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RIP Stanley DeSantis

Hey folks. Quint here with a farewell message to character actor Stanley DeSantis from one of his biggest fans. This write-up is a very nice and warm piece. My thoughts are with Stanley's friends, family and fans.

Variety reports that one of our greatest character actors, Stanley DeSantis, passed away Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 52.

I know, I know – much like Brock Peters, you don’t know who I’m talking about, right? This is understandable. Stanley DeSantis was hardly a high profile actor. But he was, unquestionably, the kind of actor who, when he appeared in a film or movie, you recognized and said, “Oh, hey – it’s that guy!”

There are many, many “that guys” in film and TV, but Stanley DeSantis was one of the very best. AICN is all about celebrating geekdom and while I can’t know for certain, I’d like to believe that I was Stanley’s biggest fan.

Allow me to ring some bells for you: he played Louis B. Mayer in “The Aviator” and also the indie producer Scott Wick on “Entourage”. He smoked pot with the boys in his car and the cops showed up? I know you remember that scene.

Here are just some of the films and TV shows Stanley DeSantis appeared in:

Film: Bulworth, Boogie Nights, Rush Hour, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Ed Wood, The Birdcage, I Am Sam, Candyman, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Fan, Human Nature, Die Mommie Die! & Clockwatchers.

TV: Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Tracey Takes On, My So-Called Life, NYPD Blue, The Paper Chase & ALF (!).

Certainly two of his most memorable characters are as Don Cheadle’s boss at the hi-fi store in “Boogie Nights” (“People don’t go for that country and western shit any more!” [Did I get that quote at all right?]) and “Ed Wood”, in which Johnny Depp explained to him the hidden meaning within the title “Dr. Ackula”.

Everything listed above is already a pretty impressive list of credentials, but I’ve purposefully left out the role for which DeSantis is undeniably most famous; a role for which he will always be remembered, a role that he played with such confidence and skill that it deserves several paragraphs devoted entirely to its recognition: Norman Neal Williams in “Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City”.

While the original miniseries exists in a state of perpetual infamy (I’m not going to get into it; Google the title alongside PBS), it seems to me that there is still many a person out there who hasn’t gotten around to seeing it, therefore I cannot and will not delve into spoiler territory, despite the series having been made 13 years ago.

The series is littered with outstanding performances from powerhouse actors like Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Thomas Gibson, Donald Moffat, Chloe Webb, Bill Campbell and Parker Posey, but if there is one performance in “Tales” that will stick in your head and roll around for eternity after seeing it, it’s Stanley DeSantis as Norman Neal Williams. It’s a testament to his underrated skills that he was able to effortlessly hold his own with that group of actors.

Some of this has to do with the way the character is written, but so much of it is due entirely to the way DeSantis brought Williams to life onscreen. To talk about his performance in any detail is to deny you the supreme pleasure of watching Stanley peel away the layers of Norman over the course of the 6-hour running time. Most of his scenes are played against Laura Linney’s Mary Ann Singleton, and the two make such an absolutely perfect - and yet highly unlikely and awkward - duo that as I sit here typing, the words…Just. Ain’t. Comin’. Sorry.

The original “Tales” mini is the kind of stuff you’ve got to see to truly appreciate and it is available on DVD – so get out there and immerse yourself. Armistead Maupin has often said his primary influence when writing is Alfred Hitchcock and this is never more evident than in the character of Norman Neal Williams. To misquote “Blackadder”, Norman “twists and turns like a…twisty-turny thing”.

It seems that Linney and DeSantis remained close friends, even years after working on the series together. He attended the 2002 Emmy Awards with her and when she won the award for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie” for the film “Wild Iris”, she thanked Stanley in her acceptance speech. So Laura, if you’re out there and reading this, my heart goes out to you. Stanley was a fantastic actor who left a huge impression on this fan. And for me he was never “that guy” - he was Stanley DeSantis.

- Roj Blake

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