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Charles Durning honored with Screen Actors Guild

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced today that Charles Durning, the quintessential character actor and highly decorated World War II veteran, will receive the Guild’s most prestigious tribute—the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment. Durning will be presented the Award, given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” at the “14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards®,” which premieres live on TNT and TBS Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT and 6 p.m. MT.

In making today’s announcement, SAG President Alan Rosenberg said, “Charles Durning is the perfect choice for the Life Achievement Award as Screen Actors Guild celebrates its 75th anniversary. Throughout his career, he has epitomized the art and grace of acting and brought something special to every role. He is above all things a great actor with the talent to which we all aspire: the power to create indelible characters.”

That talent has earned Durning numerous accolades during his more than 50 years as a performer. He was honored with an Oscar® nomination in 1983 for his musical turn as the tap-dancing Texas governor in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and again in 1984 for his lecherous Nazi Colonel Erhardt in the Brooksfilm remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not To Be,” a role which also brought him one of his four Golden Globe® nominations. He made his film debut in 1965 in “Harvey Middleman, Fireman,” followed by appearances in “I Walk the Line” and two early Brian de Palma films, “Hi, Mom” (credited as Charles Durnham) and “Sisters.” He achieved breakout status in 1972 when, after seeing Durning on Broadway in Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season,” George Roy Hill cast him as a corrupt police lieutenant in “The Sting.” Durning’s nearly 100 feature roles include hostage negotiator Det. Moretti in “Dog Day Afternoon” (for which he received his first Golden Globe® nomination), the villainous frogs-leg restaurant magnate in “The Muppet Movie” “Tootsie" “Home for the Holidays.”

For the Coen Brothers, Durning appeared in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and played the pivotal title role “The Hudsucker Proxy”. In 2000, as a member of the ensemble cast of David Mamet’s “State and Main,” he was honored by the National Board of Review, the Online Film Critics Society and the Florida Film Critics Circle. That same year he starred in another Mamet screenplay, “Lakeboat.” along with Dennis Leary, whose father he has played for the past three years in 23 episodes of the FX hit “Rescue Me”.

Other film credits include “North Dallas Forty,” “The Greek Tycoon,” “When a Stranger Calls,” “Harry and Walter Go to New York,” “True Confessions,” “Twilight’s Last Gleaming,” “The Final Countdown,” “The Choirboys,” “An Enemy of the People,” “Far North,” “The Man With One Red Shoe,” “Death and Texas,” “One Fine Day,” “V.I. Warshawski" and comic-strips-brought-to-life “Brenda Starr” and “Dick Tracy,” among many others.

In 1975, Durning was honored with the first of eight Emmy® nominations for his romantic turn opposite Maureen Stapleton in the television movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.” Nominations followed for his performances in the miniseries “Captains and the Kings” (which also earned him a Golden Globe® nomination) and the telefilms “Attica” and “Death of a Salesman,” the latter opposite Dustin Hoffman, whom he had earlier romanced in “Tootsie.” Durning was twice nominated for supporting actor Emmys® during his 1990-1994 run as Dr. Harlan Elldridge in the comedy “Evening Shade,” which starred his friend and frequent collaborator Burt Reynolds. The two co-starred in the features “Stick,” “Starting Over,” “Sharkey’s Machine,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and “Forget About It,” as well as the “Hard Time” series of telefilms. The Television Academy also nominated Durning twice for guest performances: in 1995 for “Homicide: Life on the Street” and in 2005 for “NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service.”

Durning starred as Supreme Court Justice Henry Hoskins in the television series “First Monday,” in the short-lived series “Orleans,” “Eye to Eye” and “The Cop and the Kid,” as well as early in his career in the daytime drama "Another World.” His dozens of television guest-starring roles include his March 2007 appearance on “Monk,” seven appearances as Father Hubley on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and character arcs on “Everwood,” “Family Guy,” “The Practice” and “Cybil.” His more than 50 television movies include “The Best Little Girl in the World,” “Crisis at Central High,” “The Rivalry,” “The Girls in their Summer Dresses and Other Stories by Irwin Shaw,” four outings as Santa Claus, one as the Pope, one as Casey Stengel and roles in the televised versions of such classics as “Look Homeward Angel,” “Mister Roberts,” “Dinner at Eight” and “Studs Lonigan.” He received a CableACE nomination for his performance as a southern prison camp warden in “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains.”

Durning was born in Highland Falls, N.Y., on Feb. 28, 1923. Widowed when Durning was 12, his mother worked as a laundress at the U.S. Military Academy in nearby West Point. As a teenage usher in a burlesque house, Durning was hired to replace a drunken “second banana” on stage, then hoofed his way through upstate New York as half of ballroom dancing act for 11 years. Durning’s early career was punctuated by stints as an elevator operator, Western Union delivery boy, cab driver, bartender, night watchman, boxer and construction worker.

His heroic yet horrifying experiences during World War II loomed large in shaping his 20s. He was in the first wave to land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, killing seven German gunners and suffering serious machine gun wounds to his right leg and shrapnel wounds over his body in that bloody battle. Later, he was stabbed eight times with a bayonet by a young German soldier, whom he killed with a rock in hand-to-hand combat. Taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge, he was one of a few survivors of the infamous attack on American POWs at Malmedy, Belgium, and was the sole survivor of 40 men who took out a German machine gun nest. For his valor he was honored with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. Although he had starred as a World War II veteran in the 1985 film “Stand Alone,” Durning did not speak publicly about his war experiences until the 50th anniversary of D-Day, when it was suggested by Durning’s “Evening Shade” co-star Ossie Davis (SAG’s 2000 Life Achievement Award recipient) that he appear in the National Memorial Day Concert, which Davis was hosting. Durning has since made the concert an annual appearance. For the anniversary, Durning also narrated The Discovery Channel’s “Normandy: The Great Crusade” and read Ernest Hemmingway’s account of the invasion in a “CBS Reports” D-Day special.

Durning employed dance, speech and acting studies as part of his post-war recovery. In 2007, he was recognized as a “Legend” by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he studied in the late 1940s. He was also educated at Columbia University and New York University.

By the 1960s Durning had become a prolific actor on the New York stage and in regional and touring companies. He performed in some 35 productions with Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, both in the Bard’s work and in such contemporary mid-‘70s premieres as “In the Boom Boom Room” and “The Au Pair Man,” opposite Julie Harris.

For his work on Broadway, Durning has been honored with Tony and Drama Desk awards for the role of Big Daddy in the 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” starring Kathleen Turner; the Drama League Distinguished Performance Award for the 1997 revival of “The Gin Game,” which reunited him with Julie Harris; and a 1972 Drama Desk Award for “That Championship Season.” More recently, he starred in the 1996 revival of “Inherit the Wind,” opposite George C. Scott, and the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man.”

He received the 2006 Lucille Lortell Award for Outstanding Featured Actor for Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third” at Lincoln Center and played the title role in “Trumbo: Red White and Blacklisted” Off-Broadway in 2003. His numerous Off-Broadway and regional theatre credits include “On Golden Pond,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Brigadoon” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

His upcoming films include Deal, his seventh film opposite Burt Reynolds; “Polycarp,” which premiered at the 2007 Hoboken Film Festival; and a starring role in “Chatham.”

The “14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards®” are produced by Jeff Margolis Productions in association with Screen Actors Guild. Jeff Margolis is the executive producer and Kathy Connell is the producer. Yale Summers, Daryl Anderson, Shelley Fabares, Paul Napier and JoBeth Williams are producers for SAG. Gloria Fujita O’Brien and Mick McCullough are supervising producers. Benn Fleishman is executive in charge of production.


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