Malibu resident James Whitmore dies

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Longtime Malibu resident and renowned actor James Whitmore died of lung cancer Friday at his Malibu home. He was 87.

The veteran Tony- and Emmy-award winning actor, who portrayed such luminaries as Will Rogers, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman in his one-man stage shows, was diagnosed with cancer in November, according to his son, Steven Whitmore.

James Whitmore was a widely respected actor outside of and within the circle of his peers.

“The thing about James is he was wonderfully crusty, he had little patience with untalented people and [he had] a great sense of humor,” said actor Martin Landau, who worked with Whitmore in “The Majestic,” one of Whitmore’s last films. “He was an interesting man. Had he not been an actor, he would have been a philosopher. He had a terrific way of looking at life, he was interesting and amusing, and he did not tolerate fools easily…”

Born Oct. 1, 1921, in White Plains, New York, Whitmore received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University before joining the Marines and serving in Word War II.

His career in theater began when he studied under a G.I. bill at the American Theatre Wing, where he met his first wife Nancy Mygatt, with whom he had three children.

Whitmore quickly gained acclaim for his work on the stage, winning a Tony Award in 1947 for outstanding performance by a newcomer in the Broadway production of “Command Decision” for his role as the gritty Tech Sergeant Evans.

Whitmore went on to act in more than 140 movies and television shows, in diverse roles, among them the films “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Planet of the Apes,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and the musicals “Kiss Me Kate” and “Oklahoma!”

He received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in his second movie, the 1949 World War II drama “Battleground.”

His most recent roles for television were in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” in 2007, and in “The Practice” in 2000 for which he won the Emmy for outstanding guest actor. He also received an Emmy nomination in 2003 for “Mister Sterling” in the same category.

In addition to memorable roles in shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Detectives,” Whitmore also starred in three television series: the 1960-62 legal drama “The Law and Mr. Jones,” the 1969 detective drama “My Friend Tony” and the 1972-74 hospital sit-com “Temperatures Rising.”

Landau, who heads the Actors Studio in West Hollywood with director Mark Rydell, had met Whitmore when Whitmore was teaching acting at UCLA. One of Whitmore’s students was James Dean, whom he had urged to go to New York to study. Dean was a good friend of Landau’s.

Landau talked about meeting Whitmore’s last wife, Noreen Nash, whom Whitmore married when he was 80, on the set of “The Majestic,” and how his choice in a mate reflected whom he was.

“She was beautiful and intelligent…but [of course] you wouldn’t expect any less than that,” Landau said. “He was smart, well read, well versed, he was someone you could talk to.

“He said it like it was,” Landau continued. “There was something very honest about him and his work, he was a real actor. His one-man shows were wonderful; he loved getting out there in front of people. He basically made a living from film, but stage work was his passion.”

Landau added, “When Marlon Brando died, Norman Jewison said, ‘The lions are leaving the circus’ … and that’s what James Whitmore falls into, that category …”

Whitmore is survived by his wife, Noreen; his sons Steven, James Jr. and Dan; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.