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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Remembering Graham Crowden

Tall, lanky Scottish actor Graham Crowden, known globally as Tom Ballard in the enormously successful BBC hit Waiting For God, has died at age 87. His obituary from the Guardian UK...

Graham Crowden obituary
Actor with great stage presence who found his metier in comic and satirical roles.

Michael Coveney

There was something extra-terrestrial about the character actor Graham Crowden, who has died aged 87 – a mix of the ethereal eccentricity of Ralph Richardson and the Scottish lunacy and skewiff authoritarianism of Alastair Sim. He specialised in portraying doctors, lawyers or teachers in a satirical way.

Crowden was a tall, red-haired, serious and sometimes professionally diffident man – he turned down the opportunity of succeeding Jon Pertwee as the fourth Doctor Who, remarking that working with a lot of Daleks did not sound like much fun. He had a tremendous stage presence, always moving with an emphatic, loping gait.

Despite his eminence in plays at the Royal Court and the National Theatre, where he introduced roles in works by NF Simpson and Tom Stoppard, and in films directed by Lindsay Anderson, he did not become widely familiar until he starred in a BBC television sitcom, Waiting for God (1990-94).

In that series, he and Stephanie Cole played two residents of a Bournemouth retirement home who made life difficult for both officials and their own families while finding each other increasingly compatible. Crowden was Tom Ballard, a widower and retired accountant, who feigned more dementia than he suffered, winning both sympathy and laughter.
Michael Aitken's script addressed public anxieties over an increasingly ageing population, just as Crowden's first big television series, Andrew Davies's A Very Peculiar Practice (1986), prophesied the rampant commercialisation of university education. Crowden played Jock McCannon, the decrepit, alcoholic Scots head of a university medical centre.

He embodied other laughable figures in a clutch of distinctive British movies, three of them directed by Anderson, and all starring Malcolm McDowell: If… (1968) charted revolution in a public school, with Crowden a flummoxed history master; and the picaresque tale O Lucky Man! (1973) deployed another mad scientist performance, which was then developed into a larger role in Britannia Hospital (1982), an anarchic, state-of-the-nation lampoon in a run-down hospital preparing for a royal visit.

Not surprisingly, Crowden was also cast as a Master of Lunacy in Peter Medak's film of Peter Barnes's The Ruling Class (1972), starring Peter O'Toole, and as Leader of the Fanatics in Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky (1977), a post-Python medieval comic fantasy based on Lewis Carroll's poem.

Crowden was born in Edinburgh of Presbyterian stock, the third of four children of a classics teacher. He left the Edinburgh academy to work in a tannery, and in 1940 joined the Royal Scots Youth Battalion. His military career was cut short when he was accidentally shot by his own platoon sergeant.

A chance encounter with the Journey Into Space actor Andrew Faulds led him to a spear-carrying role at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1944, followed by a busy period in rep nationwide, culminating in a King Lear at the Bristol Old Vic and a season at the Glasgow Citizens.

His London debut came in 1956 as George Bernard Shaw's silly-ass, man-about-town Charles Lomax in Major Barbara, before he joined the newly formed English Stage Company at the Royal Court. His first role in Sloane Square was in a production of Simpson's A Resounding Tinkle. This led to appearances in plays by Wole Soyinka, Fernando Arrabal and David Cregan, and a production of Simpson's major play, One Way Pendulum, in 1959. Crowden was ideal as Mr Groomkirby, an amateur prosecuting counsel at the Old Bailey established in his own living room. He then appeared alongside Rex Harrison in Chekhov's Platonov, and with Alec Guinness and Eileen Atkins in Ionesco's Exit the King, providing, said Irving Wardle, "brilliant tangential comedy" as a "wizard-like" doctor.

From the Court he joined the new National Theatre at the Old Vic in 1965, playing Augustus Colpoys in a warm, seductive revival of Pinero's Trelawny of the Wells, Colonel Melkett in Peter Shaffer's hilarious Black Comedy and a definitive, logic-chopping Sir Politic Would-Be in Tyrone Guthrie's staging of Ben Jonson's Volpone.

In 1967 Crowden played three important NT support roles – the Player in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; Foresight in Congreve's Love for Love; and Augustin Feraillon in Jacques Charon's legendary production of Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear, introducing the fine John Mortimer translation that is about to be revived on the same stage by Richard Eyre. He took time out from the National to play Henry IV in both parts, and Prospero (directed by Jonathan Miller), at the Mermaid Theatre, but returned for Stoppard's second major premiere, Jumpers, in 1972. Again, he was cast perfectly, alongside Michael Hordern and Diana Rigg, as the sinister, pop-eyed university vice-chancellor, Archie, who seduces the philosopher George Moore's wife.

Two other stage roles stand out. He was a touching partner to Vanessa Redgrave in the 1978 revival of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea at the Royal Exchange, Manchester; and a glorious Vincent Crummles in the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby in 1980 almost convinced Bernard Levin that Dickens, after all, had not based the character on Harold Macmillan.

Despite suffering a stroke, Crowden remained active. He was always engaged in Equity affairs and went on Aldermaston marches. His last film was Calendar Girls (2003) and his last stage appearances of note were in Pinero's The Magistrate at Chichester in 1998 and as an eccentric old general with a death wish in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None at the Gielgud Theatre in 2005.

Crowden is survived by his wife, Phyllida Hewat, whom he married in 1952, a son and three daughters, one of whom, Sarah, followed him into acting.

• Clement Graham Crowden, actor, born 30 November 1922; died 19 October 2010

Actress Jill Clayburgh Died at 66

By DERRIK J. LANG, AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang, Ap Entertainment Writer –
Jill Clayburgh, the sophisticated Hollywood and Broadway actress known for portrayals of empowered women in a career spanning five decades, highlighted by her Oscar-nominated role of a divorcee exploring life after marriage in the 1978 film "An Unmarried Woman," has died. She was 66.

Her husband, Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe, said Clayburgh died Friday surrounded by her family at her home in Lakeville, Conn., after a 21-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He said she dealt with the disease courageously, quietly and privately, "and made it into an opportunity for her children to grow and be human."

Clayburgh, alongside such peers as Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda, helped to usher in a new era for actresses in Hollywood by playing women who were confident and capable yet not completely flawless. Her dramatic turn as a divorcee exploring her sexuality after 16 years of marriage in "An Unmarried Woman" earned Clayburgh her first Oscar nod.

"There was practically nothing for women to do on the screen in the 1950s and 1960s," Clayburgh said in an interview with The Associated Press while promoting "An Unmarried Woman" in 1978. "Sure, Marilyn Monroe was great, but she had to play a one-sided character, a vulnerable sex object. It was a real fantasy."

The next year, Clayburgh was again nominated for an Academy Award for "Starting Over," a comedy about a divorced man, played by Burt Reynolds, who falls in love but can't get over his ex-wife. For the next 30 years, Clayburgh steadily appeared in films and on stage and television, often effortlessly moving between comedic and dramatic roles.

Besides appearing in such movies as "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can," "Silver Streak" and "Running With Scissors," Clayburgh's Broadway credits included Noel Coward's "Design for Living," the original production of Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers," and the Tony Award-winning musicals "Pippin" and "The Rothschilds."

Clayburgh's work also stretched across TV. She had a recurring role on Fox's "Ally McBeal" as McBeal's mother and most recently played the matriarch of the spoiled Darling family on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money." She earned two Emmy nods: for best actress in 1975 for portraying a tell-it-like-it-is prostitute in the ABC TV film "Hustling" and for her guest turn in 2005 as a vengeful plastic surgery patient on FX's "Nip/Tuck."

Clayburgh came from a privileged New York family. Her father was vice president of two large companies, and her mother was a secretary for Broadway producer David Merrick. Her grandmother, Alma Clayburgh, was an opera singer and New York socialite.

Growing up in a such a rich cultural mix, she could easily have been overwhelmed. Instead, as she said in interviews, she asserted herself with willful and destructive behavior — so much so that her parents took her to a psychiatrist when she was 9.

She escaped into a fantasy world of her own devising. She was entranced by seeing Jean Arthur play "Peter Pan" on Broadway, and she and a school chum concocted their own dramatics every day at home. She became serious-minded at Sarah Lawrence College, concentrating on religion, philosophy and literature.

Clayburgh also took drama classes at Sarah Lawrence. She and her friend Robert De Niro acted in a film, "The Wedding Party," directed by a Sarah Lawrence graduate, Brian DePalma. After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree, she began performing in repertory and in Broadway musicals such as "The Rothschilds" and "Pippin."

Alongside Richard Thomas, she headed the 2005 Broadway cast of "A Naked Girl on the Appian Way," Richard Greenberg's comedy about one family's unusual domestic tribulations.
Director Doug Hughes, who directed her in a production of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" at the Westport Country Playhouse in 2003, called her for "Naked Girl."

"That she has the time to do a run of a play is just an extraordinary boon because I've had the pleasure of seeing her play a bona fide tragic American role beautifully, and I have had the pleasure of directing her in a very, very smart light comedy and be utterly brilliant in that," he said in 2005.

During an interview that year, Clayburgh explained the unglamorous side of acting.

"One of the funny things about actors is that people look at their careers in retrospect, as if they have a plan," she said.

"Mostly, you just get a call. You're just sitting there going, 'Oh, my God. I'm never going to work again. Oh, God. I'm too old. Maybe I should go and work for Howard Dean.' And then it changes."
Clayburgh will next be seen playing the mother of Jake Gyllenhaal's character in the upcoming film "Love and Other Drugs."

She is survived by three children, including actress Lily Rabe, Michael Rabe and stepson Jason Rabe.

There will be no funeral, Rabe said. The family will have a memorial in about six months, though plans have not been finalized.
Associated Press writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed to this report from Boston.