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Subject: Actor Anthony James

Dies at 77
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Date Posted: Thursday, May 28, 11:26:44am


He was always himself but he couldn’t go with just one name. He needed two – his own, Jimmy Anthony, and another, Anthony James, because there was some other actor who was Jimmy Anthony. He needed a stage name.

What’s in a name? What’s in two?

Turns out, quite a lot.

He was born in the segregated South of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, July 22, 1942, and he died two months short of his 78th birthday on May 26, 2020. The cause was cancer.

His mother, Marika, was his hero, and after she died some years ago he wrote his memoir, Acting My Face, whose purpose and theme was, he insisted, to honor his mother more than to call attention to himself. His father, George, a Greek immigrant like his wife, operated a popular fine restaurant in the Myrtle Beach of the 1940s, and died when Jimmy was eight. From then on he was raised by his mother.

The tall skinny boy played tight end on his high school football team, won first prize for a drawing that showed his extraordinary gift for rendering emotion, and he began to dream, like millions of other boys and girls dream, of being a movie actor. That his dream came to fruition in movies and TV Jimmy attributed, as he attributed everything else – to luck, chance and – as the child of Greek parents – fate. Quoting the great Laurence Olivier, Jimmy liked to remind us that actors are all about Look at me!, Look at me!, Look at me! When his actor role model, Marlon Brando, was asked by someone who’d never heard of him what it was he did for living, Brando replied, I make faces. Jimmy liked that story. A real friend, he said, was someone who could listen to his stories again and again. We never tired of them, not for 50 years.

Attention there was plenty. Graduating from high school at 18, he persuaded his mother that they had to go to Hollywood. With almost no money, the two of them took a train to L.A. His mother cleaned houses and Jimmy got a “scholarship” to an acting class which he paid for by cleaning bathrooms. Anthony was 26 when his breakout performance as the killer in the 1967 Academy Award-winning movie by Norman Jewison, “In the Heat of the Night,” captured the attention of Hollywood and launched his 27-year career. His final movie role, also an Academy Award-winning film, was in 1992, as Skinny Dubois, the irritable and contentious owner of a brothel in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” In Skinny’s first scene, he rescues one of the workingwomen from a beating, not from compassion (his bad-guy characters were anything but tender-hearted), but from a fierce pride of ownership. Anthony could call up Jimmy’s pride and anger. It’s what actors can do.

So that in David Webb’s script Jimmy’s character is an entrepreneur:

SKINNY: “This here’s a legal contract between me and Delilah Fitzgerald. Now I bring her clear from Boston, paid her expenses and all, and I got a contract which represents an investment of capital.”

That was what Hollywood called “an Anthony James type.’ In almost three decades of films, Anthony James held his own playing against the likes of Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Bette Davis, Richard Harris, Blythe Danner, Jeff Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood who, when he happened to be casting for “Unforgiven” saw one of Jimmy’s films and remembered how great he was in Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter.”

If Anthony James was a bankable bad guy or an over-the-top funny bad guy in “Naked Gun 2 ˝: The Smell of Fear” (1991), Jimmy Anthony was a sweetheart. He was bookish. He would say that he was quite content to sit and read his way through books. He adored Greek tragedy and the music of Mikis Theodorakis as well as nineteenth- and early twentieth-century poets, writers and philosophers. He had a precise and insightful way of explaining Nietzsche, Camus, and Bonhoeffer as he could explain why a director chose a long shot over a close-up.

He was that legitimately multi-talented artist. After retiring and moving to New England, Anthony focused on his painting. Galleries in Boston, New York, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Japan sold more than a hundred of his paintings. Gorgeous creations they are, many of them multi-layered with Greek letters and bits of text over delicate washes of white or blue or brown. Along with the paintings there were the poems. Scores of them. In 1994, Tuttle published “Language of the Heart,” an exquisite art book of Anthony’s paintings and poems. He was a one-trick poet, he joked. His poetic subject was death, although his language was brimming with life. In 2014, the University Press of Mississippi published his memoir, “Acting My Face.”

Jimmy Anthony never married, having devoted his life to caring for his adoring, strong and consistently wise and funny Marika. He is survived not by siblings or children but by his many friends, including the ones who sat with him and cared for and comforted him at home in his final months and days. In lieu of flowers, donations in Anthony’s memory would be appreciated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (stjude.org) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

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Subject Author Date
IMDbLinkThursday, May 28, 11:28:22am
I just watched in 1992's "Unforgiven". He was such a neat little character actor, and was very creepy in 1976's "Burnt Offerings"! (NT)ColtThursday, May 28, 11:42:00am
Very memorable character actor. Recognized his face in numerous TV shows and movies.Here's a nice interview from 2014 (link inside)Thursday, May 28, 08:36:04pm
Was in a number of episodes of "Gunsmoike", mostly as Elbert Moses but also other roles. (NT)obitcheckerSunday, May 31, 09:42:59am

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