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The Films of George C. Scott

article and interview by Paul Riordan -- page 2 of 5
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Scott made his theatrical film debut in 1959, playing a drunken preacher, Dr. George Grubb, in The Hanging Tree, directed by Delmer Daves. "Warner Brothers contacted my agent," the actor recalled. "They had seen me on Broadway." Scott enjoyed working on his first film and got along well with the film's star, Gary Cooper ("He was a lovely man").

George C. Scott (sitting)
with Brooks West and James Stewart
Anatomy of a Murder.

Scott's next theatrical film appearance was as prosecuting attorney Claude Dancer in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959), where he gave a strong performance, holding his own with such veterans as Jimmy Stewart. "They originally wanted me to play the bartender," Scott said, "but I told them I wanted to play the guy from Lansing. So, they gave me that part, and Murray Hamilton ended up playing the bartender. He was a dear friend; I miss him a lot."


In 1961, Scott starred in Robert Rossen's The Hustler, an adaptation of Walter Tevis's pool hall novel, with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie. Scott played Bert Gordon, the cynical promoter, and gave an impressive performance, adding depth to a character who could easily have become a cardboard villain. "Bob Rossen contacted me," Scott said. "We went out to have a drink, and he offered me the part--and it was a great part."

George C. Scott with Paul Newman in The Hustler.


Scott's first leading role was opposite Kirk Douglas in an adaptation of Philip MacDonald's mystery thriller, The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), directed by John Huston. Scott played detective Anthony Gethryn. The film featured cameos by Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra, in elaborate makeup disguises. "Kirk (Douglas) produced that," Scott said. "Huston was a remarkable creature. He wrote in several fox hunts (in the script). I had never ridden a horse, but I lied and told him, sure, I could ride. I was thrown off that damn horse three times in one afternoon, and cracked three ribs. I didn't do much riding after that," he continued, laughing.

The role of General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1963) is one of Scott's favorites. "I was almost ashamed to take the money, I had so much fun making that," Scott said. "It had a great cast." Concerning the oft-told story that Peter Sellers supposedly modeled the title character after Henry Kissinger, Scott replied, "I never heard that, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Stanley (Kubrick) was a genius," he said, chuckling, "but he was as crazy as a shithouse mouse."

George C. Scott with Tracy Reed in Dr. Strangelove.

During this period, Scott also appeared on television. One particularly memorable TV role was as Neil Brock on the series East Side, West Side (1963-64). "That was a very avant-garde show for the time," Scott recalls. "We had the first black person on a series, Cicely Tyson. We lost the Southern affiliates because of that. We had some great actors on there, before they were well-known--people like James Earl Jones, Gene Hackman and Bob Duvall."


Scott continued to exercise his comedic acting skills in the theatrical film comedies The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965), directed by Anthony Asquith, and Not With My Wife You Don't (1966), directed by Norman Panama. He also appeared in 1966's The Bible, giving a dynamic performance as the patriarch Abraham.


In 1967, Scott delivered one of his most enjoyable performances as a professional con-man in The Flim-Flam Man (1967). "Irv Kershner directed that," Scott recalled, "and it was shot in Kentucky--beautiful country." This movie marked the debut of Michael Sarrazin as Mordecai Jones' (Scott's) assistant. "I thought Michael Sarrazin did a wonderful job," Scott said. "I had great hopes for him." Regarding the use of heavy makeup for the character, he said, "No, the makeup was no problem. I was used to a lot of makeup from working in the theater. In fact, I'd used the same makeup man for twenty years."

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© 1997 Paul Riordan. All rights reserved.


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