General Ripper on 42nd Street

Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy of 1964, Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was back on TV this week. Terrific movie. Sterling Hayden’s General Jack Ripper and his “precious bodily fluids” madness. The great George C. Scott. And the three roles played by Peter Sellers.

It was the first movie I saw in America after arriving in New York City by cargo vessel in the summer of 1964.

I saw it in a movie theater on 42nd Street. A young man barely out of his teens, alone in the most exciting city in the world, living in a bare-bones room on 48th Street with a few resident cockroaches, and I couldn’t have been happier.

A few years later, in the late 1970s, I was staying at the old Tudor Hotel on East 42nd Street across the street from Grand Central Station (the hotel is now called Westgate New York Grand Central). To me, at that time, Grand Central was the center of the universe. Still is.

I was taking the elevator down to the street. At one of the floors, Sterling Hayden got in, just the two of us in the elevator. He was a tall (6 feet 5), imposing man with an impressive beard at the time. He said hello and I said hello, and then, nervous as hell, I told him how much I liked his role in Dr Strangelove.

He thanked me and then in his rapid-fire voice told me, in a frank way I found surprising for two strangers in an elevator, that it was a difficult part to play. “We did a lot of takes,” he said. “I wanted to get it right, you see.”

”You got it right,” I told him. And then I asked him if he had a new new role coming up.

“I got something up in Canada,” he said, “that’s where I’m heading.” It turned out he was referring to the 1981 comedy Gas with Susan Anspach and Donald Sutherland — not one of his better roles. One of his best was the tough guy in the 1950 film noir The Asphalt Jungle. But the best in my opinion was as General Jack Ripper.

I came across this clip of Sterling Hayden talking about his role as Gen. Ripper. It took me back to a great time in my life.

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Fade to black


Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin, 1987, at the age of 63.

Genuine tough guy — World War II Marine, went through hell in the Pacific Theater. Hit by machine gun fire in 1944, given a medical discharge with the rank of private first class. He had been a corporal but was demoted for being a “trouble maker.” Hobbled home with half a dozen military awards.

In Hollywood he started out playing hard boiled villains and soldiers. He was Detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger in the TV crime series M Squad which ran from 1957 to 1960.

Leading roles in The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Point Blank (1967) and The Big Red One (1980), and won an Academy Award for Best Actor for dual roles in the 1965 comedy Western Cat Ballou.

A favorite role is that of a Mountie in the true story of a Canadian manhunt, the 1981 movie Death Hunt.

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder, 2016. He was 83.

Gene did it all — actor, director, screenwriter, producer, singer-songwriter and author. His career began on stage, and his first film role was a hostage in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde. His landed his first major role and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Producers (1967), his first of several collaborations with director Mel Brooks. The others were Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, both in 1974.

Won acclaim for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and for his films with Richard Pryor, Silver Streak (1976), Stir Crazy (1980), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). 

From Young Frankenstein —

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman, 1982 at the age of 67.

Starred in many European and American films, TV movies and plays, winning three Academy Awards, two Emmies, a Tony and four Golden Globes. She was great in Gaslight in 1944 — she was great in so many movies, but most of us remember her in the 1942 classic Casablanca.

Jean Hagen

Jean Hagen, 1977. She was 54.

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the 1952’s iconic Singin’ in the Rain. Memorable role as the hapless Doll with Sterling Hayden in the 1950 film noir The Asphalt Jungle.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, and in 2008 it was selected to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

All Dix wanted to do was get back home to Kentucky. He finally made it.

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