Pat Hingle, Veteran Character Actor, Dies at 84

Obituaries   Pat Hingle, Veteran Character Actor, Dies at 84
 
Pat Hingle, the character actor whose career stretched back to the 1940s and whose credits encompassed copious roles in theatre, film and television, died Jan. 3 at his home in Carolina Beach, NC. He was 84. The cause was myelodysplasia, a blood disorder, his wife, Julia, said.
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Tall and solid built, with a twang left in his rich, deep voice from his Southern upbringing (he was born in Miami and raised and schooled in Texas), he played everything from gangsters to policemen and every moral station in between. With his wide smile, twinkling deep-set eyes and bushy eyebrows, which seemed imbued with years of homegrown wisdom, he effortlessly drew the viewer in, but — somewhat like his contemporary and fellow Southerner Burl Ives — his folksy charm could turn malevolent just as easily as it could prove virtuous. As Angelica Huston's underworld boss in the film "The Grifters," he spoke to her with paternal warmth while calmly loading a sack full of oranges, with which he planned to beat her.

Critic Kenneth Tynan called him "a specialist in portraying the American male as a lusty, overgrown boy, given perhaps to blustering but inherently goodhearted."

He was both friendly and boorish as a football player in End as Man, the 1953 Broadway play that made his reputation, following a few years working in regional theatres. The adaptation of Calder Willingham's novel was a coming-of-age story set at a Southern military academy. When it was made into a film called "The Strange One," Mr. Hingle repeated his role.

Mr. Hingle cut a prominent figure on the stage in the 1950s, often starring in plays set in the South. He was the original Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (he portrayed Big Daddy in the same play at the Mark Taper Forum in 1983), and was Tony-nominated for his role as a trouble husband in William Inge's partly autobiographical The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, directed by Elia Kazan. He played the title character in J.B., Archibald MacLeish's allegorical take on the Job story. The play, which won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award, was a sensation at the time, and the actor was widely praised. Mr. Hingle's time in it was cut short, however, when he fell more than 50 feet down the shaft of a stalled elevator. The near-fatal fall fractured his left hip and a finger had to be amputated. It took a year for him to get back on his feet.

The accident prevented him from accepting the title role in the film, "Elmer Gantry." The part went to Bert Lancaster, who won a best actor Oscar. "I know that if I had played Elmer Gantry, I would have been more of a movie name," Hingle told The New York Times in 1997. "But I'm sure I would not have done as many plays as I've done. I had exactly the kind of career I had hoped for." A workaholic, he was back on stage in 1960 in The Deadly Game. He began working in television early on, performing in many live dramas. Kazan and Inge used him again when they cast him as Warren Beatty's powerful father in the 1961 film "Splendor in the Grass." He went on to star in "The Ugly American," "All the Way Home," "Invitation to a Gunfighter," "Nevada Smith," "Hang 'Em High," "Sweet, Sweet Rachel" and "Norma Rae." He was Commissioner Gordon in the first four "Batman" films.

During the 1960s, his Broadway work included a 1963 revival of Strange Interlude and a 1965 revival of The Glass Menagerie (as the Gentleman Caller), a stint playing Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, James Baldwin's Blues for Mister Charlie, the one-performance flop Johnny No-Trump, and the original policeman brother Victor Franz in Arthur Miller's family drama The Price.

He began the 1970s in Child's Play, followed by The Selling of the President, The Championship Season and The Lady From the Season. A chance to play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman was offered by Buffalo's Studio Theatre in 1976. After 17 years away from Broadway, he played Ben Franklin in a 1997 revival of 1776, a rare musical for the actor. In 1999, he was cast to star in the Huntington Theatre Company production of The Last Hurrah, but exited the production before it began performances. He essayed his final stage roles at smaller theatres in North Carolina, which he made his home after filming "Maximum Overdrive" there in 1986.

Martin Patterson Hingle was born on July 19, 1924, in Miami, according to the New York Times. He went to high school in Weslaco, TX, where he played tuba in the band and attended the University of Texas, but dropped out during World War II to serve in the Navy.

Like many another actor of his generation, he got into the theatre in order to meet girls. "I went back to school [after the war]," he said, "and every time I saw a pretty girl I'd say, 'Who the hell is that?' Well, they were all headed towards the theatre department so I joined the campus Curtain Club. In three years I did 35 plays and in one of those plays I finally realized that I felt more comfortable than I did anywhere and I was where God intended me to be. I always feel that way."

His first marriage, to Alyce Dorsey, ended in divorce. He is survived by three children from that marriage, and his wife since 1979, Julia Wright.

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