Character actor appeared in film, TV, theater

Versatile Tony and Emmy-award winning actor James Whitmore died Friday at his Malibu home. He was 87.

His son Steve Whitmore told the Associated Press his father died of lung cancer, which was diagnosed in November.

Whitmore was a many-faceted character actor who delivered strong performances, often in movies, television and especially the theater with his popular one-man shows about Truman, Will Rogers and Theodore Roosevelt. He also appeared in numerous Western TV shows, as well as crime and war pics.

His 1949 Tony award came early, for outstanding performance by a newcomer, as the Sergeant in the Broadway production of “Command Decision.” The Emmy came near the end of his career as outstanding guest actor in a drama for “The Practice” in 2000.

Though Whitmore went on to appear in hundreds of films and TV shows after leaving New York for Hollywood, he remained passionate about the theater, starring in plays such as “Our Town,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Death of a Salesman.”

The husky, gruff-voiced actor received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for another military role in his second film, the 1949 WWII drama “Battleground.”

Interesting character roles came his way in films including “Black Like Me,” where he played a white man passing for black, “Planet of the Apes,” as an authoritative simian and as a crook in “The Asphalt Jungle.” Other notable films included “Them!,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Oklahoma!,” “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Majestic.”

But he was best known for his one-man shows, playing Harry Truman in “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!,” Roosevelt in “Bully” and Rogers in “Will Rogers’ U.S.A.” Whitmore was Oscar-nommed for the 1975 film version of the show “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry.”

An avid gardener, he was later known as the pitchman for Miracle-Gro plant food.

Born in White Plains, N.Y, he played for the Yale football team coached by future President Gerald R. Ford, but suffered knee injuries and turned his attention to drama on the advice of a girlfriend. He joined the Marines during his senior year, then studied acting in New York after WWII ended at the American Theater Wing.

Whitmore starred in three TV series: drama “The Law and Mr. Jones,” detective show “My Friend Tony” and sitcom “Temperatures. Rising.” Working consistently until recently, his last appearance was on “C.S.I..” Numerous TV guest appearances included “Gunsmoke,” “The Virginian” and “Route 66.”

He recently lent his name to the Barack Obama campaign, appearing at several fundraising events.

His first marriage was to Nancy Mygatt, mother of his three sons, and his second to actress Audra Lindley, with whom he often performed onstage.

In addition to his son Steve, he is survived by his third wife, Noreen; sons James Jr., an actor and director; and Dan; eight grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.

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