James Whitmore, the many-faceted character actor who delivered strong performances in movies, television and especially the theater with his popular one-man shows about Harry Truman, Will Rogers and Theodore Roosevelt, died Friday, his son said. He was 87.
The Emmy- and Tony-winning actor was diagnosed with lung cancer the week before Thanksgiving and died Friday afternoon at his Malibu home, Steve Whitmore said.
His long-running “Give ’em Hell, Harry,” tracing the life of the 33rd president, was released as a theatrical movie in 1975. Whitmore was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor, marking the only time in Oscar history that an actor has been nominated for a film in which he was the only cast member. His Teddy Roosevelt portrait, “Bully,” was also converted into a movie.
He later became the TV pitchman for Miracle-Gro plant food, and used the product in his large vegetable garden at his Malibu home.
Whitmore started both his Broadway and Hollywood careers with acclaimed performances, both as tough-talking sergeants. In 1947, discharged a year from Marine duty, he made his Broadway debut in a taut Air Force drama, “Command Decision.” He was awarded a Tony for outstanding performance by a newcomer.
Two years later, Whitmore was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe as supporting actor in the war movie Battleground.
He followed with memorable performances in scores of films, refusing to be typed. Besides war movies, he appeared in Westerns (The Last Frontier, Chato’s Land), musicals (Kiss Me Kate, Oklahoma!), science fiction (Planet of the Apes, Them), dramas (The Asphalt Jungle, The Shawshank Redemption) and comedies (Mr. O’Malley and Mrs. Malone, The Great Diamond Robbery.)
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