Charles Durning (born February 28, 1923) is an American actor of stage and screen.
Early life & military service
Durning was born in Highland Falls, New York and was the second youngest of four siblings, James G. (1915 - 2000), Clifford John (1916-1994), Frances (born 1919) and Gerald J. Durning (born 1926). His mother, Louise M (1894 - 1982), was a laundress at West Point, and his father, James Durning (originally Durnion) (born 1890 in County Louth in Ireland), was an Irish immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship by joining the army.
Durning served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Drafted at age 21, he was first assigned as a rifleman with the 398th Infantry Regiment, and later served overseas with the 3rd Army Support troops and the 386th Anti-aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion. For his valor and the wounds he received during the war, Durning was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Heart medals.
Durning participated in the Normandy Invasion of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and was among the first troops to land at Omaha Beach. Some sources state that he was with the 1st Infantry Division at the time, but it is unclear if he served as a rifleman or as a member of one of the division's artillery battalions.
Durning was wounded by a German 'S' Mine on June 15, 1944, at Les Mare des Mares, France. He was transported by the 499th Medical Collection Company to the 24th Evacuation Hospital. By June 17 he was back in England at the 217th General Hospital. Although severely wounded by shrapnel in the left and right thighs, the right hand, the frontal region of the head, and the anterior left chest wall, Durning recovered quickly and was determined to be fit for duty on December 6, 1944. He arrived back at the front in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge, the German counter-offensive through the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and Luxembourg in December 1944.
After being wounded again, this time in the chest, Durning was repatriated to the United States. He remained in Army hospitals to receive treatment for wounds until being discharged with the rank of Private First Class on January 30, 1946.
He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his extraordinary portrayal of a Marine veteran in "Call of Silence", an unusual episode of the television series NCIS, first broadcast November 23, 2004. Clearly drawing on his first-hand knowledge of the lingering effects of battle-induced stress, Durning's character turns himself in to authorities, insisting that he must be prosecuted for having murdered his buddy during ferocious combat on Iwo Jima six decades earlier. The real truth of the incident only becomes known for certain when the guilt-stricken veteran goes through a cathartic reliving of the battlefield events.
Durning is well-known for participating in various functions to honor American veterans. He was the chairman one year of the U.S. National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans.
In April 2008, Durning attended a ceremony in France where he received the National Order of the Legion of Honor, awarded to those who served with distinction in France. During the ceremony, Durning spoke about his wartime experiences.
Durning's breakthrough film performance was in The Sting. In the film, Durning plays a corrupt policeman, Lieutenant Snyder, who polices and hustles professional con artists. He doggedly pursues the young grifter Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), only to become the griftee in the end. Since then he has amassed more than 100 film and television credits, including Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, Dog Day Afternoon (with Al Pacino), the sci-fi classic The Final Countdown, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1979, he played Doc Hopper, the main villain in The Muppet Movie. In Tootsie he plays a suitor to a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman. The two actors worked together again in a 1985 TV production of Death of a Salesman. In 1993, Durning guest starred in the Sean Penn-directed music video for "Dance with the One That Brought You" by Shania Twain.
More recently he has played a benevolent father to Holly Hunter in Home for the Holidays (1995), a savvy southern state governor ("Pappy" O'Daniel) in O Brother, Where Art Thou, and as Victor Rasdale in Dirty Deeds. In 1996 he played Lew in the romantic comedy One Fine Day and Santa Claus in the Sesame Street home video "Elmo Saves Christmas". He played town doctor Harlan Eldridge on the Burt Reynolds sitcom Evening Shade (1990-1994). He subsequently had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 ? 2005) as the Barone family's long-suffering parish priest, Father Hubley. He also played the voice of recurring character Francis Griffin in the animated series Family Guy until the episode Peter's Two Dads where the character died.
For his numerous roles on television, Durning has earned nine Emmy Award nominations. He has also received Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nominations for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 1982 and for To Be or Not to Be in 1983. He won a Golden Globe in 1990 for his supporting role in the television miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. He appeared on the FX television series Rescue Me, playing Mike Gavin, the retired firefighter father of Denis Leary's character. The character died in the Season 4 finale.
Durning was honored with the Life Achievement Award at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Ceremony on January 27, 2008. On July 31, 2008, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to the one of his idol, James Cagney.
His daughter, Jeanine Durning, is a well known New York-based modern dance performer and choreographer.