Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman 1931-2012

I grew up in the sixties, so of course there was a time when I wanted to be Larry Hagman. It was a time when I was captivated by NASA and the space program, and on NBC television, Larry Hagman was playing astronaut Anthony Nelson. Along with total access to rockets and space capsules, Nelson was constantly in the arms of a  gorgeous blonde genie in a bottle, played by Barbara Eden, who Hagman once called "the most beautiful girl in the world". Now that's what I call a role model.

But as much as I was enthralled by I Dream of Jeannie, it would be a late night showing of a hollywood classic political thriller that I would come to appreciate, elevating my respect for Larry Hagman, the actor. In that film, Hagman played Buck, the President's translator, called in to interpret the meaning and nuances of a conversation between the US President and his Russian counterpart during a series of hotline calls that would be the last chance at tipping the two countries away from nuclear war. The film was 1964's Fail Safe and Hagman held his own beautifully in the intense scenes he shared with a brilliant performance by Henry Fonda playing the President.

Larry Hagman as Presidential Interpreter Buck in 1964's Fail Safe
from Columbia Pictures.

Fail Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet, made the most of big stars and included unforgettable performances from Fonda, Walter Matthau, Dan O'Herlihy and others. Yet it would be Larry Hagman that would be stamped into my memory. I never watched an I Dream of Jeannie rerun, or the series that would create a genre of primetime soaps, Dallas, without thinking of the measured and staccato performance in Fail Safe that made the tension of those hotline calls so realistically plausible.

Larry Hagman did other Hollywood films as well. 1964's Ensign Pulver and 1965's In Harms Way were standouts and a funny turn in 1976's comedy Mother, Juggs and Speed, stay with me. With a long and storied television career, Larry Hagman made a working actor's life look like a noble profession.

To his fans, his friends and his family, we wish all peace and comfort in this time of loss.

Top photo by Peter Larsen for WireImage, courtesy of Gettyimages.com

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