Wednesday, June 16, 2021

In Memoriam: Ned Beatty (1937-2021)


Ned Beatty spent the first decade and a half of his acting career in regional theatre, usually in his native Kentucky, but with brief stints in Virginia and Indiana. In 1972 Beatty went from regional theatre to Major Motion Picture when he was tapped to play the unfortunate Bobby Trippe in Deliverance. Based on James Dickey's novel it tells the story of four Georgia businessmen whose canoe trip down a river goes horribly wrong when they encounter two psycho hillbillies, one of whom rapes Beatty's character in what's often described as one of the most terrifying scenes ever depicted on film (at least the males in the audience found it terrifying. Women, of course, are raped on screens big and small all the time, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few female moviegoers took one look at what was happening to Beatty's character and thought, what's cinematically good for the goose is good for the gander--or squealing pig.) The scene's very sensationalism guaranteed Beatty's stardom, and frankly he deserved it because he was a damn good actor, no matter how lurid the circumstances. But it was a qualified stardom. Though some toothless hillbillies may beg to differ, Beatty didn't have leading man looks, and so had to contend with mostly supporting roles, of which there were many. 

Among the highlights (meaning I've seen them): a corrupt Southern sheriff in 1973's White Lightning (which reunited Beatty with Deliverance costar Burt Reynolds); a racist northern cop in the 1973 made-for-TV movie The Marcus-Nelson Murders (though not conceived as such, ended up being the pilot for Kojak); a chaplain in the 1975 made-for-TV movie The Execution of Private Slovik; a Nashville songwriter in 1975 feature film W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (again starring Reynolds); also in Nashville, Nashville, Robert Altman's masterpiece, where Beatty played Lily Tomlin's husband and Henry Gibson's lawyer; that same year another made-for-TV movie playing another Southern law officer, Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Klu Klux Klan, and on the sitcom (rather than the movie) MASH portrayed a visiting chaplain who felt Father Mulcahy's evangelism wasn't up to snuff.  In 1976 he memorably played a chairman-of-the-board who preaches the virtues of capitalist degradation in the feature film Network. That same year he was one of Woodward's and Bernstein's informants (but not Deep Throat) in All the Presidents Men; and a FBI agent in Silver Streak. In 1978, he played Lex Luthor's goofy henchman in Superman: The Movie (called that so you wouldn't confuse the multiplex for a comic book.) On TV, a distraught father of a dead soldier in Friendly Fire. In 1979, he's not distraught but instead a grumpy middle-aged middle-class father whose house is targeted by the Japanese in the World War II homefront comedy 1941. Moving along, there's two more Burt Reynolds movies Stroker Ace (1983) and Switching Channels (1988). There's The Toy (1982), Back to School (1986), and The Big Easy (1987), Prelude to a Kiss (1992). On the small screen, he had a recurring role as Dan Conners father on the sitcom Rosanne, and played a police detective on Homicide: Life on the Street (a very good show I should have spent more time watching, and am not sure why I didn't.)

Bobby Trippe's voyage down the Cahulawassee  River might have gone horribly wrong, but for Ned Beatty it appears to have been nothing but smooth sailing.

Brokeback Mountain it's not.



  1. Hi, Kirk!

    I saw Deliverance upon its release to theaters and well remember that disturbing rape scene involving Ned Beatty's character and the toothless psychobillies. Surely that scene was in the back of my mind last fall when Mrs. Shady and I got lost while on vacation. We were driving through rural Western North Carolina in hopes of gazing at colorful fall leaves. Most of the color we saw was on endless rows of American flags and Trump banners. Seconds after we stopped along a residential street in a small town to reset our GPS, a scowling man in a pickup truck wearing a MAGA hat pulled alongside us and asked what business we had in his neighborhood. Can you say "Welcome Wagon"? It's a damn good thing the guy didn't spot the Biden button on Mrs. Shady's sweater, or the situation would have gone sideways faster than you can say Mitch McConnell.

    I saw Ned in Network, All the Presidents Men, Silver Streak, Superman, Friendly Fire, Switching Channels, Back To School, The Big Easy, The Tragedy of Flight 103: The Inside Story, Prelude To A Kiss and on Rosanne. I enjoyed watching the clips, especially Ned's powerful "There is no America; there is no democracy" speech in Network.

    Thanks for remembering Ned Beatty, a fine and versatile character actor who died this past week just shy of his 84th birthday.

    Enjoy the rest of your week, good buddy Kirk!

  2. He was a good character actor and will be missed.

  3. Hello Kirk, I had just been reading an article on Beatty's death. I have never seen any of his movies, but apparently he was a versatile actor who will be missed.

  4. RIP Ned. I know him from Homicide: Life on the Street where he played Detective Bolander. He was brilliant as this character and him and Richard Belzer were fantastic together. You should give the show more time! I really enjoyed it and thought it was great TV :-D That and The Wire are 2 of my favourite shows of all time.

    I also know him from Superman! Felt I had to mention that ;-)

  5. While I did see Deliverance, I think I remember him from the Roseanne tv show that my partner used to watch.

  6. Shady, Debra, Jim, Ananka, and Andrew, sorry that I can't give you my usual individual responses to your comments, but I'm having probelms with a dimming computer screen that make typing at the moment rather problematic. Thank you for your comments.

    1. "I Call Bullcrap!"

      (I've been waiting to spring that exclamation on you ever since January 13 when our good friend, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, uttered those words and pledged to vote against the impeachment of Donald Trump.)


In order to keep the hucksters, humbugs, scoundrels, psychos, morons, and last but not least, artificial intelligentsia at bay, I have decided to turn on comment moderation. On the plus side, I've gotten rid of the word verification.