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Rip Torn

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R.I.P.:

Forget that Maidstone shit, hilarious as it may be. The now late Rip Torn was not only Artie, the cut-throat but sentimental producer on The Larry Sanders Show — so, so many great things about that performance, but this short scene gives you a good idea of the old-school show-biz toughness Torn gave to Artie — but he was also a great actor of decades’ standing in New York and Hollywood. I remember with special fondness seeing him when I was a teenager doing a pair of comic Chekhov one-acts on PBS with his wife Geraldine Page (their mailbox in the city was labeled “Torn/Page”), “A Marriage Proposal” and “The Bear.” In the former he was a wormy suitor, in the latter a rustic boor, and Torn not only put both characters over but made them sexy (having Page to play against helped there, though, especially for him; it was the first time I’d seen her act, and I didn’t realize for years after that she was supposed to be spinsterish).

I am also super-fond of Torn’s “Bob Diamond” celestial defense attorney in Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life — not only for his blustery early scenes, in which he appears to be just handling the poor dumb earthling put in his care, but also and especially for his last scene with Brooks, in which he suddenly shows the empathy that probably saves him. Good acting is largely about winning the audience — I think it was Edward Herrmann who said that the audience decides in the first 10 minutes whether an actor is worth watching — but the great ones find a way to surprise you after they’ve won you, and Torn really accomplished that here…

Artie was a career-capping performance — a great comic creation, but not just a great comic creation. And I’m also partial to his suave but menacing Slade in The Cincinnati Kid.

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