All Invited to Celebrate Actor James Whitmore’s Life

Actor James Whitmore 2
Getty Images

The public is invited to a celebration of the life of Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor James Whitmore that will be held on Saturday at the Directors Guild of America.
  
Whitmore, who learned he had lung cancer just a week before Thanksgiving, died on Feb. 6 in the age of 87. He appeared in films ranging from "The Asphalt Jungle" to "Planet of the Apes" to "The Shawshank Redemption."
  
Speakers will include writer Ray Bradbury, "a friend and fan," Frank Darabont, the director of "The Shawshank Redemption," and Sheriff Lee Baca, according to Whitmore's son Steve, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
  
A letter from former first lady Nancy Reagan will be read by Whitmore's widow Noreen, Steve Whitmore said.
  
The event is a "celebration of my father's life as an actor," the younger Whitmore said.
  
"My father was not a religious man," Steve Whitmore said. "It's a celebration of the second biggest love of his life, which was acting. His first love was his family. He was grateful to be able to do something he loved so he could support those that he loved."
  
Born Oct. 1, 1921 in White Plains, N.Y. and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Whitmore played football at Yale, where one of the assistant coaches was future President Gerald R. Ford.
  
Knee injuries ended Whitmore's athletic career, and he turned his attention to the university's radio station, hosting a nightly sports program, "Jim Whitmore Speaks."
  
Whitmore's acting career began at Yale, when a graduate student he was dating "was doing plays. They pressed me into service, and I kind of liked it," he told the Nashville Tennessean in a 2003 interview.
  
Whitmore joined the Marine Corps during his senior year at Yale in 1942 and served in the South Pacific.
  
After being discharged in 1946, he used benefits from the GI Bill to study acting at the American Theatre Wing in New York City, then appeared in stage productions in New Hampshire in the late 1940s.
  
Whitmore made his Broadway debut in "Command Decision" in 1947, winning a Tony Award for outstanding performance by a newcomer for his portrayal of a cynical Army Air Forces sergeant.
  
Whitmore made his film debut in 1949 opposite Glenn Ford in "The Undercover Man." He received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in his second film, "Battleground," playing a tobacco-chewing, battle-weary Army sergeant.
  
He made a string of film appearances through the 1950s, then began appearing in television shows such as "The Twilight Zone," "Rawhide," "Dr. Kildare," and "The Detectives."
  
He portrayed veteran Chief Inspector Charles Kane in "Madigan" and played the president of the simian assembly in the original "Planet of the Apes."
  
Whitmore starred in three television series, the 1960-62 legal drama, "The Law and Mr. Jones"; the 1969 NBC detective drama "My Friend Tony" and the ABC comedy "Temperatures Rising," which he left after its initial 1972-73 seasons, "because it was just a series of jokes," he later said.
  
He returned to the stage in the 1970s, appearing in one-man shows portraying Will Rogers, Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt. The 1975 film of his performance in "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" earned Whitmore a best actor Oscar nomination.
  
Whitmore tugged on moviegoers' heart-strings when he played inmate Brooks Hatlen in "The Shawshank Redemption."
  
He won an Emmy Award in 2000 for his recurring role on the drama "The Practice." He also received an Emmy nomination in 2003 for "Mister Sterling," portraying a former California governor whose son (James Brolin) is appointed to a U.S. Senate seat. His final role was in a 2007 episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
  
"I know my father leaves a large footprint. So many in the motion picture business and the acting business loved and admired him, and we, the family, share in that admiration and love," Steve Whitmore said.
  
"He was nominated for the Academy Award twice. He's an Emmy Award winner, but that was all a means to an end to him -- to provide for those he loved and cared for," he said. "He was glad to be able to do what he loved and provide.
  
"We appreciate everybody and thank you all for your thoughts and prayers."
  
The celebration of Whitmore's life will be held in the main theater of the Directors Guild of America headquarters at 7920 Sunset Blvd.
  
In addition to his son Steve and his wife, Whitmore is survived by sons James Jr., an actor turned director, and Dan, eight grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

Contact Us