguished five-decade film career.
Stereotyped onscreen as a hot-headed villain, Widmark fought for better roles and went on to give complex performances in such film classics as Panic in the Streets (1950), No Way Out (which introduced him to close friend Sidney Poitier), Night and the City, Broken Lance (co-starring his idol, Spencer Tracy), and Madigan.
Widmark and Hazlewood had a daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, who was married to Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax (1969-82). Hazlewood died in March 1997. In September 1999, Widmark married Susan Blanchard, who was Henry Fonda's third wife.
Widmark died March 24, 2008, at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, after a long illness.
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